Making love and cooking scrambled eggs are very similar. A friend, who owns a local café, likens the two processes because each “is a skill requiring a gentle heat, slow stirring and a gradual increase of temperature so as to not burn anything.”
This, along with other memorable food quotations, I diligently record in a recipe book my Mother gave me thirty-one years ago. I know this because she signed the inner cover, “Merry Christmas to Jennie! 12/1984 . . . Love Mom.” The three-ring binder, stained with an array of unidentifiable ingredients, is only partially filled with hand-scribbled directions for Dodie’s Whole Wheat Muffins, Texas Sheet Cake and Squash Pie. I treasure it also for the culinary quotes providing nourishing memories of meal-time conversations with close friends, some still living, some who are not.
One of these quotes came from my first love who said, “Sundays are good for baking” and I fondly think of him while kneading my weekly loaf and pray he is well and happy. During a dinner discussion about our favorite foods, another dear friend emphatically stated, “If I could change any absolutes in the world, I would make fat and salt good for you.” With similar conviction, a local bookstore owner told me, “If God didn’t want us to eat bacon she would not have invented angioplasty.”
The futility of drinking decaffeinated coffee was confirmed by a co-worker who said, “That’s a waste of stomach space.” And those of us who worked in food service would likely agree with author Maeve Binchy in her description of a restaurant’s wait staff who, as they observed their diners, agreed among themselves that “no other job is quite as interesting as watching the human race at feeding time.”
Some quotes are my moral teachers. On the inside back cover is a quote from Leah Chase, chef at Dooky Chase’s in New Orleans. I heard Mrs. Chase, a long time African American resident of that southern port city, comment that the restaurant, which is still in business, was a place where people came together during the days of segregation. Food was the great equalizer and she attracted customers with how, not just what, she cooked: “I tell people all the time you have to be in love with that pot. You have to put all your love in that pot. If you’re in a hurry, just eat your sandwich and go. Don’t even start cooking, because you can’t do anything well in a hurry.”
You can’t do anything well in a hurry. Love offered in a hurry leaves one feeling empty or, worse yet, used. Eggs made in a hurry taste like rubber. Coffee drunk on the run makes for an upset stomach and bread baked without care and attention tastes lifeless. Time taken to knead in the memories of meals cooked and shared allow Love’s yeast to rise slowly into something that sustains and merits the title, “The Staff of Life.”
Grief, like love, cannot be experienced in a hurry. In the past year, five dear friends left the table when they had finished eating and walked out the door into eternity. I do not seek to pass over this strange nourishment offered by grief. What I do seek, and find, in this small binder is the truth of joy and love to complement life’s sorrows. These ingredients, like salt and spices, give life depth and flavor.
Words scripted in blue ink at the bottom of a worn page speak to why I keep these seemingly silly little quotes. After a long, hot drive through South Carolina, friends and I anticipated a culinary revival at a favored eatery. The waitress greeted us at the table with words frequently heard in Southern restaurants, so frequent they often pass me by. In retrospect, however, they remind me that when loss and pain are on the table, peace and goodness are being prepared in the kitchen. Like a prophet promising manna from heaven, the truth of ready sustenance flowed down to us as she gently said, “I’ll be right back, baby, with biscuits and sweet tea.”