With the approach of Thanksgiving, I am reminded of how much things have changed.
When I was a young mother with babies and cats, the preparation for the holiday seemed to take days. Scouring the newspaper ads for the various sales at the competing supermarkets was a week long event, culminating with the Sunday paper and its Pandora’s box of colored flyers.
If I wasn’t already confused by week’s end seeing the different prices for fresh cranberries and oranges, as well as bags of bread versus bagged ready made stuffing, I was close to the edge. Sweet potatoes or yams, mashed potatoes or baked, the choices were endless, daunting, but still, a lot of fun. Canned cranberry sauce vs. jellied? I could never decide, so I bought both. Corn, turnips, squash, I cooked it all and there was enough leftovers to feed an army.
Of course the crowning glory was the turkey, with stuffing in it, around it, and behind it.
In my neighborhood, no self respecting mother would serve a store bought pie, but I always bought an apple pie to hide in the pantry, just in case my pumpkin pie was less than adequate. I was cooking for babies mind you, and if I smothered a “mistake” with whipped cream, no one was the wiser.
In fact, most imperfections could be hidden – dinner rolls whose bottoms were burnt could be cut off, thus creating “shorties.”
Mashed potatoes too lumpy? Add more butter. Better yet, one could drown the whole feast in gravy.
Gravy could be bought in a can or ripped from a package. I came from a long line of gravy makers, and my mother made the best. She knew how to make it, but didn’t know how to teach me. Her heart laid more in matters of the arts, creative on canvas and clay, but not in the kitchen.
My younger sister picked up cooking like a second language, and once she started talking, I was truly a foreigner.
So any time it came time to prepare a meal with gravy, my heart was heavy with the thought of messing it up once again. It was either too watery, too gooey or too pasty. I tried and tried, but I just couldn’t get it. It invariably turned out lumpy and uneven, a metaphor for the life I was living, and trying not to notice.
Fast forward many years later, and although I had become more adept in the kitchen, gravies still intimidated me. As I entered a new stage in my life, that of a woman alone with no one to cook for or answer to, I began to experiment with recipes and theories, both IN the kitchen and out.
I discovered the secret of the Roux.
To seasoned chefs in the kitchen, this may come as quite a surprise that I had never learned the mastery of a skill so simple.
Roux. Butter, flour and pan drippings/juice from whatever you’re cooking.
As I had with so many other areas of my life that year, I had to practice, over and over and over again, the Roux. Blending and stirring the three together, until they are one. The Roux has to become invisible, immersed into the gravy without taste and texture.
Because just as the Roux is the foundation of any gravy, the substance you pour over your meal, so is the Roux of Life.
Love, tenderness and kindness make the Roux of a life one can be proud of.
They have to be blended to form the perfect base. There will be lumps if you don’t have all three.
As with all the good things in my life, I have finally learned the secret of the Roux.
Everything else is gravy. Learn to make a perfect Roux.
You’ll never be sorry.