I will get back to cooking from Time-Life books soon. I want to. But as of a few days ago I’m steaming and relaxing in Massachusetts at my in laws’ beach house. The hydrangeas here are far more beautiful than in California and my hair far less so. I'm supposed to cook a dish for an extended-family potluck tomorrow. What should I make?
So, the other day in Boston I saw a young woman with a tattoo of a large gray canning jar on her bicep. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more disturbed by a tattoo. Snakes? Nude women? Fire-breathing dragons? Whatever.
But this canning jar. Jeez.
To start with, it was drab and blocky, inert and homely. At least a snake has a sinuous and interesting shape, and while a naked woman isn't a tasteful choice, the unclothed human form has a certain primal allure, or so I’m told. And a dragon has spikes and curves and flame and scales and mythology. All of the above suggest a sexy misspent youth. What does a canning jar suggest? This lovely girl is going to be 60 one day and on her aging arm will be a large, gray canning jar. Couldn’t she at least have put some peaches in it?
Also, while this young woman looked very hip and independent, just a few decades ago canning was a hot, oppressive chore for women, not an empowering choice. I'm certainly not against canning -- my mother and grandmother were prodigious canners and I’ve canned some myself -- but while you're at it, why not tattoo an ironing board on your other arm?
Except, at least an ironing board could be interpreted as ironic. There was nothing ironic about the canning jar. It was painfully earnest.
That night I couldn’t sleep and decided to stream a movie called First Winter about a group of young people who live on some kind of communal farm where they appear to do little but take drugs, practice yoga, and have unwatchable threesomes. Unwatchable to me because I found the lead character’s beard so repellent. Others will feel differently.
Anyway, an unspecified catastrophe out in the larger world forces this group to try to live by their wits through the winter, chopping wood, hunting, huddling under blankets for warmth. Eventually, they resort to eating food they canned themselves. The lead character and one of his lovers feed this canned food to each other while giggling in a bathtub and the hideous consequences won’t surprise anyone who’s read East of Eden.
On another subject, I just read a collection of short stories called Bobcat by Rebecca Lee that I picked it up because of the title. The "mesmerizingly strange" book has nothing to do with bobcats, but is full of incandescent writing. Rebecca Lee. I love her voice. I copied down a dozen passages, but here are three choice food-related tidbits:
“They had Fig Newtons, which I knew were not exactly healthy but they were faintly educational and maybe even sort of biblical.”
“A single line from the archaeologist Ernest Becker often tore through my mind at the end of long meals, that every man stands over a pile of mangled bones and declares life good.”
“Normally I don’t like trifle -- its layers of bright, childish tastes; strawberry, coconut, sugar. But Lizbet’s trifle was perfect and mysterious-seeming -- anise, raspberry and port with a gingerbread base. Lizbet basically knew how to live a happy life and this was revealed in the trifle -- she put in it what she loved and left out what she didn’t.”
That sounds like a disgusting trifle, but what a wonderful book.