(The giveaway for Queen's Pantry is finished now and the winner chosen. Congratulations to Anna Meng. Now the rest of you, go buy that tea you've been craving...)
“I’m sorry, random citizen. I just got carried away with enthusiasm. No sir, it is not a rare happening. Yes sir, I’ll try to take care. Thank you, sir.”
Fabulously, adorably awkward, I’m told. Now that I’ve spilled those beans, it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise when I tell you that I’m not exactly Ina Garten when it comes to kitchen demeanor. Let’s combine Ina’s gentle optimism with Gordon Ramsay’s energy, simmer it on medium-low for five minutes, and you have Rachel in the Kitchen. I’m good at multi-tasking. Have to be when you cook with kids hanging onto your pants pockets (which I do not mean figuratively). I bustle around (and around and around) and make three trips to the pantry where one ought to suffice. This is usually because I’m talking (shocker), or listening to Ella Fitzgerald. In the latter case, I actually tend to slow down and turn smoothly graceful because, tempo.
I love to watch people cook. It fascinates me how calm some of them are. My friend Joanna comes from a long line of country people who bake like they’ve got two-hundred years to make these scones. I kid you not: it’s almost like watching a ballet or a tank of tropical fish to watch them make a Philly cheesesteak. The roux whisks itself, the knives glide through green and red peppers like a hot blade through butter, and before you know it you’re blinking as you come out of a cooking-induced trance to find dinner on the table. They seem to work slower than city traffic but somehow the work is done with complete efficiency and minimal noise. To be given the honor of slicing onions in their kitchen is tantamount to being allowed to enter the inner chamber of some great temple without offering an animal sacrifice. I almost feel it a sacred duty and I’m always on best chopping-behavior. Death to those who slice the onions too thickly. Not only has my favorite scone recipe come from Joanna’s family, but an old-faithful pizza crust, How To Brew Hot Tea, and...well...the world’s best sweet iced tea. Look, I know I’m from the South and I’ve basically thrown a gauntlet here, but once you’ve tasted Thompson tea you have sipped from the cup of royalty. Strong, the perfect shade of dark brown without being too dark. Slightly sweet. Always with a peculiarly-cut wedge of lemon, please. I’ve been carefully instructed by Mrs. Thompson more than once how to brew iced tea the way she does. It doesn’t work. I swear. Thus, I resort to carefully-timed trips to the Thompson house in the heat of the summer and a casual and affirmative shrug when asked if I’d like a glass of tea. I’m one blessed girl: two of the daughters have married and moved into homes of their own. Yay! Thompson tea available in three locations and two states! I am not certain God was thinking of tea when he asked us to be fruitful and multiply, but there have been worse side-effects. Now I’m craving a glass. Enough about tea.
I find that watching other people cook always teaches me something new. I’ve stood in the Thompsons’ kitchen countless times watching the progress of a chicken roasting, or watched Mr. Thompson in his close-to-perfection garden drawling out the merits of butter beans while straddling a row of cabbages. The lesson they teach is always the same: there are precious few things in life worth rushing for.
From Katie, the official other half of my brain, I’ve learned something slightly more humorous: perfection in scrambled eggs (and other things) is actually quite relative. I remember the last trip I took to visit her down in Georgia. We stayed in her Nana’s spare room, slept very little, hashed out every detail of life (which, at that point, needed hashing) and ate at Georgetown Cupcakes, pizza, and barbeque at random times. Katie begged to be allowed to fix scrambled eggs for breakfast because, she said, she had a very particular way she liked them and only she could cook them to that stage of perfection. I stood by her side, having heard from of old about these scrambled eggs, and watched as Katie fixed them to her gold standard. As the sun streamed into that old Southern house and Nana and I looked on, the dearest girl in the world scrambled those eggs....exactly the way I would consider a ruination. She served mine up before hers were done (glistening, moist, large chunks), then cooked hers to a sad state of dryness, not neglecting to absolutely mince the chunks till they looked almost...I cringe to say it...almost pre-chewed? Look, Katie, I love you to death but your idea of perfection and mine are poles apart when it comes to eggs (now, men we agree on).
Sometimes I look closely at the universe and realize how little I know of all there is to know. And then I smile because if I could always learn lessons by standing at a dear friend’s elbow and watching her butcher the egg-making process, it would be a merry world indeed. Always, always watch people cook and always take opportunities for learning from someone else. God created each mind to be so intricately different that there no end to what we can teach each other.
Now excuse me, I’ve got to go make an inferior glass of iced tea.