LUMPS IN THE ROUX

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.

images[2]My foundation is now secure and the recipe is complete.

Everything else is gravy. Learn to make a perfect Roux.

You’ll never be sorry.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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The Butter Leaves of Letchworth

The leaves on the great Maple trees were so yellow, they looked like sticks of butter.

Yellow and bright, they were everywhere I looked, behind me and before me, for miles and miles and miles, interspersed between the Birch and Pine trees.

I was standing at the bottom of the gorge, a much traveled trail of many before me, and most likely many to follow. Boundless untamed waterfalls behind and the sun shining brightly above, it was an October Indian Summer the likes of which I had never seen before, and would be very blessed indeed should I ever see again. My face would be sunburned before the day was over.

In the spring the Maple leaves were green like all the others, blending in with the landscape and not very special looking at first glance, wallflowers at the dance of the more popular Ash and Black Walnut. Come the end of summer, however, they began their transformation from plain green to brilliant red. You could tell this was the beginning of something special, as if the other trees themselves stood back to watch the emergence of pure beauty, somewhat envious and intimidated at the same time.

Perhaps the greatest surprise to them all, though, was the ultimate blast of pigmentation, the final burst of yellow. The ugly duckling was truly the belle of the ball.

The trails walked were winding and turning, up and down, over many miles of buried tree roots and smooth rock formations. The moss was overgrown on the north side of the boulders, and the rock slates beckoned to sit and visit for a while, to reflect and learn the innermost secrets of one’s soul.

I had many prayers of thanks that day. Thankful to live in a country where the park was a gift of love donation from a wealthy man, a present to the community after his death. Thankful to be able to walk the many slate steps down to the gorge under my own power and unassisted. To be able to breathe deep the smells of the wildflowers and to see the colorful foliage surrounding me at every turn. My heart was full, and my eyes glistened at the sheer joy of being where I was at that very moment.

A perfect day and in was only 10am in the morning. How I wished my children could have shared in the moment with me, but mindful that this sight was meant for just me

I will hold in my soul always the surprise vision greeting me that morning as I turned to face the sun.

They will forever be the Butter Leaves of Letchworth, the announcement of Fall to me, a wonderful reminder of the fullness of life, the reward for surviving a Winter bleak and dark, and holding fast to the promise of beauty yet to come. My faith was rewarded and I was alive to receive a blessing. I will never again take anything for granted, for each day is a gift, each person a present from above.