Archive for cooking

Pot Auntys

Posted in Mystical Experience, Unknown with tags , , , , , , , , on May 4, 2012 by javedbabar

Ali needed a new pot for her book club dinner. A plastic handle had come off the old one and she’d had a go but couldn’t fix it. The previous tenant’s cookware was junk. Its handle stayed wobbly whatever you did. It had caused her to spill a whole pot of stew. Thank God she was wearing shoes! It had taken her an hour to clean the mess, and wasted ten dollars of ingredients.

She went to the hardware store for new cookware. There were so many different metals – pans made of aluminium, copper, cast iron, stainless steel, and carbon steel, and those with non-stick coatings. There were composite materials like enamelled cast iron, enamel over steel, and clad copper, plus alternatives like ceramics, glass, glass-ceramic, and silicon. What was the difference between them all?

The cookware specialist – she had a badge saying so – said, “Choice of material has a significant effect on performance and cost. Key factors you should look for are thermal conductivity and how much food sticks. Pans should conduct heat, but be chemically unreactive. Some may require surface pre-preparation with…”

This was too much information right now. Ali said, “Which one would you recommend for me?” The cookware specialist picked one out.

“How much is it? Oh, two hundred and twenty dollars? That’s more than I can afford.”

The cookware specialist told her the benefits of buying a pot for life. It would prove cheaper in the long run. How old was Ali now – twenty five? If she lived to seventy-five, that was fifty years at less than five dollars a year.

Ali said, “Does it come with a guarantee?” The cookware specialist said there was a two year guarantee.

“But didn’t you say it was a pot for life?” The cookware specialist said who, these days, thinks beyond two years? If Ali didn’t wish to invest her money wisely, maybe she should go across the road to the thrift store instead. This was a ploy to shame her into reconsidering, but she really didn’t want to spend two hundred and twenty dollars. She preferred to take the shame.

The sign on the hut across the road said Eternal Antiques. Ali had visited many times but never seen anyone working there, just shadows moving among piles. She’d chosen her items, dropped her cash into the honesty box and left. They had a good selection of books, clothes, games, and sports equipment. She recalled seeing cookware downstairs at the back, and made her way down there. Ali admired a painting of a medieval kitchen. Servant women in black aprons and white bonnets attended to steaming cauldrons, boiling pans and blackened spits. A vast feast was being prepared for their masters, and if they were lucky, the servants would dine on leftover suckling pig, roast swan, herb-roasted roots, and gravied dumplings.

Ali rummaged through the pile of cookware, causing crashes and bangs as lids rolled around. She found a dark fat cauldron, similar to one in the medieval painting, priced at five bucks. Its handles were welded. That’s what she needed.

It didn’t seem like the pot had any special coating so Ali scrubbed it well, but it remained dull and refused to shine. The water was on full, rushing and gushing. At one point she heard laughing but it must have been water fizzing as it whirled around. It was a good sign though. This was a happy pot.

Her book club members were coming at six, so she had better get cooking. She felt a grumbling as she crumbled stock cubes, which settled down as the water reached a rolling boil. She chopped beef into cubes, and then felt drawn to certain ingredients. Voices in her head said “Add this,” and “Add that,” causing her to reach for parsley, sage, hyssop, and cloves. The voices told her to add mace and verjuice – which she found in the previous tenant’s spice drawer – and egg yolks, ginger, salt, and saffron. This wasn’t her usual recipe for stew. The taste was much stronger and spicier. What was she making? She had no idea.

Her book club members said it was the best stew they had ever tasted, and the sole male member stayed for “coffee”. Later in the bedroom she heard further voices in her head, saying “Do this,” and “Do that,” and laughing. The book club member said this was the best sex he’d ever had.

Next morning as Ali washed the pot, she heard laughing again, as if someone was being tickled. It matched her good mood. She decided to scrub the pot really hard to remove the char stains. As the pot became shinier she noticed shapes wobbling within it. There was a series of black blobs, all crushed together, with pale circles within them. As she looked closely, Ali saw the servant women from the painting.

The pot was made by an English blacksmith in 1666. Women burnt in the bishop’s kitchen during the Great Fire of London had given the pot their souls. Added to these were the souls of every woman who had ever used the pot. There’s a reason that witches use cauldrons. Ali’s soul would also inhabit this one.

Black Van

Posted in Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , on April 21, 2012 by javedbabar

Zoe asked Smuel, “Do you like driving around all day?”

He said, “Sure, but it depends on the day.” He checked his mirror and pulled out from behind a tractor, overtook it, and pulled in again. “That, for example, was an easy manoeuvre. It’s always a pleasure driving on the Lucerne Valley Road. But when I go to Strattus – or God forbid, the City – it’s not much fun.”

