Making quiches come true
In the kitchen I see a parallel between picking the best ingredients that go into my creation and gathering my emotions in their purest form
Do you not get homesick?" my boyfriend's mother asked me at the dinner table last evening. I'd been talking about the flexible nature of my freelance routine, how I have managed to afford for myself the luxury of being able to work from wherever I happened to me in any moment in time. "As long as I have a kitchen I can cook in, I'm happy," I told her. I was surprised by my answer. I hadn't thought about the notion of homesickness given that I've come to define myself as a domestic itinerant, someone who doesn't travel as much as temporarily inhabits spaces, investing them with traces of my being and belongings, so that elements of myself can always be recovered should I choose to track my way back by following the strategic trail of my bread-crumbed words.
Over the years, while my suitcases have acquired a more minimal sensibility in terms of their contents, I can confidently attest to how the weight of my emotional baggage has exponentially increased. We are conditioned to think of the phrase negatively, as if it embodied a situation that merited castigation. I could argue that it is in fact what mitigates the gut-wrenching absorptiveness of homesickness.
I am only now recognising the scale of this mostly imperceptible luggage. I am beginning to see how memories, in their pure, unfiltered, inarticulable form, are never singular, even when they disguise themselves as such. In order to recall, for instance, a specific flavour that I'm seeking to recreate in the kitchen, I find my mind inadvertently conjuring a stream of corollary memories, until I find myself lost in a labyrinth, as if suddenly interlaced within all the petticoats of the onion I am peeling and dicing. So wound up are they, so incapable of being segmented from each other.
Strangely, it is while cooking that I experience my emotions in their rawest, most unprocessed form. The rest of my day is typically spent in intellectually engaging activity—reading, writing, thinking—or in manual chores that facilitate the treatment of thought.
That there could be a loftiness to fear is a revelation that overwhelmed me earlier that afternoon when I placed into the oven the spring form bearing the pastry I kneaded onto which I poured the pre-custard-ly mixture of whipped cream and eggs into whose still liquid depths I positioned, ad-hoc, spears of white asparagus that I'd first steamed, then tossed in butter and rosemary and that he then braised, with my permission, in bacon fat. I gasped as I saw the yellowy liquid entrails oozing along the outer circumference of the spring form. Would the center hold? I had rubbed egg yolk along the surface of the pastry floor to fortify it against the impending flood? Why, then, did it ooze out? Had I left enough room for the custard to puff or would it spill over? Would it cook in time for lunch, considering, upon his request, I'd doubled the quantity, put in to bake in one form the equivalent of two quiches?
I discovered, later that afternoon, that within the domain of the kitchen I have subconsciously evolved strategies to compensate for my self-doubt. Should the quiche backfire, I devised an alternative: couscous with beetroot. You have to really be mentally invested in order to get couscous to backfire. The odds of failure are extremely slim if you follow the most basic instructions: adding it into hot water with some oil and salt. I used the same water I'd used to steam the white asparagus, infusing the couscous with flavour. After it readied itself, I added beetroot and chopped parsley, a serving of fried bacon, olive oil, red wine vinegar, pepper, salt, coarsely pounded hazelnuts and pine nuts and sectioned bits of the blood orange we'd bought to use in my marinade for the chicken I was to roast later in the evening.
In any kitchen I'm in, I've found that fear is inevitably followed by relief, though relief seems a mediocre word. There aren't too many emotional equivalents for the almost ecstatic sense of satisfaction you derive when you lift a quiche out of a spring form and find that it hasn't collapsed, isn't half-baked, is whole in a way you never imagined yourself capable of facilitating. Or when you tuck into your mouth a forkful of couscous only to find that the orange you squeezed in on a whim, like a dressing, has contributed to the mixture an earthy sweet-sourness; a citric note that, though subtle, works much like a major or minor key in which a symphony is composed; it holds all its constituting elements together, delivering a finesse you hadn't conceived.
You are humbled by the co-mingling of this, that, and the other; ingredients that sit alongside each other simply because you are not in the safety of the kitchen of your residence where you know exactly what is available and at your disposal. I'm convinced that for me, home is indeed where the hearth is.
Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx Send your feedback to email@example.com
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