Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Stretching the muse

There's something about comfort food that helps me think, especially when it's a meatloaf sandwich and a glass of cold buttermilk. The house still smells of meatloaf cooking, but not the meatloaf my mother always made. This meatloaf has freshly made soft bread crumbs, tomato juice and bleu cheese along with the usual onions, Worcestershire, eggs, salt, and pepper and I use a combination of pork and ground sirloin. Mom's meatloaf was so different, a thick, cohesive mound of crushed crackers, egg, salt, pepper, onion and hamburger topped with catsup with peeled and quartered potatoes and chopped carrots and onions sizzling in the juices all around the meat. A whole meal in a casserole dish. There was never enough meatloaf left for sandwiches afterward, not like the turkey at Thanksgiving and all major holiday meals when nighttime visitors to the kitchen piled onto white bread white and dark meat slathered with Miracle Whip.

For everyone else, but Dad and me, the drink of choice was chocolate milk -- or white milk in a pinch, not the buttermilk I loved, that my grandfather taught me to love the way he taught me about horseradish and tablespoons full of vinegar and liver with onions, things I could not and did not get at home. There were foods my mother made that I wouldn't eat -- chicken and dumplings with the dumplings made out of quartered can biscuits you popped on the side of the counter with a sharp rap that surged out of the spiral split. They tasted slimy and doughy and inedible, tasteless globs boiled of floury paste without the minty taste or smell of school paste. Even the shreds of chicken in the glutinous broth made me nauseous just to look at it, a gelid, heaving mass of pasty mounds and shredded pale flesh that sluggishly slopped against the sides every time the ladle dipped out a stringy, slopping portion onto more can biscuits hot and fragrant from the oven slathered in butter. All I could think of was creamed chipped beef on those oven baked biscuits nestling melting butter fragrant with grass and sunshine.

Cooking is a joy these days with a gas stove I understand and easily adjust to the perfect level. Quiche and cornbread and meatloaf and home baked bread for sandwiches or fresh bread crumbs. Now I need a toaster. It's next on my list of things to buy. I also have to replace the mixer Beanie got me for my birthday this year and a balloon whisk, but I'm satisfied with my food processor. That's how I made the fresh bread crumbs. The new cookbook detailed how to make fresh bread crumbs and I have to say I will never go back to stale store bought again.

I needed something to keep me alert and not slipping into a soporific slumber so a half glass of Merlot was out of the question and cold buttermilk was just the thing. I have a chapter to write and it's not getting done now while I'm writing this, but sometimes I just have to go where the muse leads me while the words and scenes percolate in my mind until they're ready for the page.

Tonight, the muse led me through memory and food and contentment, quieting my anxiety and trepidation at tackling another chapter as it changes form just a little and moves toward the denouement and closing. It helps to stretch the literary muscles before tackling such a project, like a little yoga to loosen the joints and warm the ligaments before hefting weights or stepping off into a nighttime run. It lubricates the gears and makes the task a little easier.

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