Roux the Day

A worn wooden spoon on a worn wooden cutting board.

She stood over the stove stirring. Stirring, stirring, stirring. She wasn’t giving up.

She was learning to cook. It was a grownup thing to do, and she was ready to be a grownup. She outfitted her kitchen with a few pieces of mid-priced cookware to join the battered pots that had been her stepmom’s. She was addicted to cooking shows and studied the mis en place and vino in mano of her favorite chefs on her favorite shows.

Between HGTV, YouTube and prodigious brunches around town she was growing her skills, her palette and her repertoire. She fancied herself the foodie friend. She had started inviting friends to stand up cocktails with cute things on skewers and bites on those silly appetizer spoons. She graduated to hosting her own brunches filled with fancy french toasts, egg custards, salads and mimosas. Last year she did Thanksgiving for the friends who couldn’t get home. The boxed wines she served were the good ones. Everyone said she did great.

She was ready to cross into new territory. The turkey dinner was a win, but she was ready for something from her own inspiration. She decided that she’d host her alumni squad for a fun dinner party after the game. Her solution? Gumbo.

Gumbo was like chili only more exotic. Like chili, it could make ahead of time, it didn’t need extensive staging and it was hearty. She figured she’d serve gumbo, a goat cheese and pear salad with candied pecans that Giada makes and a baguette from the local bakery. She’d lay out some of Emeril’s “kicked up” olives, that fancy cheese with honey, breadsticks and beers to hold her guests while she warmed up the stew. She was hoping to remind people of New Orleans. Her idea was to have a party that was theme-y without really having a theme. She expected maybe ten or so.

She hadn’t made gumbo before, but didn’t consider it beyond her domain. The ingredients weren’t unusual–save the okra, but okra is a vegetable. She hadn’t been challenged by a vegetable yet. She felt confident. She got up early.

First up, the roux, the key to an authentic gumbo. Ingredient-wise it’s just oil and flour. Not too complicated. All she had to do was heat it and stir it until it was a deep chocolate brown. It seemed triflingly simple. Stand and stir. And stir.

After about five minutes she could see the color change. She nodded to herself. Something was happening. She figured a few more minutes. All she could hear was the spoon on the pan. Her phone should be charged by now. She grabbed it off the charger in her bedroom. She swiped around until she found an appropriate Spotify list–1,600 songs from New Orleans. That was good for mood setting.

She walked back into the kitchen to a scorched pan. The roux was burned. She had stepped away for two minutes, okay, maybe five or six, but it’s supposed to cook for like fifteen. Crap! She only had one big pot. She had to wait for it to cool before she could clean it out.

She fiddled with her playlist and made sure that her phone was connected to the speaker before she started again. She was glad she started early. She smiled and thought if it were later she’d have some cooking wine. Maybe it was better to be stone cold sober. She filled up her coffee mug, swirling in some of that hazelnut creamer. She dried the pan with a dish towel and put it on the burner to remove the last traces of water. She was ready.

Roux take two.

She measured out the oil and the flour and began the stirring process. She knew now that this concoction was a demanding master. She kept her spoon moving through the flour and the oil. It swelled and bubbled a little. She kept stirring. It went from vanilla to beige. More stirring as it passed from beige to taupe. It started to smell a little nutty. That was a good sign according to her recipe. She stirred and stirred. She swept the spoon in figure eights. She squiggled it through the mixture. She sipped her coffee from the cup held in her left hand as her right hand pushed the the darkening roux back and forth. She wasn’t stopping this time.

She had massaged the stuff in the pan for fifteen minutes. It seemed stalled. It wasn’t getting darker. It was stuck on caramel colored but she needed dark chocolate cake batter colored. She turned the heat up to make something happen. And it did. It went from a nutty smell to the stench of old fire pit. A few curse words sputtered from her lips.

Ruined roux number two.

She inhaled long. She exhaled from her nose and mouth at the same time. She needed to get this done and cooked before she left for the game, so she didn’t have time to get frustrated. She waited, again, for the pot to cool. It was a good thing, because she needed to cool, too.

She looked at the clock. She was running low on time. She googled “roux” and looked through a few of the entries. She found one from a site called BlueBayouCrazyCajunCooking that said it takes a half hour to get the right shade of chocolate and to lower the heat toward the end to avoid burning.