“Why is that?”

“Traffic mainly, but also parking, pollution, tempers, and wasted time. I really don’t like driving there.”

Soon they were at Open Hearts seniors daycare centre. Smuel dropped Zoe at the kitchen entrance and helped her unload produce and supplies. He enjoyed their weekly shopping trip together. She was a real nice lady, that Zoe, and a damn good cook too. Her cooked lunch was his main meal of the day. It was healthy, fresh, and free. If he didn’t fill up here he had only junk food to look forward to on his way home. As he was about to leave he said, “And do you like working in the kitchen all day?”

“The same as you, it depends on the day. I’ve worked at pubs, diners, restaurants, hotels, and at all kinds of events, but making meals here is quite a task. God help me with Irene’s vegan diet, James’s mainly liquids, Gemma’s organic food, Albert’s wish to eat local, and Mr. Amin’s dharmic requirements. I wish that manna would come down from heaven and that would be the end of it, or maybe we should just cut a deal with Pizza Hut.”

“But you love cooking,” said Smuel. “I’ve seen you. It’s what you were born to do.”

“You’re right,” said Zoe. “But sometimes I wonder if I should do something different. You know, have a total change. Go somewhere new and do something new. But my Tom likes it here. He says, ‘I was born here, I live here, and I will die here.’ So I guess that’s that.”

Smuel had held office jobs for twenty years, but then one day his life changed. His wife had an affair with his boss and left him. He wondered what the point of it all was – commuting daily, working for that swine, and killing himself with stress. The girls were grown up and he could be free now. He took his share of money from the house sale and came to Lucerne, where he was able to buy a condo outright, so all he needed to cover were daily expenses. The driver’s job at Open Hearts was not well paid but it paid enough, and he could use the minibus for personal errands. No more office jobs. Just the open road. What could be better?

He’d grown to love the old people too. “Clients” they called them in official language. His first pick up daily was the manager, Mr. Amin. What a funny guy he was, he’d been a diplomat in India, but you’d never know it. He treated people with great respect, as if they were diplomats themselves. He had a strange way of dealing with problems though. He’d call you into his office in the middle of the day. If you’ve got bad news then tell a man in the morning and give him the day to deal with it, thought Smuel, or at the end of the day so he can go home and mull it over. Not slap bang in the middle of the day!

He recalled being in trouble for not completing James’s paperwork. The guy’s a stroke victim – doesn’t move much, and doesn’t say a word – so what is there to write down about him? “James did nothing” and “James said nothing”? Ridiculous. It was just as stupid as office work. Mr. Amin said that he also didn’t like paperwork but The Authority required it, so would Smuel please ensure that it was completed daily. Smuel had of course said yes, but stewed that afternoon, driving around in his hot vehicle. Telling him in the morning would have been better. Or the evening.

He really liked Irene. She wasn’t a big talker, but was clearly a big thinker. Some of the things she said were so deep that he’d think about them for days after. When she told him about the Two Laws of the Universe – those of Attraction and Karma – he’d viewed his life in quite a different light. It was true that he had wished for and somehow manifested a life of beauty in the Lucerne Valley, and a life of ease driving around in the sunshine, and that maybe he had earned all this in a previous life through meritorious actions. He wondered if he really had lived before? Would he live again?

Smuel was less keen on constantly knitting, grumpy ex-math teacher Gemma, though she had her moments – such as getting drunk at the Christmas party and performing a slow “knit-tease”. Thank God Mr. Amin had stopped her unravelling her clothes before she’d revealed too much wrinkly thigh.

Albert, however, was always fun. This ex-cowboy quipped constantly and dispensed range wisdom. His impressions of Chinese Cowboy “Yee-Ha” and Indian Cowboy “Ride’em Singh” were hilarious, though of course he wasn’t allowed to perform them at the centre because they “infringed politically correct protocols”.

Smuel drove the seniors to and from their homes, to various physical and mental doctors, on shopping trips to Squashy’s malls, and daytrips to lakes and waterfalls. The black minivan was perfect for these outings, though the Centre should paint it a different colour. It wasn’t cheerful. Mr. Amin said they couldn’t do that as renting it out for funerals supplemented the Centre’s income. Well why not paint it white and rent it for weddings?

He couldn’t help wondering if Zoe would like to leave the kitchen one day and hit the road with him. Not only to do something new, somewhere new – but with someone new? Why not ride a white van today together, rather than await tomorrow’s black van which you only rode alone?