Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Split Pea Soup

I could start writing about cooking and never stop.

I watch (and enjoy) a calculus lecture, from two and a half years later and almost 200 miles away, but when the video screen goes black and youtube offers me related videos, I need to come back to my body. I need to be present.

Cooking: it is all about being there. Being here. Being now. Cooking is timing and attention and transformation. Heft the bag of split peas, feel them, through the plastic, shifting. The thousand split peas will pour out of this bag, cascade across the bottom of the bowl. If I poured them onto the floor, they would scatter and skitter into every corner. They are independent, they do not love each other. But for now, they are one shape, moving together, formed by my hands into this reassuring solid. When I set the bag on the counter vertically, it slouches, but does not sway.

And then the onions, like giant pearls. The onions wait patiently in the bottom drawer in the refrigerator, but when their time comes, they shine through the whole kitchen. When I pick up an onion to slip and rip away its brown jacket, it fills my palm. For an instant, this onion globe is the entire world. Under the crisp outer paper, the onion is silken smooth. Today I sliced one along its equator, revealing concentric circles. Pale and perfect inside, the two hemispheres glowed on the cutting board, as though I had split the planet apart and found it suffused with light.

Chopping the onions, the knife is very real in my hand: its weight, its solidity, the sliding of the blade through the onions. Like the peas, the onions will be sundered into a thousand independent pieces. With each severance, the onion cries out, and its scream hangs in the air as an acrid vapor. But to no avail. The knife mercilessly destroys the harmony of those opalescent globes. They are bound for a bowl and then a bowel.

When I slide the onions into the pot, I scrape the knife across the edge. The metal rings. The onions, below, crinkle and shiver in the hot oil.

Meanwhile, I pour the peas into a bowl, and fill it with water. My language lacks a word for the song of liquid pouring into legumes. . . It's a very transient fountain, but lovely nonetheless. I immerse myself in the cooking, bury my hands in the peas to clean them. I can smell the peas: a quiet smell, minerals, sunshine. My hands massage the peas. Clouds drift into the water. Rinse, repeat. The little golden peas cling to my hands but I wash them back into the crowd, and then they all go in with the onion in the pot.

Pour in five cups of water. Wash the dishes, listen for the water to boil. Listen for the plopping, popping sounds that say to stir the pot. Smell: the onions, the softening peas, the steam.

Later I squirt in the lemon juice the recipe calls for. But it's not enough. Instead, the kitchen tells me what the soup needs. I drizzle black molasses across the sandy-colored peas. The cider vinegar reeks, but I add a capful, and another. Stir and taste, add and stir again and simmer some more. . .

At the end of the hour, it's lunch, ladled into a bowl that I hold in my hands. In the bowl is soup, and in the soup is myself. I eat, and I thank God for creation, for these glorious vegetables, for these scents and sounds, and I rejoice in this kitchen, where I play creator.

1 comment:

Jessica said...

I told you you always add onions to everything. ;) <3