Kitchen confidential

Two months after I was fired as a marketing writer, I discovered cooking.

cooking cartoon 88 (photo credit: )
cooking cartoon 88
(photo credit: )
Optimism sets in where reality leaves nothing better. My personal version of "every cloud has a silver lining" is "every job lost has a cook found." No one is more surprised by this recipe than I. Except for the occasional stuffed cabbage and homemade gefilte fish, cooking in my childhood home meant shoving meat in the oven or searing it beneath the broiler. Frozen carrots and peas drowning in boiling water lost their vitality to cry out for mercy. When I set up my own home, cooking meant imitating my mother-in-law's German recipes. I never quite made the grade except for my sweet, purple cabbage and raisin dish. When my two sons crash-landed into their teens, cooking became a means to sate their raging hormones. Each son single-handedly perfected a food disappearing act at which Houdini would no doubt have gaped in disbelief. No matter how much I prepared, it became no more. Freezing food for tomorrow was my fantasy. Every night after a full day's work, I would do my time in the kitchen. Slicing fresh tomatoes and then chopping them into ant-size pieces, grating fresh squash with onions to make healthy latkes, shaping meat and fish patties, browning chicken in the oven smothered in quartered potatoes, I would feel myself every bit a choked chicken. The duty of motherhood, of offering up a balanced meal, had only one pocket of air: music. During the radio days of Abie Nathan, I would tune into Twilight Time every evening, a prelude to opening up the refrigerator. And when twilight time turned dark, I would swivel the dial to the Voice of Music. First Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra and often the early Beatles, and then Bach, Beethoven, Vivaldi and Ravel - their music would send my soul soaring on the steam of cooked broccoli. My children grew to basketball player height on food basted in a novel sauce of one part Ella Fitzgerald and two parts Chopin. Imagine my amazement when this year, just two months unemployed as a marketing writer, I discovered cooking. Every day, I page through the Chinese, Italian, American and Israeli volumes that are every bit as surprised as me at my attention. I seek out new recipes, preferring the ones with glossy color photos that show me happy endings. My cookbook jackets are coated in the grime of dust mixed with cooking oil splashed from the schnitzel pan years ago. I wash them off, knowing that serenity waits inside. Today, for instance, my fingers are drenched in beet juice. It drips down my palms, leaving deep red tracks that I banish with lemon juice. I am trying out a new recipe for kubbeh soup. I switch on the radio and let the French impressionism of Debussy endow my Iraqi soup with that special something. I peel the beets with total dedication. I quarter them with total precision. I slice the onions without shedding a tear. When it's time to shape the kubbeh, I wet my now-clean palms to shape perfect ping-pong sized balls. I poke them with my index finger to make room for the filling: chopped meat, parsley, a fresh garlic clove, minced onion and just a drop of olive oil to keep the mixture stuck together. The more elaborate the recipe, the more soothing. The longer the list of ingredients and preparation steps, the longer my absorption. I am richly rewarded for my efforts. I have found a new outlet for my creativity. I am even sometimes proud of the food I set out on our table. I put two and two together, my past and my present. My mind races into action. I may just have stumbled upon a new alimentary path: musook. I will write the first book of musook! Every spread of two pages will follow this formula: music notes on the left, a recipe with photo on the right. My musook books will come with a CD, a musical piece per recipe, to be played during food preparation. I will choose composers that are sure to turn every meal into a feast. As the soup begins to bubble, I lower the flame until it barely simmers. I leave the cover slightly opened, to make sure that Debussy has a way in. Optimism is alive and well, living in the nooks and crannies of my kitchen. Until a job shows it the door.