The smell of fresh sheets and morning baking have always been a clincher for me as well as the sweet combination of Chanel #5, leather and cigarettes on the cold night air. These are scents, some bitter sweet, that are sure to send my mind racing back over the years to childhood. At this moment the house is redolent of pine, chocolate, almond extract and Christmas cookies. I’ve never been a big one for sweets, swinging toward the other end of the palate by preference but I do put on a Christmas spread to die for. After all I am my mother’s daughter.
My mother seemed to lead two lives when I was a child. She was our mother but she also had a separate secret (to us) life that took up large portions of her time. She would come in very late at night and I remember waking up to her kiss on my cheek. The holy trinity of leather, smoke and perfume would assure me that she was home at last and it wasn’t just a dream. In the morning, if she was awake before us, there would always be something good going on the stove or in the oven. It was the best smell in the world to wake up to. The kitchen was always where my mother was at her best. She was focused and in control. No matter what else happened in our lives or in the world, what came out of the kitchen meant love.
I learned to can, to bake and to cook from my mother (trust me there is a difference between the three). She never really told me much of what to do but instead set an example that I could follow. There was always a lot of work to do especially in the late summer and fall. Every canning season it was my job to stuff the pickle jars because my hands were the smallest. I learned to pit the stones out of cherries with a bobby pin (sigh….thousands upon thousands of cherries). I remember the taste of apples peeled, sliced and mixed with sugar, spices and cornstarch sitting in the old turkey roasting pan waiting to fill up pie shells heading for the freezer. On cold winter days the smell of apple pie would fill up the kitchen with Indian Summer days.
I’ve blanched peaches, pears and tomatoes. I’ve complained about the bitter reek of cooking beets and burnt my tongue on atomic spoonfuls of strawberries, sugar and pectin. I’ve strained grape skin from juice for jelly and chopped garlic and onions for chutney. I’ve eaten left over pie dough spread with butter and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar after watching it bubble up in the oven as I anticipated the taste of my very own creation. I can tell by eye if that’s a cup of butter or a bit less. I know what to do with lumpy gravy (other than throw it out). I can cook an entire 5 course meal from scratch, dessert and all, without a recipe in sight. Although I do have a fantastic collection of recipes bound, newspaper leafed or hand written if you’re looking for something special. I know how much "an egg of butter" is and how hot is hot when you need a "slow oven". If I had to I could make a week’s worth of meals out of 2 pounds of ground beef and a bit on the side.
Cooking is one of those acts that needs to be practiced to be learnt. It is one thing to relate the theory and a totally different thing to apply it. I have learned some things through the application over the years. Always check to make sure there aren’t any toast crumbs in the butter before you start to cream the sugar into it. You can make breakfast, lunch and dinner with eggs no matter what your child says. An unwatched pot will boil over…. especially if it’s filled with something that burns easily, smokes a lot and will be difficult to clean. And if you’re cooking for company something will always go wrong (usually to the delight of the family dog).
But the basic lessons that I learned from my mother still remain these many moons later. I don’t measure for the stuff I make all the time like chocolate chip cookies, apple crisp or icing. My freezer contains a variety of selections, asparagus, apples, tomatoes (all from my own yard), ready for a quick addition to any recipe. My macaroni and cheese is homemade as well as my pancakes. The crock-pot is a great friend and my gas stove is a dream. Birthdays are a time for kitchen extravagance and Christmas means a veritable plethora of baked goodies that with any luck and a bit of scheduling can last past New Years.
I do some things a little differently. I don’t pass my yolks from shell to shell to separate the white from the gold. I hold the yolk in my (soap washed and very clean) hand leaving the white to drip out below. I’ve never been able to cook a turkey in a brown paper bag, I use a roasting pan and I’m just fine. And I will never, despite my mother ominous predictions when these items were rejected, make my own ketchup, vibrant dyed green relish or zucchini bread.
There is no secret Chanel, smoke and leather world for me but I’m still my mother’s daughter. Last week my oven housed pot roast with gravy and biscuits, roast chicken and stuffing, apple crumb and lemon meringue pies, while (separate) pots of chocolate fudge and garlic mashed potatoes crowned the stove top. This week it’s 20 dozen Christmas cookies of a wide variety along with almond and peppermint bark. When my son rises in the morning they’ll be something on the stove or in the oven, I haven’t decide yet.
He’ll head out the door with a full belly and a full heart because what flows out of my kitchen in a rich aroma of cream, butter and sugar dust is the physical manifestation of my love. You can see it, smell it and taste it. There’s no denying that it’s there and best of all there’s always enough to go around, with seconds if you’d like.
Inscrutable black eyes, reflected orient, have come to spread the communist theory of common ownership.
An illegal alien, no visa or passport, makes its home in trees stripped bare by the acid blood of a dying metal beast.
In the vacuum left, when the dream was farmed out to the lowest bidder in tropical climates and the coolies back home, a corundum carapace balances on shiny springs under a lotus crown. Hitching a ride duty free on NAFTA promises a brother’s kiss seals the deal. There’s a bigger border marked out in an adjacent point of view than a place of birth.
THE pride that splits and divides turns a blind eye. Habits too well known cosset a bad seed. Drowning grey, a cancer that kills is reflected in the GLOSSY enamel of shining empty eyes.
