Thursday, January 2, 2014

Mise en Place

Day 2 of Fun-a-Day: the ArtClash Collective's amazing art-piece a day commitment for the month of January. I chose blog-a-day.

On New Year's Eve we hosted a small gathering of members of the Adamant, Vermont community. Truly, this was a success for me, as I am not the best at reaching out. Although I value closeness with people, developing friendship and caring, mutual support and connection, there is a grumpiness, a mistrust, perhaps even a curmudgeon I carry with me. Is it from youthful rejection? Burnt outness? Fatigue? Whatever the source, I know I need to resist the resistance, and reach out.

And the folks in Adamant are good folks with whom to connect. I went to a women's gathering recently at one of our invited guests house, and she is a new transplant here, too. She told me that Adamant is the closest thing she's seen to a matriarchy she has ever seen, and that she is really lucky to have found this place. There is a community club, a music school, a coop/post office with outpost library books, ponds and small waterfalls, and farms surrounding this hamlet. And for all these reasons and more, the most interesting, eccentric, and genuine women and men have migrated here.

photo evidence
So I mention to a new friend, why don't we get together for New Year's? She and her partner are early sleepers, so we both were not interested in late night escapades. And she suggested, well why not invite a few other folks? And I agreed. We hosted at our place because of our set up-- casual couches and low table for putting plates on. A warm stove right there. Easy buffet in the kitchen.

I volunteered to make a recipe that came to me by accident. As I was opening a French cookbook that my partner's mother gave me, an index card fell out onto the counter. Unknown to me, this index card has been traveling with us from Boston, where we got the book, to Pennsylvania, and now back, to where is started, in East Montpelier. This recipe was typed on the card in 1972 by Polly Holden, the matriarch of the house we now live in. Polly died about ten years ago, but I tell you she was talking to me through this index card.

It's for maple syrup cake, and she typed it from a recipe she read in 1932. I figured if she had this recipe for 40 years and then decided to type it up, it must be good. It called for a number of things I had never done before, but I was game. I like cooking and baking.

example of mise en place.  from
everyday minimalist 
On new year's eve, I spoke with my new friend on the phone, checking in on her planned quiche lorraine (so delicious), and she started telling me about mise en place, as I described the joy of orderly preparation and work.

Mise en place, as I understand it, and as she described to me, is the sign of good cooking, and a phrase used in professional kitchens for having everything in it's place. All the resources needed to both follow the rules, and to break some, to innovate and create with the things you need, are there because of the chef's forethought and care.

We got off the phone, and I called my partner down to help me both boil the maple syrup and pour it into my whipping egg whites for a miraculous maple icing. He was mise en place for me.

I noticed the wood stove needed stoking, and easily grabbed wood from the closet-- mise en place.

And I wonder, now, thinking about this year of transformation, and our current moment, maybe I am working at being master chef of my life, seeking to be mise en place for the work that I so want to do.

I imagine my choices as chopping, my garlic planting as sauce making. I wonder when the steps, the pieces, will come together, and the creation can start. When will the everyday work of living become the community building and farm and spiritual healing space in our dreams?

Maybe it already has. Maybe the first sign of this being ready, being ordered, was when Polly's recipe fell out of the cookbook. At the gathering on New Year's Eve, I cut her a slice, poured a shot of scotch, and put it on our solstice altar with a candle. Welcoming her to the new year and honoring her lessons, no matter from what distance they come. Mise en place. 

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