Notes from the Kitchen

On being fearless outside & in the kitchen

making lasagna rosettes

When was the last time you felt fearless?

I remember full well as the truck ambled up the long mountain road in Costa Rica. Up we drove, passing black shadows working their way from branch to branch in the slender tall trees. Sometimes the shadows wore smug scrunched up faces that peered out from the branches with mouths and fists full of leaves. But up our truck went, past the howler monkeys, well past civilization. Some people when thoroughly surrounded by nature and little else feel themselves more alive. Perhaps it’s some sort of primal response.

Let’s just say I feel most at home in the urban jungle.

And yet at the top of this mountain, rather than that impending feeling of victory and elation of conquest, the only way down involved thin wires sagging from the mountaintop to the edge of another mountain. There was also a crampon attached to my own monkey suit of loops and hip stirrups and such. When the Mama and Tia Berta had first suggested a canopy tour, I thought I had it in the bag. Even on the way to the top of the mountain, I let the wind ruffle my hair and listened to it whistle through the trees, relaxed and at peace.

That all ended when a man told me to jump off the mountain.

Something about that seemed intrinsically wrong. The voice of self-preservation yelled back just as forcefully, “don’t do it!!!” And I watched children take their turns in front of me, screaming “wheee” amid whoops of jubilation. My cousin Michael took a running start and leapt off the mountain with great abandon letting his arms flex out into the arc of wings, nothing holding him to that wire cord than the crampon and monkey suit. I dug my heels into terra firma. Beck cajoled me to go for it, that it would be like flying.

Friends, I’ve never had delusions of needing to fly. This only confirmed it.

I ran and sort of kept running until the land ran out. Then I leaned back because the guides said that would make me most aerodynamic and my zip-line zipped faster than I could imagine. I soared over the speckled ridge of tree tops hundreds of feet below. Splashes of orange and brown and green all reminded my peripheral vision that below were trees and they were beautiful I’m sure. Except my hands never left the crampon and my gaze seldom veered from directly in front of me where the land quickly approached and looks of horror painted the faces of those on the other side as I couldn’t stop.

I’ll never forget the smirk on Michael’s face or the laughter pealing from his open mouth. And after that first zip-line, I felt like I had come, seen and yes, to a degree conquered only to be reminded we had six left. But I had the last laugh.

And their names were Arturo, Pedro and Marco.

The guides could easily see my consternation etched in the furrowed brow on my face, so they decided to take turns zip-lining with me. When they ran and jumped off, I was just along for the ride. All of a sudden, that presence of a body behind my own, a voice telling me to look around freed me up and changed my whole experience. The canopies of the trees below were flocked with leaves and spindly branches poking up. The canyon, while incredibly far below also gave me an aerial perspective I could not have attained from an airplane or else-wise. I felt stronger, more brash and brazen than I could have imagined. And all from the knowledge that jettisoning from mountaintop to mountaintop, I was not alone, there was a voice, a Person with me on my voyage.

This experience while “amazing” and enlightening was been there-done that. I retired my crampon and monkey suit with great pride and lithe deployment.

This monkey, me, is meant for the land and two feet by which to traverse it.

So let’s start again: when was the last time you felt fearless? And perhaps just as important, what keeps you from feeling fearless? Do you have a Person egging you on to try the feats not yet mastered?

How about in the kitchen- do you stick to only tried and true recipes or imagine tastes and executions you’ve never put together before? I for one, am a bit of a rogue in the kitchen and have been since I was wee in stature and age.

Take these asparagus artichoke basil rosettes. Lunch at a restaurant in Santa Cruz weeks ago resulted in a quickly hatched idea for a birthday meal for my one and only. He happens to love artichokes and asparagus and well, the rest sketched itself into these primary constructs. The thing is I had never before tackled making rosettes. Were they going to fall apart? (yes. sort of. more tomorrow.) Was he going to feel appropriately celebrated? (yes.) Would I get that wonderful cocktail of two parts creative mischief with one part adrenaline to make me veer from the fail-proof recipes? (yes.)

