This morning, while puttering around my kitchen, I discovered that the rock hard avocados purchased last week from a couple selling them on a nearby street corner (three for a dollar!) had finally ripened. A gentle squeeze tells me they're probably perfect. The radishes I forgot in my market bag, however, seem to have gone a little beyond ripe, although they may be good for sautéing. And the bread I brought home on Thursday will probably be ready for bread crumbs on Monday if I don't finish it up by then.
As cooks, the spare and simple truth that all things are in a constant state of change is something we deal with on a daily basis.
The avocado ripening on the counter, the cheese aging (i.e. growing a thin layer of mold!) in the refrigerator, the onions going from raw to cooked in the sputtering fat of a frying pan. Cabbages into sauerkraut, wheat and flour and salt into a loaf of bread. Everywhere and all the time, we are working with change. All day long, we monitor and encourage (and discourage) and are impacted by this act of transformation.
Things change with the seasons, too. Kale grows sweeter in the colder months, peaches concentrate their sugar and flavor when the summer grows hot and the rains stop. I remember as a child growing up in Wisconsin that the milk tasted funny in the winter when the cows were taken off of grass and switched to their winter feed. And of course our cravings change too, as we reach for simple, cool food in summer, rich and heavy dishes in winter.
This goes for people as well. It's easier, and often safer, to fix a person in our minds, boxing them into our judgements and observations and not allowing them to be any different. It's more complicated and riskier to meet a person fresh each time you see them. Brand new. Who are you today? What are you offering? Do you still dislike marmalade?
It's true that there are no guarantees that a mean ol' cuss will be any different today than he was yesterday. But it's always worth while to find out, to poke around a little and see if something bright and beautiful is lurking in the messy and difficult stuff. I know that I would feel terrible if someone who met me at my worst moment always saw me as that person. Wouldn't you?
I have a friend who is generally considered to be a difficult person. He's moody, quick to anger, and always finds the negative in situations. But for some reason, those qualities don't bother me. I can also see that he is generous and loyal, and that he has a quick and playful wit that often makes me laugh. When I'm with him, I see him and treat him as this loyal and playful person. And in doing so, I believe he becomes more of that part of himself. The other stuff doesn't go away, it's true, but the more positive stuff seems to come forward. No person, no thing, is unchanging.
Working in the kitchen has taught me a lot about working with the changing nature of things. It has taught me how to yield to it and accept it, and it has also taught me how to encourage it and make it work for me. Knowing when to do one or the other is truly the work of a wise person and, to be frank, is often beyond my capacity. But I keep at it, trying to greet each thing (each person, each moment, each situation) as if it were brand new, balancing my need for safety with a willingness to be surprised and delighted. Can I see and appreciate and accept what is offered, just as it is, and see and appreciate and accept it when it changes?
No small thing, this.
(Image: Dana Velden)