Monday, November 24, 2008

As Good as a Feast

week of November 16 – 22

I once had a professor who made us write our papers so they fit on one page. Is it giving away anything to admit what a challenge this brevity posed for me?

Yes, the tight word limit kept his paper-load down. Better, it clarified and distilled the thoughts I finally committed to writing. When there is only room for the right word, you don’t throw in several sloppier approximations. And just enough argument to convince, because

“Enough,” as Ms. Poppins says, “is as good as a feast.”
Hmm, and here we are back at that idea of what is sufficient?

I don’t think it’s just this time of year – gathering in, providing for winter – nor is it the worsening economy that keeps leading my wild-pony thoughts back again into this ring of Sufficiency. Something in me powerfully wants to know – what is sufficient for me? Brevity, simplicity – is that sufficiency ?

Certainly brevity has a charm – this week on the advice of her younger, socially savvy sister, my elder daughter invited a friend-who-is-a-boy to January’s Winter Ball very simply, without a lot of froufrou or complication: a series of one word notes, printed large, backed with his favorite color (green), and delivered singly by other friends-who-are-boys (plus the calculus teacher): Will – you – go – to – Winter Ball – with – The last note (me?) she delivered herself. (How apt, for she did deliver herself, smiling certainly and most probably like a ripe apple rosy-cheeked.) Her friend thought it was “a very sweet way to ask” and he agreed. (“But of course,” say those of us to whom she is most dear.)

And simplicity can be definitively delicious. No delicate French custard can compare to a perfectly ripe pear simply baked (or microwaved even) until its golden juices first begin to exude, then sliced in half, the stem and core gently lifted away, and served on a plate in its own skin to be spooned irresistibly towards grateful mouth. In fact, I am convinced baking and confectionery began as a way to perk up, preserve, and finally approximate fruit at its peak of perfection. As for flavorings and seasonings, even that grande dame of cookbooks (Joy of) states:

while ~> we advocate a constant use of herbs, we don’t advise too many kinds at once or too much of any one kind.

This advice ran through my mind early this week while cooking up a pot of Creamy Cabbage and Potato Soup (Moosewood). When I first tried the recipe (almost decades ago now), I worried caraway would be too bland as the only seasoning – oughtn’t I add a little thyme, oregano maybe . . . Back then I couldn’t figure out why so much of my cooking tasted like everything else I cooked: garlicky and lots of Italian seasonings. I’ve been learning since the melodic brilliance of a single main herb (salt and pepper singing doo-wop, onions and garlic going shalalalala)

But brevity and simplicity are not enough. Friday I worked with a friend making pie crust for our coming, respective Thanksgiving Feasts, while our children were in school. We could have made more crust, more quickly, working alone, each in our own homes. Our time was not used efficiently and often we stood, leaning on one hand, taken up mostly with talk – easy meandering talk, a thousand words with side-trips and complicated backtracks – which all laid the foundation for one brilliant moment of clarity – the whole reason I love conversation - that moment when you both chime, both sensing at the edges the reverberations of Deeper and Higher Chords in sympathetic vibration.

But here I am at the end of my page and just beginning to say . . .

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