Archive for November, 2007
I’m making tapioca. It’s the first time I’ve made it since Russ died. It was a magic dessert; not heavy in fats, soothing to a chemo and radiation fried throat and belly, something we could both share. Something, like tonight, I could stir and stir and become somewhat transported in time while waiting for the mixture to become frothy and thick and grow to the sides of the pan. Initially, we discovered tapioca at Costco; it was sweet and wonderful and the carton claimed that it was made by hands in little batches to be sold in the thousands daily across all the Costcos. Imagine that! I decided I’d make it myself. Russ curled himself on the mat close to me, two dogs intertwined with him, and me stirring, stirring with the wooden spoon, reflecting and stopping the worries to simply stir. I would serve it up cold in my Winfield china with cinnamon on top, and it became a preferred treat for visitors.
My mom used to make custard. She rarely cooked anything, so I always felt her custard was a kind of sacred event. She had special cups just for it, and she would line them up neatly in the refrigerator with nutmeg sprinkled on top. Even the neatness of those glass cups had an aura about them, as nothing else in the refrigerator was neat, or fresh, or perhaps even edible. The custard wasn’t made for any special events; sometimes I would come home from school, and there they were, lined up like sentries in the refrigerator, made in a little batch by hand, by my mother, who had an inspiration to stop chaos for a moment, to stir and stir, waiting for a creamy yellow mixture to thicken.
Stirring my figure 8s in the tapioca, I swirl in thoughts of the cool custard in those glasses with the surprise of nutmeg, me a little girl in awe of my mother the custard chef. I wonder if even then I sensed in the spoonfuls of cream the moments of peace the stirring brought to my mother so hungry for some reflection beyond the comforts of her cigarettes.
Sugar and Cream
My mom is handing her things off to us kids, furniture and jewelry and plates and pictures passing on one by one with the growing assurance and acceptance of the cycle of life, the lines growing deeper on the face, the bones settling further and further into the shape in which birth took place. With the passing, come the stories, come the memories, some true, some invented, but all rich with the celebration of time on Earth.
On this last visit with Mom, I was for some reason so intrigued with sugar and cream sets. Mom has several: one so delicate, clear glass etched with a leafy, flowery design, and handles so curvy and diminutive in size, the cream would need to be poured by the most polite of finger tips. The base is set with a ring of silver that once shined clear and sparkly, ignited the pleasure and storytelling of my mother who tried over and over again to remember the real story of where she got it, but seemed to just return to marveling at looking at it. Another set was painted; and was a set of three, including the teapot, a golden spout, golden trim, scenes of lovers dancing in burgundy hues around the edges. Just looking at them requires a dress and a harp and a tall backed chair and the summer breeze wafting through windows. She has a gold geometric version sure to have been from the Art Deco movement of the 20’s; design and simplicity set in decadent materials. Yet another set was crystal; each heavy to pick up, cut glass so textured that an accidental touch could draw blood to a finger, and tapped on the edges pings a tone ready for a Christmas concert, with the arcs of light refracting in rainbow lights from each cut edge. This set I returned to holding, cupping the glass in my hand, and letting my finger tips wander over the designs.
She told me I could have one set. I fantasized about every one, thinking about me dressed in my Flapper Dress, a feather poked through my hair, reading the Great Gatsby while sipping my coffee. I thought of me on a Saturday morning, the delicate set out, smiling with my friends, fresh baked scones on fancy plates. I went through scenario after scenario, creating entire segments of life just in my looking. I couldn’t decide. And then I was sad; I was mystified by my sadness. So I did what I do to figure such things out; I walked to think about it.
Coffee. Tea. The rush of the morning, the getting ready for work, the lattes that have gotten bigger and bigger to the size of soup tureens. The presentation of colorful bottles in the coffee shops that attract our attention with color, with words, with shape, and we buy them, so loving the craving, and then when done, we throw the bottle the cup out.
A crystal sugar and cream set. Consider: a very small cup on a lovely saucer, a tiny sip of this, a tiny sip of that, and the conversation, the thoughts, the ceremony. Not so long ago, there was an entire culture that enjoyed small portions of coffee on elegant surfaces, and there were people that understood the presentation of the experience was really more important than what was being consumed. 100 years of sugar and cream in the same vessel over three generations, and here we are tossing cups and bottles out by the millions, every day. And myself, the single gal, I’ve been swept right up with all of it, not so much forgetting how much I love to linger over a Saturday breakfast set on beautiful plates, but perhaps I’ve lately been putting that special time aside in favor of moving quickly to “do” as much as possible, to be out and about. With mom’s table covered in a sparkly array of sugar and creams, a neglected part of me quietly reawakened. I need to entertain on a Saturday morning, using tiny little cups and enjoying the growing light of the morning with fresh baked muffins, squished out orange juice and the bliss of a meandering conversation.
I took the crystal set.