Tito Puente and Threatening the Cheese

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It makes me sad to think that I live in a world full of people who don’t know who Tito Puente is, or that his version of Take Five is even better than the original (you win the bonus round if you can tell me who did it first. Stick it in the comments. There is probably a towering trophy, a gift card, or maybe a smiley face coming to you if you are correct. Extra gold stars if you can name the group that made it famous. 5000 Shame-On-Yous if you have absolutely no idea what I am talking about). It really is the best possible soundtrack for reading this blog, so I will wait while you look it up and hit play.

There are few things more glorious and ludicrous than being a housewife. Well… at least the way I do it. And because I embrace the reckless autonomy and revel in the anarchy that is the home, I routinely send myself careening down the mountain of logical outcomes, which generally ends in a heap of something tasty and not terribly economical. Allow me to give an example.

If you are caught up on the previous posts, then you know it has been a bad week for bread. I have, as we have established, a nasty sliver. So this morning, I decided to walk away from all sponges — Mothers, Aunties, the whole lot of them (“Fine! Be that way! I didn’t want to play with you anyway!!” Which is always a bald-faced lie, but there you have it. My feelings were hurt) and use a more honest leaven. That’s right — I wasted a solid 3 cups of dried fruit to attempt an interesting and fruity focaccia bread. I had, out of sheer curiosity, purchased a pound of apple smoked country bacon at the local butcher shop and envisioned the delicate complexity of flavors when I served it to my family for dinner, probably cut straight off a wooden board and smeared with French salted butter, a glass of cold milk accompanying to whet the whistles. Well. The dang stuff burnt.

Surveying the large rectangle of darkened bread, I rousted in myself all the spine and stick-to-itiveness of my ancestors — these were women who fed large families on farming incomes, who wore gloves to the country store and knew how to light their Christmas puddings into glorious flame without burning down their houses. I would NOT be the genetic weak link. So, obviously, I decided to make cream cheese.

Stop laughing, this isn’t funny.

We shall now take a momentary pause in this story to observe yet another culinary careen that took place at the same time, because I don’t think you can fully grasp what I mean by “ludicrous” without getting the whole picture.

While the breads were baking, I was pondering the single serrano pepper that the Beloved brought in from the field. Being vegetable farmers for a living, the goods are plentiful this time of year and he blesses me by allowing me to place daily “orders” for what I need or want to feed the family, but he will also sometimes bring in unexpected treat — the first crop of an unusual vegetable or the like. He brought in a small handful of vividly green, smooth and shiny peppers and gave me a run down on what they were. Serrano, think I, is one I know what to do with! Curry, my good man! Curry is just the thing!

I cannot explain why I perceive curry to be a deeply British affair, except that my guilty pleasure is Bridget Jones’ Diary (I cannot defend this. The language is horrible. Yet it makes me laugh loudly and heartily every single time) and her mother’s turkey curry boo-fay has planted the notion in my subconscious. So last January, fresh off a round of watching holiday movies, I decided to commit to finding a curry recipe that we liked and came upon a chicken coconut curry that had been lurking in my favorite cookbook, Miss Dahl’s Voluptuous Delights, and had been overlooked by my culinary attentions in the past. It was perfect, and we ate it roughly four times a week for maybe three months. But now!! Now I had a fresh serrano pepper to use, from our own farm, and fresh cilantro to top it with!

You are, perhaps, familiar with the old story about the woman who swallowed the spider? She swallowed the spider to catch the fly, I don’t know why she swallowed the fly, I guess she’ll die, and so forth? Why do I mention that nursery story here?

No reason.

Where was I… ah, so there I am, with a pepper, which justified buying twenty dollars worth of chicken from the butcher and making a calculated grocery order for the right rice to serve with (forbidden rice is killer with this curry).

So there I was, chopping onions and garlic and the much ballyhooed serrano while the too-dark bread cooled and the milk did its fancy curdling bit. The time came to pour it into the cheesecloth lined sieve, where that lack of spatial reasoning I have mentioned before in passing came to bite me in unsociable locales yet again. The cheese inched precariously close to the top and threatened to spill over, a whey-tastophe, if you will, in the making. So I did what I think Ma Ingalls would have done: I threatened. I bellowed about the cheese’s mother and her closet full of army boots, while continuing to pour hot milk with a belligerent disregard to physics and the laws governing volume, and made scathing remarks about its last haircut and told in explicit detail what I would do it if it dared transgress the bounds set by the top of the sieve.

Napoleon probably felt like hot stuff when he whooped the Prussians, but that was only because he had never experienced the triumph of going toe to toe with the cheese and winning. IT DID NOT PASS.

However… there is a Waterloo in every life and mine was to come 20 minutes later, when half a gallon of milk oddly turned into about a half cup of questionable looking cream cheese. You might say that the cheese had the final word. You know what I hear is a classy and sophisticated way to eat burnt bread? Dipped in runny fake cream cheese. I’ll let you know how it goes over.

But it is impossible to me not to be absolutely intoxicated by the brilliance of the freedom of housewifery! Do not curse me with “liberation” — I am too busy running a world that matters to be bothered by the world outside. And in my world, to say “because I can” is a sufficient reason for an endless font of the joyfully ridiculous to flow, for ingredients to be used up with abandon, for happy disasters to abound and to be sprinkled with triumphant successes along the way! It is enough for me, enough reason to splatter myself with failed fritter batter and make my feet swell up from a long day standing in the kitchen, if I add even an ounce of sweetness to my family’s life, if I reflect the glory of the Creator whom I live to imitate in even the tiniest approximation.

Stare into the brightness of God’s gifts, woman, if you think can handle it without being utterly blinded by the visage! Better still — go on. Be blinded, and stop relying on what you can see! Taste the goodness by turning your kitchen upside down over the gift of a single pepper, feel the complex kindness of His love by digging your fingers deep into the glutenous mass that is focaccia bread dough. Smell the faint sweetness of dried cherries as they magically plump up under the siren song of boiling water, and hear the the hiss of steam when you pour water into a basin tucked away in the bottom of a piping hot oven, the very water preparing to do battle on your behalf in the fight for the perfect chewy, satisfying crust. You’d best gird up your loins if you are going to try and pitch me the outrageous line that somehow life is bigger and better and fuller as a cog in a wheel outside the home, as a slave to a clock and an employer and a transportation system — it takes an awful lot of stubborn cheek to pitch a brazen lie to a free woman. Away then, with your upside-down visions! Your world is too small, for you have lost the joy of all small things! The God who created Everest with a word also spoke salt into being, the Lord of the vastness of space is Lord also of the cookie jar, the yeast, the mysteries of cheese and beer and bananas that ripen fastest in brown paper bags. Give up and give over that cursed gullibility that looks down on the glories of high calories and hard work, that thinks laundry and feeding people are drudgeries and sees no irony in spending 12 hours a day in a cubicle mindlessly doing what you are told.

When you have emptied your affections of all such rot, look up. The Giver has hands spilling over with gifts for you — load up your arms, set fire to your imagination, and GO TO IT.

3 Responses

  1. Ellen
    | Reply

    Yearning to be utterly blinded by the Visage and emptied of all lesser affections. (But making cream cheese, not so much.)

    • barb
      | Reply

      I cannot heartily recommend the whole cream cheese venture anyway. Turns out Philadelphia does it well and there is an alarming lack of street cred accrued in usurping their rightful place as chief cream cheese makers.

      • Ellen
        | Reply


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