Making stock and taking stock

This post might be more appropriate for my Assembling a Cooking Life website, sister to this Eating Art Work site.  However, since this is where I have currently pledged to post regularly, here it is, a small piece of my Food Life Story:

Three reasons why I make chicken stock.  broth

First of all, it’s a thrifty thing to do and in a strange way, I enjoy pulling the meat off of the bones of a roasted chicken and plunking those bones into a pot of water, like the old timers. Sometimes I stockpile the little carcasses in the freezer until I have enough to make a good size pot ‘o stock.  I do call them ‘chicken bodies’, which some people find unappealing, but it’s my attempt to use humor as a defense.

You see, I was a vegetarian for a long time, (back when it was considered an odd ball thing to do, but I’m not telling that story here.)  I want to tell the story of learning to cut a whole chicken into its parts.  This happened when I was a very serious veg, but I also had very serious financial issues (read:  living with a bf who was a ‘musician’ and therefore found himself unable to work any job that would earn money for us to live on…)

So, I took any work I could find and one job was working as a cook in a small nursing home.  It was tiny, only eight men in a private home that had been modified to meet the (minimal, 1970’s) state standards.  Hall Rest Home existed because X had married a man 30 years her senior and when he could no longer work and required a quasi-medical setting, this was her answer:  take in seven other old men and earn her living that way.  Oh my, so many stories about that place, from the first interview, when I should have seen the writing on the wall and run away as fast as I could, to the seven grain horse feed…

But I digress.  Of course she purchased whole chickens (cheaper), but the Mrs. did not know what to do with them.  So my lesson in cutting up a chicken was taught by the ailing octogenarian, Dr. Hall.  (He had been a dentist.)  The raw bird was placed on the hospital table beside his bed and it was there that he instructed me how to pull out the leg and slice between the thigh and the breast.  Followed by bending each leg back until the thighbone popped out of its socket.  Oh yes, the sounds and sensations of chopping through the bones of a slimy chicken body were quite an education for my sensitive veggie self.  But I did it, guided by that old man in his pajamas, unable to sit up on his own, his quiet trembling voice describing each step.  Nowadays I do eat fowl and I relive that surreal experience every time I carve up a bird, raw or cooked.

The second reason I make chicken stock is because it smells so darn good and is the best way to use up the sad little celery, carrot and parsnip units in my refrigerator.  An onion, some salt, bay leaf and thyme, maybe a couple of tired garlic cloves and irresistible, mouth-watering scents fill the house.

And the third reason is because it thrills me to have those plump little ziptop bags stashed in the freezer, neatly marked with Chicken (or Turkey) Broth and the date.  The stock from the Thanksgiving turkey has become a traditional part of the New Years Day pot of rice, greens and black-eyed peas.  But tonight, with the temp outside in the single digits and my forty-fifth head cold of the winter kicking my butt, I will thaw a baggie of that golden liquid, mix up some matzo balls and put supper on the table.  matzoballs

So, from the pleasure of being a thrifty gal to reveling in olfactory bliss to selfcare when my engine is out of juice, those are the three reasons I make chicken stock.

My ‘story’

My story.  The things I hold onto, that I repeat, to myself and to others, have created and continue to create my story.  Right now I am tired of the story I’ve been creating.  I do believe that bringing events to the surface, exposing them to the light of day and examining them is a vital step in the process of releasing the hurt and moving on.  On an intellectual level, I see the necessity and merits of this activity.  I shall continue to de-construct shame.

However, I am also remembering that the more I tell a story, to myself or others, the more solid it can become, the more it becomes my story.  My identity.  “This is who I am.”  Injured party, wronged individual.  Even if I stop short of a full pity party, “oh poor me”, I have contributed to my own pain by claiming ‘the down side’ as my story.  I have an aversion to cover-ups, born of the superficial and controlling  ‘make it look good’ & ‘as long as it looks good’ atmosphere of my childhood.  But I am wondering if a determination not to gloss over the hurts has kept me in a negative headset for far too long.

Can I also claim, as my identity, as my story, the fact that I wrote poems as a girl or that I loved to sing or that for almost ten years we produced real plays in my family’s garage?  Can I claim as my story that I loved the local library and reading was my greatest joy?  Can I claim as my identity the unparalleled bliss of trudging around my grandparents farm, through field and pasture, up the hillside and down by the brook?  May I claim the social and physical pleasures of Girl Scouting:  companionship, camping, hiking, orienteering, canoeing, swimming, archery and tying knots?

Answer: yes, of course I can.  Because those and other positive events, combined with the hurts and indignities, are what shaped me into the woman I am.  You can’t bake using just dry ingredients; you have to add the wet ingredients and stir.  Don’t over mix, there will be a few lumps.  Or perhaps the recipe calls for beating until the batter is smooth and silky.  However you blend the disparate ingredients, combining is required.  Even if you are layering elements in a casserole, it is the magic of the parts co-mingling that makes the the whole thing work.  That is the chemistry of cooking and an apt metaphor for how I wish to re-construct my life, to tell and own my story.


PS:  Check out this wonderful photo a friend took, when she used one of my EAW kitchen towels to cover the resting dough of her Buttermilk Bread!  Love it!



