Rendered Fat Content


Antonio del Pollaiolo: Battle of the Naked/Nudes, 1470
" … just when we really needed to be tipped over again."

I was blessed with little taste for salt. My lead palate cannot discern whether a dish needs salt before serving, so The Muse performs that service in the event that we have company for supper and this detail even matters. The Muse keeps the salt cellar handy at table to make up whatever deficit I deliver for dinner. I try, as the cookbooks show, to let salt start to breakdown proteins before cooking, but I work by direction rather than by taste or instinct, because I possess no salt sense. I'm aware that a man of my advancing age should limit my salt intake, but I find no reason to monitor it since I'm most likely to just forget about it altogether. I take it, though, that some find an extra pinch of salt necessary, though I have resigned myself to never understanding why. The Muse also possesses a superior taste for wine and can sense the presence of corking I cannot perceive. I sometimes doubt whether we're the same species, as divergent as our sensibilities seem.

Last week, The Muse leaned over and salted the GrandOtter's already plated supper after suddenly realizing that she'd forgotten to salt it in preparation.
This small move immediately blew up the supper table conversation, violating some limit of reasonable care-taking. The Otter took umbrage. How dare you? I offered a pointed comment, and something deeply significant came into sharp focus. I understand that salt in proper proportion can focus flavors in a similar way. What had seemed everyday, suddenly became somehow extraordinary with that unrequested pinch of salt. That pinch seemed to represent an outer limit where doing for slips into done for territory. The Muse apologized, not having intended to start any fight, and a couple of light-hearted comments allowed us all to finish supper with a minimum of carnage, for then. Whenever one of these pinches of salt appears—some small event with seemingly outsized importance—the universe favors with holographic insight. The Muse reflected later than she'd in that moment recognized a personal shortcoming. Her native, enthusiastic helpfulness has limits. She's encountered them before, almost always long after she's inflicted innocent damage with her generous helping.

The Otter arrived in a tenuous state this time. She'd stumbled and it sure seemed like we could help. We set boundaries, aware of the dangers of open-endednesses where helping's concerned. Nobody needs a ton of any cure, and neediness too easily encourages over-contribution. Support, not an entire structure, seemed prudent. We tried to define limits, but those had grown sloppy over time as The Otter wrestled with her recovery. Not all of the original boundaries retained their resistance, and The Muse took up the slack. Small things, usually. A blunted commitment, what might have just been a hint of resentment, a growing sense of entitlement. The Muse has broad shoulders and, with the very best of intentions, she just automatically picks up the slack. Me, too. No act ever ultimately proves insignificant. All behavior turns out to be representative, especially those little apparent anomalies too easily forgiven and not quite forgotten. Stones gather in pockets until they weigh down one side and affect gait. It's never too late to address these oversights, for some night, a helpful pinch of salt or something will very likely eventually bring every dark brooding to light.

Lot's wife turned herself into a pillar of salt in what we now recognize as one anything but subtle shift in her story. She'd been warned about looking back like The Muse and I had been warned about mistaking The GrandOtter for the one we used to care for over summers back in prehistory. None of us were any longer who we used to be and all might have grown to become a little less certain who they'd become. A grandmother more than capable of caring. A GrandOtter needing while aching to be on her own. Me, observing while also a significant part of the performance. A delicate dance, indeed. However sturdily one constructs their houses of cards, they retain no more than a tentative balance. An errant gust of breeze or even a pinch of salt might bring down the whole construction. No mulligans allowed. Cards easily go to chaos and make crappy construction material, however one might bend, fold, staple, or mutilate them in the process.

I met The Muse when facilitating a workshop. I first noticed her when she was atop a teetering chair, placing cards on top of a planned eight foot house of cards. Her team had relocated their construction efforts to another room after successfully building a four foot tall construction. They encountered only one real problem with this second effort, they'd undertaken it in a room with a seven foot ten inch ceiling. Once discovering this difficulty, her team began negotiating. The theoretical physicist in her group asked if it would be good enough to prove that they could have built the tower with the technology they'd employed. Amy asked if they could use her foot as the measure of what constituted a foot. It was ten minutes after the official end of the time-limited exercise before they decided to take their failure and continue. Everyone seems to turn into a shyster lawyer when confronting inescapable failure. A gust of wind would have provided a more acceptable causative factor. They'd not thought to measure the height of their ceiling before beginning their venture. Nobody building a house of cards ever does. Us, neither.

Now we begin reconsidering our careful construction, one began with genuine care, one brought into stark relief thanks to a simple pinch of salt. What now? What next? We'll flex muscles we might have forgotten we know all about and invent another resolution, since we very likely have an infinity of them to choose from. We cannot start all over again. One reason I skimp on salt lies in the fact that it's almost impossible to recover a dish with an over-abundance of it. Chefs insist that unsalted butter might usually fix it, but I can't tell. Extra herbs might sort of balance it again, but there's no undoing any pinch of salt. After, recovery follows an understanding that this one small act cannot ever be undone. Reinvention calls with no assurance of success. I confess to feeling grateful for that disruptive pinch of salt's appearance. In reflection, it's arrival seemed inevitable. If it hadn't been that, it would have just been something else. The universe seems to have been taking very good care of us, watching patiently before tipping us over just when we really needed to be tipped over again.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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