Friday, November 5, 2010

Having the key to the Abyss...

I stood, quite recently, staring entranced into the inky, seemingly endless abyss that is the bottom of my cast iron frying pan.  The pan is a family heirloom, having belonged at one time to my mother's mother, Granny Adams (may she rest in peace).  To stare into its bottom, as the oil heats, is to stare into a blackness that seems complete, total, and final.  All the light in the world seems to die in the bottom of that pan, and the soul of the cook (in this case played convincingly by my own poor soul, such as it is) is faced, like the soul of the stargazer staring into the cosmos, or the mystic staring into the face of God, with the seeming infinitude of existence.  Faced with the endless, soul consuming blackness at the bottom of my grandmother's pan, I, like others before me, begin to think...
Is cooking a creative act?  I spoke recently (over lunch, a a very nice little Vietnamese place) about the creative process, with a friend, I claiming that while she has her various arts, I have only cooking (as writing academically does not seem to fulfil the same needs, although it could, I suppose, if I framed it properly).  In the hierarchy of the arts, I placed cooking below her music and drawing.
In the early fall of the year, another friend spent a rather long time, and a not insignificant amount of energy, to convince me (she preached, I fear, to the choir) of the creative-ness of her cooking, and how, in her life, it was the sole source of creative outlet.  She, of course, was right, and I wholeheartedly agreed with her at the time.  Why then, today, did I denigrate cooking?
Who can say.  To cook is to intimately interact with the very elements of life.  To make, and to consume (or, height of all heights, to feed another; be still my heart) food is a fundamentally human moment.  One connects not only with the ingredients (which through some process of magic change from the one thing to the other in the process; could be physics and chemistry, but magic too, I suppose), but one connects with one's self as well.  And the other!  Well, it is a powerful thing indeed to feed the other.  To nourish one's self is one thing, to nourish the other is something else altogether.
I am blessed in that a good number of people see fit to feed me, unsolicited. These people, whether they know it or not, share something with me, something profound.
I've stopped using soap to clean my cast iron pan, in part because I know (rationally) that it is bad for the finish, and I will lose flavour.  But, and this is an important but, it is also in part because I am afraid to wash away the blackness, the window into emptiness that reminds me, as I lose my cook's soul in it, what it is I am about to do when I add the onions to the hot fat.

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