Monday, March 30, 2009

Creating and Consuming

"Life's a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!"
Auntie Mame

The novel Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis is the only novel I ever laughed out loud at while reading. (The movie with Roz Russell isn’t nearly as funny as the book.)

This idea stuck with me. How much does each of us feast on the parts of life that are within our reach? For me, the literal part of that idea escaped me for much of my life. As a girl I was a “picky” eater. In another decade I probably would have been diagnosed with an eating disorder, but in the late 60s/early 70s I was just picky. I couldn’t eat anything except chicken, bacon, hamburger, English muffins, and bunny food--lettuce, celery, carrots, cucumbers.

When I went away to college, I had never eaten a scrambled egg or a slice of pizza or a frankfurter. My parents did ask my pediatrician about this strange, limited diet. He said that I was healthy and that I would grow out of it.

I eventually did. In college I slowly branched out to more normal eating patterns, topping out with fried conch when I sailed to Bimini with the Georgia Tech Sailing Team. I reached the next plateau during my first trip to France. I did a Butterfield & Robinson bicycle tour of the Dordogne to get over a broken heart and along the way connected with a deeper level of appetite, of the desire for and satisfaction in the taste of food.

The flip side of the desire for food is cooking. Can you create that which you desire? Not surprisingly, I am not a natural cook at all. I have a few things that I have been able to make well, but it feels forced and labored.

And so I decided to take a cooking class, starting at the absolute beginning. The city offers many opportunities to learn to cook. I chose the descendants of Peter Kump’s school, now called the Institute of Culinary Education. It is a professional school that has a recreational division. And that was part of the thrill—using professional grade kitchens with professional instructors.

This beginner class was three, three-hour sessions. A perfect amount to get your toes wet (and which I heartily recommend to anyone looking for a lovely culinary experience). There were 20 of us, in this off-semester, March program. Quite a diverse lot, several couples, all ages. And people who knew even less than I! What struck me was how uncertain we were together. How do you chop a scallion? Exactly which part gets cut?

It’s a hesitancy that I find frustrating. I never flinch when looking at a blank page—-I know I can fill it up. I don’t worry when I look at a new piece of music-—I know I can bring the notes to life.

But reading and processing a recipe? That takes so much concentration. And so the course, where I connected a bit with ingredients and the world of professional chefs. What amazing people they are, like musicians, to enter a profession that offers endless heartache to its aspiring ranks.

And speaking of musicians—-two days before my last class I was given a last-minute ticket to Valery Gergiev conducting Prokofiev at Avery Fisher. Music, like, food, is something that we have appetites for and need to consume. I went particularly for the solo piano of Vladimir Feltsman playing the Piano Concerto No. 2. For me it was the thrill of an unfamiliar piece. It did not disappoint, abounding in the distinctive Russian pyrotechnics, with strength of sound and purpose.

But what struck me most was the applause. It was the proverbial thunderous. The piece and performance were good, but not that good. What I was hearing was the yearning of an audience of people starving for beauty, and so thankful to be consuming it.

I left at intermission. It had been a trying day at work, and the piano was the thing I wanted to hear. I ran to the #1 train, where my Metrocard registered a transfer. I was surprised. I had taken the bus up to Lincoln Center, and forgot that they had extended the transfer time to two hours. It’s a tough city, and when it works in unexpected ways—-like registering a Xfer when you thought it would be 2 fares—-it feeds the soul, if just a little bit.


Jeremy said...

Do yourself a favour, if you haven't already. read Julian Barnes' The Pedant in the Kitchen. I think you'll enjoy it.

M.A.Peel said...

Yes, the whole of food literature is before me. Yea! I picked up M.K.Fisher's Serve It Forth on the way home. I will go on to Barnes after. Thanks for the recommendation.

dorki said...

"...takes so much concentration." A good way to keep the brain alive too! Learning new things not only brings knowledge, but probably enjoyment, and fights aging of the brain.

Keep us posted of your culinary accomplishments.