Well, she definitely knew how to burn it. She had two techniques for that. She shook her shoulders out and switched her coffee out for a coke. She measured out the flour and the oil and began the process again, hoping that the third time was the charm.

 

Petals of Metal

3 pictures of a rose cupped in hands, first the flower, then the separated petals then a shredded pile.

She developed her set of techniques originally as self-protection, but she found they served her well in self-promotion, too.

She had always been smart. Not the smartest but an equation of brains multiplied by hard work put her near the top. And while there might be a limit to brainpower, she was fully in control of her effort level. She could do this.

A loving addict for a dad and a mismatched avoider for a mom were the catalyst and the enzyme for recurrent family chaos. They would reject her and she would come back. She strained–because that’s what she did–to make her family work. Really, though, to make it work for her. She wanted out. She wanted to be on the path to good fortune and the life of the fancy. She wanted her parents to be proud. She wanted her parents to love her. She wanted them to want her almost as much as she wanted to leave them.

She wasn’t good at hiding her feelings. She couldn’t hide her terror of rejection. She learned, though, that some people hated to see her terrified. She learned that teachers and bosses and friends and lovers responded with concern to her cocktail of tenacity and anxiety–especially when she served it with syrupy flattery mainlined to their egos. They were happy to tend to her. She asked more frequently. She sat adoringly at their feet, looking up with big doe eyes for approval and favor. She frequently received both.

When her recipe went awry she didn’t check her ingredients or her technique, but blamed the stove for failing her. She learned that if she was self-deprecating, others would fault the stove, too. Sometimes her flopped recipes would work their way out. Sometimes she picked up a new technique. She always picked up a new cookbook. She could find new appliances. Shiny ones that would not fail.

She settled on her mate early. He was weaker than her–but strong enough. It was a child’s relationship from middle-school. They grew up together. He loved her and she encouraged him to need her. She didn’t bother with other men in college. She punched her ticket and decided he was the one. Except for that time they broke up when he lost his mother and he really needed her. She took him back when he was “well.”

When she had children, she loved them the way  that she learned to love. By seeking approval. Sometimes she would look for theirs. Other times she strategically withheld hers. It was an equation, this family thing. You invested, but there was a required return. They were supposed to love her and she would do what it took to make it so–whether it was guilt, or bribes, or mistruths, or silence, or hugs, or praise, or time, or attention. She didn’t know she did this, but her kids did.

When they left her house, one left the slide rule behind and sought no approval, and so sacrificed her mother’s interpretation of love. The other attempted to measure up, but could not find her own peace by trying to patch together her mother’s.

Her mate fell into a painkiller addiction that almost killed him. He found that the numbness he felt with her could be swapped out more pleasantly. When he came back, he moved away for a while. She was angry and lost. She stayed that way. And he stayed away.

 

 

Hockeying

fcb96-verb

As my social media cohort was preparing it’s post-holiday back to work hustle, there was much bemoaning the required wearing of garments that were not pajamas. This was often punctuated by a wail against “adulting.”

adulting (v): to do grown up things and hold responsibilities such as, a 9-5 job, a mortgage/rent, a car payment, or anything else that makes one think of grown ups.–Urban Dictionary

To be or not to be, an adult. Hmmm. When did being an adult become a verb about acting in the manner of an adult?

Is this part of the ever expanding adolescence wherein adolescence is the time between childhood and adulthood? Does it not end? Or is the current fashion for folks to just play like they are adults without accepting that they, indeed, have crossed that threshold.

I remember when I knew I was an adult. It was the day me and my friend went into Brookstone. We sat on the massage chairs then gravitated to the air hockey table. The table was powered up. There were pucks and strikers. We looked at each other and grabbed the strikers and went about playing air hockey in the store. We were quite raucous. The puck went airborne, flying across the store.

Air hockey table. A good one.Nobody stopped us. We kept playing. I kept waiting. But nobody stopped us, because maybe we might buy that $800 table. Because we were adults.

No way were we going to buy that thing. I loved being an adult. Not acting like one, though.

I’m keeping adult as a noun. Perhaps, though, there are other worlds that I would be happy to verb.