Stand facing the stove

May 16, 2009

It was my and Tim’s 8th anniversary this past Tuesday. To say it was uneventful is putting it mildly: we basically rolled out of bed, mumbled sleepy “happy anniversary” wishes, and went our separate ways for the morning. Because nothing says I love you like a morning trip to Lowe’s.

See, we’ve put our house on the market. I can’t adequately describe the work that this feat has required of us, over the last 2 weeks. It was an ambitious goal, one that even until last night, as I was painting new doors at 11pm, I wondered if we could accomplish. But it had to be today: our realtor had sent out e-vites for an ice cream open house (yes, I promised her I would supply homemade sorbet for the occasion, and no, that did not happen) to take place today at 1pm. It had to be done — and as I type I breathe a sigh of relief, because it was done.

And — just so you don’t think we have thrown any and all relationship priorities out the window — we did have a lovely night out last Saturday, as an early celebration. We had worked all day outside, the whole family — it was a wonderful spring day, and we accomplished much. We sat on the patio that evening at The National (the patio where you “can’t” reserve a table, and yet as empty tables were arranged and prepared next to us, we soon realized that exceptions are made when you are an NFL first-round drafted quarterback, having a post-graduation dinner with your family). We drank yummy-licious cocktails, ate sweetbreads for the first time, and finished it all off with a rhubarb-white chocolate blondie topped with homemade vanilla ice cream and local strawberries. A dessert that normally wouldn’t tempt me, but I’m glad it somehow did. The walk back to our car gave us time enough to realize that Athens hasn’t been a bad place to live these past 7 years.

The night of our actual anniversary, I was exhausted, and scrounged up just enough energy to walk downstairs where Tim was working to say goodnight before I flopped into bed. He asked if I had noticed anything different in the kitchen. An odd question, since I had been packing the kitchen all day. He encouraged me to take another look — so I came back upstairs, and upon close examination, saw a new cookbook on my newly-arranged (and edited) shelf. The 75th anniversary edition of The Joy of Cooking sat shiny and new in its jacket, right between my Kimball and Moosewood collections. I was surprised — I didn’t remember mentioning this cookbook in quite a while. It’s publication was a bit controversial, if I remember correctly. It was edited a great deal from the original version, keeping 4000 of the original recipes (although “updating” some) and adding 500 new ones. The cover says “4500 recipes for the way we cook now” — so you can see how that might ruffle some traditionalist feathers. And I can understand why; the original JOY was really good at explaining how to cook, so why mess with a good thing? But then I remembered that even Mastering the Art of French Cooking’s 40th Anniversary edition was edited to include the use of a food processor, among other things. So a little updating isn’t always a bad thing.

It was reassuring, though, that the authors of this edition (primarily Irma Rombauer’s grandson, Ethan Becker) seem to attempt to assume the same thing that blessed Irma did, 75 years ago: they needed to go so far as begin with the instructions to “stand facing the stove.” I love this. Because this was exactly what I needed someone to tell me to do, when I began cooking. To say that I didn’t have a friggin’ clue is being generous — so I appreciate the assumption that basic instructions need not be ignored. I used the book last night, to make split pea soup (not exactly soup weather these days, but I had a hambone in the freezer that I hated to see go to waste). It was a good, clear read, and the soup was simple and delicious.

While I appreciate and will enjoy my gift (did I mention that I managed to get Tim absolutely nothing?) I don’t see it replacing my stained, spine-broken, pencil-scrawled original edition. I get attached to things (oh, the emotional turmoil of a trip to the Goodwill dropoff!), and plus, I like the original. It taught me how to cook, and this was no small challenge. I know things about that book — like, for instance, the fact that the recipe for Brazilian Black Beans is located on page 275. A skim through that cookbook is almost like a journal of the past 10 years of life (convenient, since I don’t journal) — almost as personal as the spiral-bound notebooks that contain the past 5 years of our weekly menus.

As we spent this week in our lives looking back over what we’ve known — Athens, for 7 years, and marriage, for 8 — it’s been a comforting thing, while packing up and facing a new adventure ahead. No one gave us a book that told us where to stand when we started our lives together (again, to say we didn’t have a friggin’ clue is putting it SO VERY mildly). My five-year old told me this week that she was sad we were moving, because she was going to miss our flowers. I told her that it was ok to be sad, but that we could plant flowers at our new house, together. But I knew I was just reassuring myself, my frightened self. Everyone stands at a place similar to this, when homes are exchanged and communities shifted. Perhaps it’s best to look at it like a shiny new edition of a beloved cookbook; in 10 years, the new one will be marked-up too, with its own story to tell.

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