And so it went. I boiled my lasagna noodles seeing them enlightened with a bit of magic in the curl and swoops, the bubbles popping on the surface of the water. I hacked at slender spears of asparagus and pureed artichoke bottoms and fresh housemade ricotta into a creamy sinful concoction that needed at least two fingers worth of sampling to be convinced it was just right. Then there was the rolling of the rosettes and a flash of nervous sweat on my brow along with trepidation.  Too much filling and they oozed in a not particularly appetizing kind of way that the three year olds in my Sunday school class would have cackled and squealed over. And my tip to you is, the measuring cup is your alley in keeping the rosettes in place until your dish is wall-to-wall with rosettes.

I’m not going to lie, at times, I felt like I was fighting against physics.

But my odds continued getting better, the more I rolled. Food fail? I think not. And so I ask you, what is a recipe or idea of a recipe you’ve been crafting in your mind that you’re not sure will ever see the light of your plate? And then I ask you, what do you have to lose?

If you make the rosettes, bring a deft hand, a sense of humor and that sureness of finding your footing mid-stride, even if it is hundreds of feet above a canopy of trees in the Costa Rican rainforest.

Any way you slice it, you’ll soar.


Meter and Flow

iambic pentameter drawn

Sometimes I’m too quick to make a judgement.

Up until recently, I have been quite biased and worming my way out of ignorance when it comes to the function of rhyming in poetry. If I had to put a finger on it, I think it might have something to do with ease and lack of complexity. Writing poetry that rhymes somehow seems easy and quaint, a crime story that neatly wraps up in an hour segment like CSI.

Where is the drama of the undeterred line? Where too, the building anticipation of how and where the poem is going to end up? Part of this long-held bias is I have an uncanny knack for guessing end words in songs. It’s not hard: think of something that fits the context and rhymes. Done. I’m working my way out of this particular ignorance and nose-snubbing for one main reason-

Beck and I have begun tackling songwriting as a couple.

When we first started dating, part of his wooing ritual included a guitar and songs written for me. He didn’t know it was part of the wooing exactly, (okay maybe he knew), but music is one of my favorite languages- one my dad began teaching me in my earliest days. I joke that even before my gift of gab, I sang. I look to music as a balm and catalyst. Some wounds exist that only music can massage.

As our wedding date neared, Beck and I met for band practice. He played this incredibly melodic music full of minor keys and driving rhythms. A pallor veiled his face, a moodiness entered his eyes and I found him as beguiling and bewitching as ever. One evening, he casually asked me if I could help him write lyrics. I vehemently responded, “No way- I’m a poet, not a songwriter…”

Oh how the mighty have fallen.

On any given day away from our working selves, Beck sits in the living room strumming out new riffs in old-to-us now songs. Other times, I am baking or cooking as he sits and plays in the kitchen. One such occasion, I hummed a playful line of words mirroring each other in a nonsensical way. And it stuck.

I have begun rethinking the art of meter, of rhyming and flow. A good off-rhyme in a poem clinches my interest; a good story in a song cocks my head. This challenge makes me rethink the error of my thoughts- poetry is music and music is poetry set to song, but there is more to it than that. My original work tends to be lyrical, but the thought of setting it to music leaves me stumped.

Over a month ago, I enrolled myself in a new b-course using “Rhyme & Reason” as textbook. To help with listening and rhythm, I’m supplementing with Gerard Manley Hopkins. He is the king of consonance and makes me want to rhyme my lines, to delve deeper into the way sound and word position influence the ear.

And friends, it is slow going.

I’m diving into scansion – listening to English as if for the first time, trying to weasel my pronunciations into iambic pentameter and coming up short. I’m plying my writing group, Tayve, Dee, Steven and Terry for tips on writing in rhyme and form. But here’s where all of this gutting of self and opinion is so very right: I am awakening the wonder – becoming ever more smitten *and sometimes admittedly frustrated* with language.

I am measuring and weighing my words in meter and flow.