Thursday, December 11, 2008 at 10:02pm | Delete From writing practice, October 23, 2008...
Last night and this morning, I was and am working on a beef stew. Throughout the night, the simmering stew seethed in the Crock-Pot, the flavors of seared beef marinated in Tabasco bold steak sauce melding with turnips, carrots, and my very first roux. I sprinkled it in kosher salt, nutmeg, onion powder, and ground black pepper. The scent of it was so subtle, so complex, and, at the same time, so simple and familiar, I couldn't get to sleep. Ideas and images from my reading and my writing tangled inextricably into that smell, and what I sensed was going on in that stew pot.
Today, I've added leeks - never cooked a leek before, or even bought them. Farmer's markets are good for new ways of looking at things. You are encouraged to touch, to smell, to ask what it is like to grow a leek, to watch its mystery unfolding from the earth's embrace - rooted, but always reaching, striving...
I just added frozen peas, frozen corn scraped from the cob, smoky paprika, more nutmeg, salt, onion powder, and pepper.
Maybe I am that stew. Maybe I'm a different sort of stew. And maybe the art of of melding together a stew, with all its simplicity, all its subtle complexity, is a true metaphor for writing. Maybe writing is, in essence, merely the grasping at the complexity in life - a full-bodied, hearty stew, served up with a crisp green salad and a heavy, buttered slab of crusty, grainy bread.
Perhaps, as humans, we spend far too much time engaged in the pursuit of that "perfect" meal, or outfit, or job, or spouse. We go out to eat, we squirm and grunt in the dressing room under ugly fluorescence, we quit on our job, or our marriage.
Have we forgotten how to simply be - and how to combine leeks, turnips, and carrots bought at the farmer's market along the Erie Canal on Sunday, before Pumpkinfest, with frozen vegetables and spices?
So, after getting the stew set up with some help from Jim, who was home surprisingly early for a Wednesday night, I lay awake in bed, restless ideas drumming inside my skull, making the music of the stew's fragrant melding together.
I wanted two slices of Heidelberg's Hearty Flax Seed bread, and I wanted them thickly buttered. I could taste them there, as I lay naked in bed, ducking Jim's hand as it flopped onto my pillow. I tried to ignore it, but I could taste that bread, and knew I had to have it - right then, though it was nearing four in the morning, my teeth were brushed, and I wasn't particularly hungry for anything but the experience of tasting that bread while smelling the stew.
Finally, when I could no longer hold my finger in the dyke of my resistance, I got up, still naked, and found exactly two slices of flaxseed bread in the fridge, as well as a cold stick of unsalted butter. The fire was dying down to to embers; and it was a cold night. so we needed a fire. I built one up with patience, and set the butter to warm on top of our cheap black woodstove.
I sat beside it in my nestlike Papasan chair, my feet on the footstool, right heel vibrating in tune with the purring of Margot, our tailless Manx cat.
When the butter was soft enough, I spread it liberally over that hearty, home-farm tasting bread, and ate it there, beside the fire, resting against the companionable warmth of Margot's flank, reading Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, naked in my living room in the deep of the night, while my family slept blissfully unaware of my truancy, and the stew sent scent-messages dancing through our cozy little home.
This, to me, is living.