With the arrival of the daily post we are undone, unclean or unsomething. The government of Canada in the form of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has decreed that…well really they have decreed not much of anything other than something might be happening in our backyard. This edict was not precipitated by an actual visit of an official. The cause was the proximity of our residence (a twenty minute drive) to a prior undiscovered infestation of a recently imported and unwanted visitor to our country. Though this colony of destruction may have existed unregulated for up to 5 years the CFIA feels that the situation still falls within their ability to control.
The ominous missive is officially stamped and signed and upon the receipt of said letter I was at first concerned that our lives were in danger. As it is, the nonexistent ash trees that don’t grow in our yard are at issue. Any fire wood that we might choose to export is also suspect.
The grey dreary days that have proceeded the first day of winter with a month’s worth of snowfall in a mere two weeks have been over shadowed by the threat of a foreign invader. The emerald ash borer is here and the Canadian government has taken quick action to stop this marauding beast. The attempt of creating an ash free zone by culling thousands of healthy ash trees has failed miserably and the government must find a new plan of action. I just don’t think quarantining entire counties will slow the spread of this foreign invader. It is much too late for that.
The sky is falling…
Dying and unremarked by thought or reasoning, a star expands breaching the limits to break apart in infinitesimal fragments. The exodus of that great conflagration, lost and blind, will travel 40 years in a frigid black wilderness to find the sky of this blue jewel.
Miniscule meteorites, bits of star, speed through the atmosphere and the heavenly firmament is lost to view. Battalions of warriors, clad in white and armed with milky swords of ice, drop heavily through the air. A veil falls, mist and windblown, to filter the light in dim shades of grey. No battle cry breaks the silence, only a gentle hiss as each traveler joins the host massed below.
Earthbound at last, here they will rest and wait for the season’s change to join their souls within this new home. At the turning of the sphere they will bathe again in a kindred brother’s warmth.
"The universe is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper."
~ Eden Phillpots
This stark season of chiaroscuro is leaf barren and ice crystalled.
A black-ice hardtop is a bleak gleam through transparent wind blow.
Arms and fingers, bloodless and naked, jet against the pallid sky.
Shadowy bones pierce the bitter shroud.
Lofty giants and flocks of lambs are laden down under the weight of hoary pearls.
Whisper soft, the night swarms with stinging clouds of raw alabaster ash.
The day wakes to the cry of the crow, black and mournful, harsh against the austere expanse.
I want to fill my lungs with the smell of flowers and dirt and raspberries and tomatoes. I want to lay face down in the grass and watch the marching formation of ants on parade while the bumblebees buzz a gentle accompaniment as they trundle from flower to flower. I can almost hear the snap of linen as the sheets dance in the breeze. I can almost feel the warmth of the sun on my back. I want to fill my hands up with the good soil of my garden and let it blacken my palms and crust under my nails. I want to sit by the bonfire on a night so clear and star filled that it’s quite easy to believe that I am sitting at the very center of the universe.
I know I might feel differently on a particular winter day. That winter day will be windless and warm. The sky will be clear and the light from the sun will be so bright that the reflection off of the snow will be almost too much to bear. Everything will be crisp and clean, a new and unknown place to explore with mysteries to discover. That day I know I won’t think about the cold and the wet and the sleeping earth.
A bird’s eye view of the yard shows an intricate design of travel and play. Like steps marked off on a dance chart the composition as a whole tells a story that the individual imprints, by the nature of close interpretation, don’t know. Only from above, when viewed from the second story window, does the ballet reveal itself. From one edge of the snow covered stage to the other the choreography is evident in spots and smears and steps and hollows.
A perimeter path, which is walked in the frigid dark before the house retires for the night, borders the yard. This pas de deux is defined by a rhythm that is quick and light, duty hurried by the outer chill and the promise of a warm bed. Random gestures and sweeps litter the yard; the tempo of varied passage is indicated in depth and distance. The afternoon light paints those steps in drifted hollows of pale blue reflecting the colour of the sky.
A visitor to the yard has left his signature in hesitant ovals grouped by four. The circles are spaced unevenly as a wary eye and twitching nose determined the speed of the dance. Still the path is straight as it cuts across the driveway running from the winter bare hedge to the pale-blanketed fields beyond.
Concave rows in different widths record the passage of frozen balls sent spinning across the white expanse. Smaller furrows that end in miniscule piles are the result of an extended search for arctic treasures. Never alone, all these impressions are dueted by the passage of a constant companion, four feet that dance all the steps. Here they are spaced close together in a stately waltz. There the star player has leapt high leaving only the memory of two feet. The path veers and the steps become elongated, spread out by the speed of the dance. As with all ventures of youth and energy the scars remain of inexperience and exuberance. Spinning too fast, the flurry of spills and rolls is noted for all to see.
There is a stick and a ball under the tree in a hollow that is soft grey and shadowed. Two sets of steps in concert range to the back door and then disappear up the snow-covered stairs to the kitchen.
Viewed from the upstairs’ window one can see that the ballet is only on intermission. The snow covered stage waits for the second act.
Snow at night comes as a silent secret traveler. Glittering swathes of icy muslin, chiffon and tulle drape the yard and soften the sharp angles. The world is reborn a virgin bride in white.