Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, January 12, 2014
Jimi Hendrix has recently played Sick’s Stadium in Seattle (about a mile and a half from my childhood home), but this is not what has rocked my world. Not Hendrix (who dies later in the year) or The Who or The Doors or Black Sabbath or Apollo 13 or Earth Day.
It’s not the corduroy hot pants with suspenders I’m unaccountably allowed to wear to my middle school, which is a giant bussing experiment my father cannot bear to think too hard about.
And it is not a sweet, fleeting foray into the land of mutual crushes — complete with its first terrifying kiss on the darkened dance floor of a neighbor’s basement.
It is not even two books that give me x-ray eyes — premature eyes I wish to return to the eye factory – that rock my world. One is The Last Picture Show, pulled out of a locked drawer by a 7th grade teacher, in a class for kids who blaze through books but don’t know a bird from a bee; and the other is a novel by Robert Silverberg, hastily purchased in an airport by my mother, who has not a clue what jaw dropping graphic depictions lie within and what brain glass will be shattered for a kid raised on National Geographic, Walt Disney, and that naked bronze archer on the dining room sideboard.
No, this is not what is rocking my world, simply because adolescents are genetically engineered to withstand internal fire and brimstone and endocrine system upheaval. At 13, like everyone else, I am a crazy quilter, crudely stitching a coming-of-age blanket together, a patchy one that protects me unevenly, that I am constantly yanking around for a better fit. Like all adolescents, I am tough and resilient and tender and stronger than my weakest link. I’m built for floods and electrical shorts. I don’t even know what a survivor I am.
What rocks my world instead is something surprisingly simple and old fashioned, something to balance confusion, to quell flames, and bring a moment’s peace. It’s a home economics unit, a bright bobbing buoy of cooking in a roiling sea of life requirements. A class without homework or desks, a class where boys and girls wear aprons and wait for instructions on how to co-create snacks. It’s Alice in Wonderland and the Mad Hatter’s tea party in an otherwise droning-on and yet somehow jarring day, a day of navy and white PE clothes, pre-algebra, and kids with secrets and emotions so violent their faces erupt in acne.
Cooking class is fresh, and I love it.
Our first assignment is nothing short of extraordinary: a safety-first breakfast meal of fruit kabobs and cinnamon toast. Fruit kabobs! Cinnamon toast!
We gather round the white appliances listening to basics, slow moving and hard-to-mess-up instruction. How do I feel? I feel delight. Relaxation. Ease of assignment.
Fast forward to skewered grapes and oranges and the occasional maraschino cherry. To slices of white bread toasted to golden brown and then dusted with sugar mix. In this class, everyone eats together and no one complains. We render our aprons at the sound of the bell and take no homework away. And then we wander out of class feeling richer and lighter, as thought we’ve just had naps.
Hello, simple times before food blogs – which my own daughter starts reading at 13. Hello times before food #trending and deconstruction and revivals and nostalgia and writing about food all day long every day because there’s no end to housemade and bruleed and frothed, to juicing and bacon and gluten-free and Paleo, to Sriracha and baby kale and kimchee and coconut water and cake pops.
Hello, kabobs. You wash the grapes, you peel and slice the oranges and drain the canned pineapple pieces. You stare at the cherry before piercing its undying flesh with the skewer. There it is – a masterpiece of simplicity and calm. And healthy!
In my adolescence, one stitched together with two parts anxiety, four parts hope, and four parts dread, I have no need of one more complication, one more choice, or more surprising land mine of information, one more photo or illustration or diagram that will shock and confuse me. I am already juggling home and school and after school and everything in my head. My heart hurts. No one tells me anything. I am already a universe of gushing hormones and watch parts and socks with holes and songs I want to hear over and over again.
Thus, kabobs. Because it’s a simple thing — still — to love a simple thing.