Tuesday, July 28, 2015
This weekend there was magic in my kitchen. I didn't spend anytime bending over boiling pots or kneading countless loaves of dough. I didn't consult any cookbooks for measurements or cook times. I didn't light the oven or the grill.
Instead, I let the flavors of the season lead me. Carrots, radishes, herbs, spinach, arugula, onions, and mung beans fresh from the farmers market inspired the magic, and memories of my mom's summer suppers supplied the approach. I was grateful to their wizardry.
When I was a kid, I spent my summer days outside playing, swimming, cleaning up after my rabbits, and growing hungrier with each hour. The sun beat down on me, turning my skin brown and my hair blonder. When it was finally time to head into the house for dinner, I barely had strength enough to wash my face and hands before sitting down at the dining room table.
My favorite summer supper came on the hottest night of the year when Mom would place before us Jan Dourr's shrimp salad. Jan was one of mom's friends who supplied her with the recipe. I've since learned that similar recipes in church and community cookbooks throughout the Midwest and likely elsewhere, but to us then (and now) Jan's shrimp salad was special. In fact, we had shrimp so seldom that I came to associate the flavor and smell of shredded carrots with the sweet succulence of shrimp and shellfish in general. Alongside the salad were thick round slices of Colby cheese, biscuits hot from the oven and slathered with lots of melting butter, and baked beans. A meal of shrimp salad was incomplete without these accompaniments.
And so Saturday found me pushing carrots and radishes (pulled out of the ground a few hours prior) into the food processor. They came out in a rainbow of shreds that I added to a mayo-lemony herb dressing. I boiled plump Gulf shrimp in an intoxicating bath of Old Bay and lemons, and added cooled, large bites to the carrots and dressing. Mung beans simmered on the stove and when they were tender I simmered them still longer in a brew of rum, molasses, butter, and maple. We ate our feast in the cool dark with tumblers of white wine over ice. The ice clinked in our glasses, the fan hummed, and my tummy smiled.
I wonder if kitchen magic occurs when we invite the spirits of our past to join us. I do know you cannot always predict when magic will appear, which is probably why we are so appreciative when it does. Perhaps magic happens when the Universe is nodding in approval at the choices we are making.