I hear the leeks sizzling on the stove, and Etta James wailing At Last as the orchestral strings swell in the background. I feel all the worries of the morning slip away as I cut nice even squares of fennel. I breathe deeply, sway a bit to the blues coming from the cd, and concentrate on making small uniform pieces. This is where I relax, in the kitchen. A few minutes earlier I was thinking, thinking, thinking – making arrangements to meet my sister in Italy, who will get over to help grandma with her lunch, organizing the fundraiser at my shop tonight, which flight do I put Rene on, I need to make hotel reservations for New York , oh I forgot to answer Gary’s email, a client is coming at 9 am, can Wally handle it or should I be there…and so on and so on and so on.
But now I have asparagus on the counter behind me and it needs tending . I add a little lavender salt to the mixture of leeks, fennel , celery and garlic I have in my treasured oval copper skillet that used to be my mom’s. I remember the day in the early seventies when we were at the store buying it, another one for her collection of Revereware. She loved looking through the catalog to decide which would be next, hung them on the wall of the kitchen, but rarely used them. “I don’t want to get them dirty,” she would explain. As a teenager I used them as a mirror, loving the copper tone they gave my skin. I’d put my hair in braids and pretend I was Native American, vogue in the mid seventies – this was the era of Cher and songs like Half-Breed. It is the skillet I use the most, partially as a connection to my mom.
The music has shifted to the funkier horns of Tell Mama and I pick up my dance moves as I watch the spinach curl up as it hits the heat. Luckily I am alone so I can do all the very jive dance moves I want – that is part of the therapy. My IPod has playlists for most of life’s activities including cooking. Sometimes it is the jazz/blues styling of Ella and Etta, but then Dean Martin is always a good cooking companion. My guilty pleasure is pure 80s with Footloose, Kung Foo Fighting and some Wham thrown in. That’s when my dancing is at its best – sliding across the floor, hands in the air, maybe a twirl or two.
I know some people unwind in a bath, candles lit with a glass of wine, or maybe a good massage. My sister loves the sense of running, running away from her house and all the responsibilities therein. But for me, it is the rhythmic chopping of vegetables, Wusthof knife in hand, with my favorite music playing. Give me a counter full of washed vegetables and a good knife and my blood pressure drops.
I look at the pan admiring the comingling of the different shades of green and add in chopped tomatoes. The bright red just pops. I sigh, both for the visual appeal and how good this is going to taste. Food for the body and the soul.