|Photo Credit: Morguefile by Xandert|
Standing in the kitchen with my teenagers over the sundered carcass of a beast, I swell with joy. For the moment, I have their attention.
"We need more sea salt in the rub," I admit.
"Is this enough?" asks twelve year-old Devin, with the eyes like wells, Devin with the lashes like one hundred bolded question marks.
"Not really," I tell him, "and you need the fine rather than the coarse."
Fifteen year-old Rowan grinds pepper. In his able hands, the pepper grinder rumbles, purrs, obeys. Devin separates rosemary from a branch.
"Mom, is this the thyme?"
Innocence and ignorance sit so closely on my tongue. Rowan scoffs. I smile, and Devin answers with a smile that owns his question, the scoff and all the amusement in the world. The lashes blink and cheeks run to merry red.
"Is this the thyme, then?" he kids and points at the other herb. "No! What?" He enacts the drama of the fool. Rowan looks on through half-lidded eyes, as skeptical as a snake. I giggle. They push and pull and shape one another with their tugs. Logical and lyrical, an answer to the other's strength.
"We could do a dry rub," I tell them. Rapt eyes focus on my face. "But I am going to use olive oil."
We cover the chicken in olive oil, anoint it like a supplicant before its God. Then we pat on the salt, the pepper, the rosemary and thyme.
"I am going to slice the lemon finely," I tell them.
"Why can't you slice it coarsely?" Devin asks. Because of the laws that govern words. One can slice finely or chop finely, but one cannot slice things in a manner that is coarse.
"One slices thickly," I tell him. "But I am going to slice it finely." Somewhere an Adverb Judiciary nod their heads in frank relief, disaster averted once again.
For a few moments, I slice in silence. The boys watch me as disks of lemon fall decisively from my knife.
"You're slicing them thickly," admonishes Rowan. "You're screwing this all up."
Of course I am. It is my job to teach him things so that he can think that he could do them better than I can. It's his job to rib me and tell me I'm a fool. The basis of our good-natured fondness for one another rests in my willingness to assume that he may well be right. I grin and he grins back.
"Well," I tell him, "They'll have to do." We layer lemons over the chicken.
"It goes in a 400 oven uncovered for an hour or until done. Now, what shall we do with the butternut squash? "
We halve the squash and scoop out the seeds, cut it into manageable wedges. Then we sprinkle it with pumpkin pie spice—nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, lemon peel and cardamom. It is dabbed with what passes around here for butter and settled in a bit of water, covered in a casserole dish. Into the oven it goes. I am confident in this experiment. Anything blessed with cardamom will sing.
"We need to make a salad." Bell peppers hardly bigger than Christmas lights, yellow, red and orange, and English cucumber, carrots—purple, orange and white. Leafy red lettuce. Devin has disappeared and it is only Rowan and me.
"I want to show you how to make my signature dressing."
"I just remembered I have something else to do," says Rowan.
"No, you don't."
"Yes, I do. I have to go lie on the couch."
"Come here," I tell him, using my Mother Voice and he Comes Here. He still Comes Here.
"You mix two tablespoons of red wine vinegar with two tablespoons of dijon and whisk."
"That smells disgusting," he tells me.
"Of course it does. It's vinegar."
"Then add in six tablespoons of olive oil, gradually." As I measure and add, he whisks it in, unasked.
"There's something about the way that looks that just...is wrong."
"Well, it tastes really good. Try." I hand him a lettuce leaf. Dip.
Meh, he tells me. Meh. Whatever, Mom.
When dinner is served, I put out cheap wineglasses and serve sparkling cider with the meal. Devin asks continually if he's holding his glass correctly.
"You look like a redneck who's trying to have class," Mike tells him. Devin rewards him with the deep red smile, the fluttering of lashes and the further mocking up of drinking wrong.
Rowan takes a bite of chicken and stops for a moment of what might be prayer.
"That's gooood," he says.
It is. It is good and it is simple, made of things that happen to be around. Leftover herbs from Christmas. Two lemons on the verge of getting hard. I stock good vegetables, good spices and buy cheap chicken then let everything marry itself on our tongues. I am raising my kids the same way, with whatever is in my cabinets and whatever I find at the store, whatever is on sale. Yesterday it was cooking, tomorrow history. Add good ingredients and a little know-how and forget the recipe book. One may taste like lemon and dijon, the other like cardamom and clove. It doesn't matter. They will sit and watch me cook until one of them takes the knife from my hand, saying, "Mom, I can do better than that." Then, he will cook his own meals and eat the ruined and the rich. He will learn from the smoke about arrogance and devise greatness in his own dry rub.
Until then, I will look for moments where I can stand with each of them in the kitchen, with the smell of lemon and fresh herbs, the warmth and closeness. I will look for them surrounded by the best ingredients we have.