What was the meaning of the quote I posted on Wednesday?

Since I took the sentence out of context and it was significant for me because it spoke to my personal situation at that moment…  Let me first provide a link to the works of Eckhart Tolle.  The friends who suggested I read his work several years ago told me:  “Either it speaks/makes sense to you or it does not.”

I sincerely hope that you find some meaning there, as I have.

“Life isn’t as serious as my mind makes it out to be.”

This stuck a chord, because I was ‘taking myself far too seriously’.   I had chosen to respond to a situation through my shame filter.  In fact, I had chosen to enter the:                SLOUGH OF DESPOND

You may say…”What the…?”

Allow me to share a wee bit of literary history.  In the 17th century, a writer named John Bunyan (not the American folk hero, Paul) wrote a book called The Pilgrim’s Progress.  It is an allegory, describing the journey of a character named Christian, who encounters characters named Evangelist, Hypocrisy, Pliable, Obstinate and Help, among others.  I think you can get the idea.

It’s not my cup of tea, but apparently it spoke loudly to the 19th century writers, Louisa May Alcott and Emily Bronte.  It was in their works that I first encountered the Slough, when I was a girl.  The expression spoke to me as well.  The Free Dictionary defines the Slough of Despond as:  “Depression, a mental state characterized by a pessimistic sense of inadequacy and a despondent lack of activity.”

“The name of the slough was “Despond. Here, therefore, [I] wallowed for a time… because of the burden that was on [my] back, [I] began to sink in the mire.”  (from The Pilgrims Progress, The First Stage)

So there I sat, in the 21st century, wallowing in the Slough.  I suppose one could say that the writings of Eckhart Tolle and the support of some good friends took the place of the character Help and pulled me from the Slough.

I am no longer sinking, but doing a lot of thinking.  I hope perhaps this digression was at least slightly entertaining.

And wasn’t that a gorgeous display of radishes and beets in the photo I posted?  Taken at the Brattleboro VT Farmers Market last October.

Happiness, joy, habit and shame

I love sticky rice.  I love making it and I love eating it and I just plain love the look of it.

Although this drawing hasn’t ‘made it’ onto a towel or tote bag with EAW designs, it’s still a favorite.  Certainly the color makes me happy.

And how does this relate to the topic of this blog?  Well, I’ve been reading in Brené Brown‘s book about the difference between happiness and joy.  One way that she defines them:

Happiness is tied to circumstance and joy is tied to spirit and gratitude.

When I make sticky rice for my family, I have created circumstances that make me happy.  I enjoy the soaking and the rinsing and sight of the rice cooker steaming away.  I love the dousing with rice vinegar and the mixing with the wide, flat bamboo spoon that I brought home from Kyoto.  So I have made myself happy.

The beauty and simplicity of the cooked rice and the memory of the little side-street bamboo shop in Kyoto awaken my gratitude.  Those pearlescent grains remind me of the joy of cooking whole foods and connect me to all that I have en-joyed in this life.  That’s an especially wonderful thing when I’ve been raking muck, about PPFIC and personal shame history, as I have been so often lately.

So what about Oreos?  Am I happy when eating Oreos?  Not an Oreo; Oreos.  Me and the rats.  What circumstances take me to the Oreos?  None of the sensory pleasure that I’ve been extolling about the rice, that’s for sure.  In fact an Oreo eaten whole can be a bit dry.  I’m not a ‘dunker’; although tea or water does help.  But it’s that creamy white center: sugar and fat whipped up together to seduce my bliss point.  Pleasure centers in my brain start ringing and singing and, as I understand it, producing a spurt of happiness chemicals.

But memories? Nothing but shame.  No gratitude or joy to be found.  Sneaking cookies, hiding cookies, eating cookies when I wasn’t hungry.  All for that unbelievably brief illusion of happiness.  How did I respond to that flush of shame?  How did my body respond to the shot of sugarfatbliss?  I would reach for another Oreo.

But to repeat the question:  What circumstances take me to the Oreos?  I believe another important piece of the puzzle is habit.  Okay, maybe that seems ridiculously obvious, but the thing is that while the pleasure centers are being zinged by the creamy filling, neurological patterns are being reinforced in my brain.  Every time I would reach for that Oreo, the habit became a bit stronger.  Again, that may seem too obvious, but understanding the process has been eye-opening for me.  It’s all part of the same show.

I read Charles Duhigg‘s book, The Power of Habit almost as soon as it was published in 2012.  I am rereading now, along with the other sources I’ve been writing about, because it so clearly dovetails with my explorations.  I want to make sense of the connections between the PPFIC’s push toward producing addictive food products and personal habit and shame.  It’s all there, it’s all of a piece, I am sure of it.

A final note about getting the car into position for jump-starting.  It has taken years of sweating and pushing to turn the vehicle of my life around, so that a jump start was even  possible.  So that this writing exploration could begin.  And as you know, you can’t push a car by yourself, even a 1960’s VW beetle.  Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with me, believing in me when I have not, reminding me I am not alone no matter how hard it gets and helping me onward by sharing her own courage, I am ever grateful to my dear friend and writing ally, jc.  Tea and toast for two.