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Friday, October 30, 2009

The Edge

Charles has been dead three years, soon, and all my knives are dull.

When Fred came to visit with his family, I bought a beautiful roast of beef - something I do not do very often. He trained as a butcher and he loved these big cuts of beef, slowly, barely cooked, with rosemary and garlic pushed in. I was sure he was not getting such things in Iraq, and that he would appreciate that I remembered his preference.

I even had a chat with the butcher at the grocery store when I was picking it out, something else I do not do often. I wanted the butcher to pick out a really pretty roast, something another butcher would like. These cinematic moments only ever roll out in my mind so I don't know why I keep trying - black and white film clips clattered through the projector in my brain, calendar leaves flying, me - finally morphed into an odd melange of Ma Kettle grasping a flag to her chest and Aunt Bea in an apron holding a pie, adoring family paying homage to my efforts, local butcher presenting a huge hunk of flesh into a light from above and saying "Your soldier will appreciate this, Ma'am!"

At least I was expecting this at Wegmans' - a cut above - but instead, the young man (who apparently does not share my rich mental catalog of iconic images) merely pointed to the second one in, a three bone in rib roast, and said "That one looks good." and reached for the waxed paper.

My oven is broken, the heating element at the bottom blown out during a period of dank depression when I might have left it on all night or maybe for a day or two. Maybe a week. The oven that broke was not the oven I ever wanted: it was cheap, from the scratch and dent store and was supposed to make do until we had the money for the kitchen renovation. That money was going to appear shortly after every other single thing in our lives was taken care of. All oven type activities now take place in a stand alone, plug in roaster, which is pitch hitting for the oven I never wanted, until I get the stove I deserve and that is where I put the roast when I get home. But lately I have been thinking, maybe not. Maybe I will have a kitchen but not a kitchen, because after the kids move into the addition, am I going to do any real baking? As opposed to fake baking? I hardly use the roaster. Maybe I don't want a fancy oven any more.

Which makes me wonder if it is sad or happy that I may be giving up the idea of a dream kitchen, which was the fuel for terrible arguments and intense middle of the night cravings, and the hook that I hung all my martyrdom and justifications on. If I never, ever get a six thousand dollar dual fuel, self cleaning convection oven and a stove with a built in griddle down the middle, and I make that decision on my own, based on practicality and present need, if I give up that dream, that tightly held desire, which I have picked all the scabs off and used as my red badge of courage, the lack of which was the visualization of just how truly my needs and wants have been denied, who the heck am I?

And who am I having this argument with now?

Soon the roast is done, and I rest it for half an hour. I have heard that this is the single biggest mistake that home cooks make, not resting their meat. You see, you get your roast chicken or leg of lamb or roast of beef out of the oven, cover it all over with foil, and let it sit for a half hour before you cut. This way the juices stay in and don't run out all over your cutting board. I am a great, knowledgeable cook. I have created wonderful, memorable meals for multitudes of people in a terrible kitchen for thirty years. Lasagna, meringues, steamed shrimp and stir fry, roasts and pot roasts, jars of tomato sauce and jam, pickled green beans and red beet eggs, thanksgiving turkeys and chicken and dumplings, lamb rolled in rosemary and pepper, chocolate cookies and lemon sponge cakes, home made pasta, countless loaves of bread. The SOUP! The nameless mishmashes of leftovers that turned out to be delicious. I have done all this, I realize, in a kitchen that has two cabinets whose lowest shelf is 18 inches over my head, a sixty year old stainless steel sink, exactly three feet of counter space, no dishwasher, 1/2 inch to spare if you open the fridge and the oven at the same time, missing floor tiles and exposed plumbing traces to the second floor the cat uses to chase mice. My kitchen counter had little flecks of gold sparkle in it when it was installed after WW2, which you can only see now if you move the canisters. Not to mention seven doorways and two windows. All of these conditions grist for resentment and seething, stewing discontent and the springboard for imaginative problem solving and VOILA moments. For instance, if you don't have enough counter space, you get a cutting board that fits over your sink - that adds two feet. And one that fits over the top of your stove - when the stove is off, that is another two feet or so. If you don't have a dishwasher and company is coming before the dishes get done, put them in the oven til the next morning. In the winter, you can keep your extra groceries on the back porch - it's cold enough. If you keep the stuff under your sink organized in plastic tubs, it is really easy to get them out fast when the pipes freeze and burst.

