CluelessCookery

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" … by the last guest's departure, I will have somehow managed to have done it again."

The night before, sleep won't come. My mind had become a nattering checklist ticking off items while I tossed and turned. The Muse had invited twenty or thirty, more or less, over for a supper the following evening and I, as usual, assumed my proper role as cook. The "Pork Shoulder Butt Roast" had been soaking in its sou vide bath for a day and a half, to be finished off over a slow, smoky hickory fire the following day. Two chickens were marinating in lemon/herb d'provence goop. A whole steelhead fillet waited attention in the cold corner of the fridge. Two dozen San Marzano tomatoes and a couple of Vidalia sweets were queued up, destined for salsa. A hearty half dozen different beers hovered in the garage, awaiting ice. I would be prepping all the following day.

I think it axiomatic that all great work emerges from some annoying disadvantage, sleep deprivation most common and cluelessness not unknown. No well-rested adventurer ever achieved anything, only the stupidly yawning, painfully limping, and disturbingly impaired even need apply.
Plans, too, should properly turn to shit well before launch. Two or three glaring omissions must also emerge in the final minutes. A misplaced horseshoe nail could, indeed, cost the entire engagement, so I lie awake well after my usual bed time, fussing about all the normal catastrophes, none of which have ever once in the history of this world so far have been ameliorated through fussing, not even by the more focused and thoughtful kind, which I am of course not exhibiting. My mind frantically wanders, producing nothing, much less sleep.

Sleep does finally come, though I'd be the very last one to recognize its presence. I discovered it had come only after it retreated. I raised my head somewhere in the night to wonder why I could not interpret the clock. I think it said 1:21am, but I could not make sense of it for the longest time. I later understood that I had already started exhibiting my genius, a baffled and unsettling sort of genius I most often manifest in the kitchen. When I'm cooking, I can peer at a recipe without understanding what I'm supposed to be seeing there. I'm forced to rely upon muscle memory and gut reactions to guide me. Fortunately, at my age, I hold a lot of muscle memory and my gut, ever growing, still musters reasonable reaction times, otherwise I'd be sunk before I started. I hardly trust my muscles and gut, though, so I tend to lie awake the night before, obsessively ticking off items on a floating mental checklist. I won't remember any of my rumination in the morning, and I know it.

Prepping for a big gathering requires me to immerse myself in the context of that gathering, which can't appear until the day of, often not until the afternoon just before. I hold a rough outline which I will lose addressability to several times throughout the day. I'm reasonably certain of the proper prep and finishing sequence, but I'm also certain that I will not follow it, thank heavens. It seems that when confronting similar challenges in the past, my inadvertences more often improved the outcomes over the original plans. A missing essential most often contributes to an unanticipated but nonetheless delightfully surprising twist, producing something nobody, including me, ever tasted before. These results are irreproducible, like every great creation, but knowing this eventuality contributes nothing to induce sleep the night before. I become hyper-aware of just how lame I am in the kitchen, forgetting all my satisfying experience with my own lameness. I could trust whatever small god oversees these gatherings, but of course I cannot.

Later, I will feel some slight embarrassment when I will not be able to report out on just exactly how I went about producing the meal. I will mumble appreciative deflections and try to change the subject. I feel almost invisible prepping and no less absent when the crowd arrives. I will float between grills and stove top, larder and table almost as if I was not there. Almost everyone will ask how they can help but I will not have a clue, for I'm deeply uncertain how I might help myself, relying as I will upon muscle memory and gut reaction to somehow complete my chores. I will busy myself cleaning up after myself while the gathering winds down. I might whip some cream for the summer tart The Muse made for after. The laughter and corner conversations will wrap me in a story I cannot completely comprehend, but by the last guest's departure, I will have somehow managed to have done it again.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved









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