Thursday, March 8, 2012

Comfort


Although you are always willing to commemorate or celebrate a meaningful anniversary, happy to have achieved some sort of numerical benchmark as in number of pages produced or project finished, you are of an ordinary frame of mind to dates or benchmarks of your own, preferring instead to help a friend or loved one celebrate a birthday or achievement.

Today was different in that sense.  You’d thought about favored restaurants or, given the press of a few due dates for completing things, a commemorative easy-fix meal at home, then back to work.  No wine, no Campari and soda, no cognac.  Perhaps a cappuccino around eight o’clock.

Today is the last chance for a double-digit anniversary of months in which you are free of cancer.  Next month, you’ll be into triple digits.  If your schedule and your regard for due dates will permit, perhaps then, a jaunt to the Villa Maestra or the trattoria next to Olio e Limone.  Then, it is back to business as usual.  One hundred non-cancer months does not sound so dramatic as one hundred or ninety-nine.

A book review is due tomorrow, so are two editorial consultations.  Besides, all of these are bordering on event-type things, reminding you that at least twenty-five years ago, you’d resolved to eschew diary-like things in favor of opinions, observations, discoveries.  You were not a Dear Diary; Today I hate all my toys kind of fellow.  You were more likely to say, Dear Diary, Today I discovered why I hate all my toys and here is what I intend to do about it so that in the future I will not have this kind of issue, thus taking some small measure of control of my energy levels and curiosity.

This sent you scurrying into the kitchen to see what potentials awaited for supper, all this going on against a counterpoint motif of Sally, apparently in real time hating all her food options and successively refusing chicken, ground turkey, hamburger, bacon, and the lamb-and-rice strips that were once her great staple.

The simplest option was corn bread, but the corn meal did not sniff right, had a touch of rancid to it.  The chicken had been coopted by Sally, and the Polish sausage had been whittled away to perhaps a three-inch portion, which meant it would have to go into something else, such as beans and red peppers.  But there, in the lower recesses of the larder, all but hidden, was the familiar red-and-white label recognizable by anyone of middle and working class origins, Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup.

You knew immediately where you stood, and began rifling through the tinned goods on the next shelf, sorting through the anchovy, the diced clams, the wild pink salmon, the kipper snacks, and the smoked trout until you came to the essence of canned fish, albacore tuna.  You knew there were frozen peas in the freezer; you even had two varieties of tinned Japanese mushroom and a scant helping of pimento, a surprise discovery lurking behind a jar of Korean pickled cabbage, Kim chee.

You were on your way to creamed tuna on toast, the toast being the lingering pieces of a disastrous loaf of Sara Lee multi-grain bread.  The one thing lacking to make this concoction the echt-comfort food of your youth was coarse ground black pepper, for which you substituted a handful of shredded Greek olives and a dash of the viscid Balsamic vinegar you’d found last week at Whole Foods.

The results, as you sampled them, were enough to fool you or at least send your thoughts scaling back to she who prepared such comforts for you, Annie, she who bore you and, over the years, provided dishes with greater nuance and structure than creamed tuna on toast.

Adding to the comfort of this simulacrum of Her creamed tuna on toast, you found among the dishes a Delft platter she’d treasured.  In a matter of moments, the platter was transformed into a dinner plate; the gelatinous glob spooned over the toast using one of her serving spoons.

Much of your comfort literature can be found in the bookshelf adjacent your bed; some of it contained in a single omnibus volume, The Works of Mark Twain.  There are others of a comforting nature, to be sure, and here and there about the shelves, and for a certainty within your iTunes computer file the comfort music, some of which, now that you think of it, is pretty frenetic and destabilizing of anything resembling stasis.

To be sure, you have added coarse ground black pepper to the list of things Lupe, the maid, has tactfully suggested you pick up on your next visit to the market, although now that you think of it, there is a great likelihood of you always being able to find olives in the refrigerator.

There will always be occasions for comfort food, comfort literature, and comfort music.  Times change and in accordance with the changes, the needs for comforting will also have evolved.  The only thing to have remained a constant in this bumpy ride across the universe is the design of the Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup can.  The bare fact of you having found such an artifact of your past within your larder is a puzzling mosquito, buzzing about.  But it was there and the tuna was there, and the peas and, although Annie would not have thought to use Japanese mushrooms, she would nevertheless have taken them in a pinch.


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