Have Mercy on Us for We Know Not What We Have Cooked

Person: Monica
Location: Barcelona, Spain
Recipe: Gazpacho

Monica smiling before the storm.

We were battening down the hatches in the apartment, Monica and I. Hurricane Irene was drawing near, and New York City had begun shutting its collective doors to all but the most intrepid. Subway service was on its way to being suspended citywide. And as early as 5 p.m., bodegas were slamming their gates in preparation for the impending storm; shelves had already been emptied of water, bread, and milk. Soon, as Monica and I knew but never voiced, we would be one another’s sole ballast.

Watch out hurricane! You haven't reached Brooklyn yet.

Faced with impending doom, it’s natural to supplicate oneself to God in hopes of finding tea and sympathy. Luckily for me, Monica sang in a gospel choir in Barcelona, so we were that much closer to heaven. Steering clear of actual prayers though, as she claimed her interest in gospel was musical rather than religious, we instead eased our minds by filling the larder with God’s essentials: bread and water. I ran the tap and collected clear H2O in pots, then made a quick run to a grocery store to see what could still be had for love or money: jars of artichokes and capers, tins of tuna, perhaps a lemon. Two bottles of wine and some nectarines and apples I’d bought days earlier at the farmer’s market would keep us sane with sangria.

Calm before the storm.

That night, we huddled at the table while outside the wind whipped at trees and buildings. Rain pounded the glass, as we ate in silence under dim lights to conserve energy, hoping we’d be spared the rude awakening of even more thunder and lightning deep in the night.

It's going to be a rough night.

Dinner was modest – bread and cheese and olives at 10 p.m. – which Monica said was the typical dinner hour in Spain, even without a hurricane. Apparently, she couldn’t cook a lick herself, despite her mother’s job as a teacher to younger chefs. The skill had skipped her and her younger brother, while catching hold with the three eldest siblings.

The next morning, with further deluge still threatening, we turned into castaways on a desert island, tearing at the food in the refrigerator as if we’d been out in the elements all night rather than tucked cozily in our respective beds.

But as the day wore on, and we remained trapped, waiting, for what more we did not know, I began to go slightly mad, and before reason could grab hold of me, I began cooking as if my life depended on it. No piece of food went untouched. Whatever was there, I turned it into something. Guacamole. Tzatziki. Spanish gazpacho. Mexican chocolate ice cream. Nectarine-mojto pie. I was a whirling dervish of rolling pins and spatulas.

Nectarine-mojito pie. Take Martha Stewart's peach pie recipe, substitute nectarines, and marinate with rum, mint, and lime.

By the time I was done, there was enough food to feed a small army, not two solitary women trying to watch their summer weight for a few weeks more. What would we do? If we ate it all ourselves, surely we would have arrived post-storm two sizes bigger than we began. Then again, perhaps we needed to conserve. Who knew how long we’d be without another infusion of comestibles.

But just then, we heard a knock at the door, and standing outside were two unexpected guests, friends from afar who had travelled through the storm to see if we were okay. We invited them in and offered them sustenance. Soon a party atmosphere took over.

The Hurricane Singers.

The Lillet and sangria flowed. And, before we knew it, we were singing to God and the heavens, asking to be spared. Save us Yahweh. For we know not what we have done. We have been gluttonous with gazpacho and sangria and nectarine-mojito pie and Mexican chocolate ice cream. Oh, please, thou Anointed One, let us see daybreak the same dress size as how we beganeth the day. Forgive us, Lord, for we know not what we have cooked.

And lo, our prayers were answered. And She was good. And our basement was spared from water damage. Later, we wandered the streets of Red Hook looking to see how others had fared, and found many not so lucky.

A flooded basement in Red Hook.

We prayed for their safe recovery and secretly offered thanks to the sky. Had they been gorging themselves on chips and beer, we wondered? But their kitchens held their own secrets, and it was left to us to imagine what had transpired.

What happened in THAT Red Hook kitchen?

Recipe: Spanish Gazpacho
Serves: 4-6
Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Monica's Spanish gazpacho. And a sunflower to ward off more rain.

