It’s July 2020 and in America, we are in the midst of a lot of unrest, uncertainty, and unsociability. Somehow celebrating the birth of our nation feels a bit contrived this year. How can I write about freedom while I myself feel so confined? My thoughts and feelings are constrained and the pride for those around me is at an all-time low. This is not a political post by any means- anyone who knows me will tell you I rarely take a definitive side on such matters- I live in the gray. Not left nor right, not black nor white. I live in experiences, I have learned to navigate my life by seeing and hearing what is around me. Perhaps that is why I am drawn to food.
When you are preparing and cooking food, it is real, it is alive. You must pay attention to its characteristics and know its limitations. A green pepper should be bright and crisp, as should be a ripe, red apple, and a shrimp but only after it is heated. If that shrimp is limp after cooking, something has gone awry. Once cooked the pepper and the apple both should become softened by heat and can glisten when coaxed along in a frying pan.
When you drop any item onto a heated pan you must listen to its song, and use your nose to tell of its journey. The sizzle of a steak on a hot pan is one of my favorite sounds and the symphony of a vegetable stir-fry is simply melodious. The smell of something giving up its aromas like garlic awakens my mind, as does the smell of cookies that are ready to be extracted from their sheet pan.
If you apply a bit of feeling, a steak will tell you when it is ready to be flipped, and when it is at its perfect temperature. Much like an oyster will tell you where to press the stabber to command its rough shell to part. A hard potato will reveal its tenderness when heated properly.
Food is the ultimate example of life in nature we learn that each unique plant, legume, peace of meat, or fish has its own form of expression. Each spice has a nuance that adds to the equation, as do the oils and acids that are added to perk up the flavors.
As humans, we require sustenance, however food as we know it is so much more. If you ever watch a chef plate a meal, or a baker design a cake you know it is a form of artistic expression. Watch a parent feed a newborn baby and you can tell it is a bonding experience for both. When I cook for others it is a language of love, I am telling them through my food gift, that I took the time to care about them. I want to see them enjoy the taste and textures as they quiet their hunger.
At this time of uncertainty in the United States rather than celebrating freedoms past or present, I have like many others turned inward to access and take a closer look at what my world looks like. I am choosing to use my personal judgment to experience what is all around me, listen to the subtle nuances in my life, feel the heat and the pain of change while still listening carefully to the warning sounds that my pan is too hot or about to boil over.
Because of what I have learned from my past experience with food, I am at ease in knowing human nature is just that, nature. No one likes an overcooked meal or burnt cookies, therefore, I just have to be patient. The bitterness we taste now will settle into something sweeter as we change and adapt to create new recipes. I look forward to a time where I will once again make the choice to celebrate my country, my freedom, and my right to independence with pride and gratitude.