And now, possessing the where with all to make all those headaches and compromises go away, I suddenly am not sure I care any more. I can buy that stove, I can have all new cabinets, I can have anything I really want, the way I want it.

I pull the carving knife and fork out of the block to carve the rested meat. Instead of the elegant slice I am expecting, I end up sawing and mangling. The roast falls apart in delicious but ugly chunks. Very embarassing because by this time Fred is watching me and I feel exposed and pathetic. The knives are all dull. I don't know where the steel is and I don't know how to use it. Charles used to stand in the kitchen and expertly flick the knives back and forth and listen to me bitch about how terrible the kitchen was. He used to say, Stop cutting directly on the counter, you are going to ruin this knife. I would retort, I can't hurt this crappy counter and I am going to get better knives! And then we would sit down and eat a fine meal and later that night I would go to sleep, feeling sorry for myself and what I had to put up with. He honed the knives and I sharpened my resentment for decades. And now I know it takes just three years for both to lose their edge.

17 comments:

Kate said...

Beautiful, Shirley.

Pegjohnson01 said...

Again you have left me in awe with your story. I can not ever express to you how deeply your stories touch me. They make me laugh, cry, someimes both at the same time and always leave me thinking, wondering and pondering by minutes days and weeks.
Keep up the good works!!

Peggy Johnson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Gail said...

I loved your blog, am, as always, in awe of your depth. Yet, I would still love to see you with your beautiful new kitchen. If you do it, get the knives that don't need sharpening - you're episode prone.

Anonymous said...

Well well "Rodeo" you really are a writer! You weren't kidding! That is good work.

Chris said...

Shirley, you have enormous talent. This is disparate and glass sharp: a work of art.

Rodeo Princess said...

Thank you for all your kind words. I am touched.

Another friend has suggested an electric knife. Apparently they have some kind of safety switch so I can't saw my fingers off.

Shirley Landis VanScoyk said...

PEGGY DID NOT SAY ANYTHING BAD - I just deleted her comment because it was a duplicate - had no idea it would leave that disclaimer. Oh man.

Nutty Gnome said...

Oh Shirley, you've left me longing to give you a huge hug to ease some of that pain.

Get your new kitchen - if that's what you truely want, and take your knives to the butcher and ask them to sharped them for you ....it works for me!

(there's no such thing as a self-sharpening knife!)

*hugs* Nutty

Kathy said...

Shirley, you are AMAZING!!! I'm with Peggy, you make me laugh and cry at the same time. You are an incredible "story teller"!!! The best!!!

Missy said...

I love this!

Missy said...

Wow..very nice...who can't relate to this?

bowiechick said...

resubmitting...

My 16 year old stepson Bui (pronounced boo-ee, it's Icelandic) came up to me a few weeks ago and said, "Tana, would you like me to sharpen your knives?" I said, "Oh Bui would you?" Bui has been doing a lovely job of sharpening my knives since he was about nine. Yes, I can hear the screasm..eight year old boy 'playing' with knives. But bollocks to that as he is responsible and careful and he has always done a really good job. That he wants to, heck, without my asking to help me, well it only seems right to encourage him.

He sharpened all my knives I was the happiest woman in the world. Dull knives drive him batty too apparently and are the surest way to cutting yourself. I am with you on the decent kitchen part. I chose my new house 'cos it had lots of kitchen cabinets and a DOUBLE sink and I still can cook with gas.

GhostFolk.com said...

Incredibly wonderful last line on this vignette / scene. Wow!!!

April said...

Very endearing and witty as well! Get the new kitchen...it will provide new stories for all of us!:)

Kendra Bonnett said...

Shirley, This is an interesting piece that captured my imagination. I can see the kitchen in my mind and feel your emotions as they range from the frustrations about the kitchen to the almost ironic realization that maybe you don't need it.

This is strong, fine writing. I look forward to reading more.

cheryl young, Victoria B.C said...

your blog is absolutely beautiful it is a feel good read. I will pass along the word. I wish I could write like you, it comes from the heart