Ingredients:

1 1/4 pounds very ripe, plum tomatoes – 630 grams
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons diced cucumber – 28 grams
1/4 cup diced green pepper – 53 grams
4 ounces olive oil – 118 millilitres
2 ounces red wine vinegar – 59 millilitres
Optional: Croutons (fresh or slightly stale bread brushed with olive oil and baked briefly in oven to crisp)

1. Roughly dice tomatoes into small cubes.
2. Place all ingredients except for olive oil and vinegar in a bowl or blender.
3. Blend with a hand mixer or in the blender until smooth.
4. Add olive oil followed by red wine vinegar. Blend again to emulsify. Approximately 1 to 2 minutes.
5. Top with croutons and a drizzle of olive oil.
6. Allow gazpacho to chill for a few hours to enrich flavor.
7. Serve cold or slightly chilled.

To take a spiritual tour of Brooklyn with one of our visitors, check out Dr. Kevin Dann’s Time Spirit Tours Web site.

Waves hit the shore in Red Hook.

What remains

Envelope

What lies inside?

I found the small, brown envelope, no bigger than a matchbook, buried in the recesses of a sock drawer in my father’s bedroom bureau. The drawer, itself divided into six wooden corridors, each held neatly folded pairs of, respectively, dress or athletic socks. The envelope, along with two others identical to the first, lay in this inauspicious corner for over 40 years, my father its sole protector. Why he’d kept the envelope for so long reflected either his forgetfulness or tenderness, both explanations were plausible. Unfortunately, he was no longer there to resolve the mystery; he’d died within days of my discovering them.

teeth

My first teeth.

He could have easily thrown away the envelope containing my first childhood teeth once I’d graduated college or married or had children of my own. Surely there were other mementos of my youth for him to treasure as he aged – photographs, grade school reports cards, yearbooks, and such. That he saved my teeth could certainly have been an afterthought. And yet, there in his sock drawer, a place he surely accessed daily, it would have been difficult if not impossible to ignore their presence entirely. What memories, I wondered, might he have conjured on the odd occasion when his hand, fumbling for something so quotidian, accidentally happened upon the miniscule package? Did he keep my teeth in close proximity for the express purpose of reminding himself of a more innocent time, before my turbulent adolescence and adult diaspora turned my relationship with him into something far more distant?

Discovering the envelope reminded me of the childhood ritual of placing one’s first, lost teeth beneath a pillow hoping a fairy will bestow a gift of money upon the bearer the next morning, as reward for having endured this first painful act of maturation. What was the origin of this ritual, I wondered? Was it practiced the world over? Or is the Tooth Fairyjust another commercialized, and distinctly American, superhero?

Our teeth are used to eat of course, and the act of eating our first food, absorbing something more substantive than mother’s milk, serves as an important sign of our potential survival past the first still vulnerable years of life. Is the loss of teeth an equally powerful premonition of our eventual death? What would our earliest ancestors have thought of this mysterious transformation from strength to weakness at still so tender an age? Could it be that, just as food and animal sacrifices were given to the gods to assure a good harvest or as plea that winter’s bleak darkness be transformed into spring’s renewal, that the loss of a child’s teeth necessitated prayers in hopes that the youth would survive her own early seasons? When a new tooth then emerged, (pushing forth with the same urgency as the mother during childbirth or the plant bursting through frozen ground), what relief there must have been for the adults, a vindication of prayer, or at least the continuation of life’s progress.

I took the envelope containing my teeth gingerly out of the drawer and distributed the two remaining ones to my brothers. But what would I do with a set of my own childhood teeth? What purpose did they serve now that my father was gone? Or would they, like him, need to be similarly set free, along with his shoes and clothes and socks, the accessories of a life no longer requiring objects to confirm its existence.

dad

Dad and me and my brother.

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* I wrote about my last trip to visit my father when he became ill here. He died on June 27, 2011. He was 79 years old and was surrounded by his family in the last few days of his life.

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Click here to learn the true origin of the Tooth Fairy myth.