Day Forty-Four: Zest
If I had to guess, I would say that my love of cooking, of fine food in general, did not come from my father. I absorbed many of his passions—woodworking, for example, and laughter—but mercifully few of his dietary preferences. People joke about Spam, but in our house it was Flakes of Ham. And Chicken. Not that my mother or I ever ate it. She added the requisite Miracle Whip and somehow managed to turn it out onto bread for him, but I couldn't even stomach being in the kitchen when she opened the tins. I shudder to think, even now, how food achieves such a status: Flaked. At the least, it was an atrocious misuse of homemade bread.
Yes, my mother taught me to cook, to love cooking, and bread was a cornerstone in her culinary repertoire. Saturday mornings in our house revolved around grains, and by the time I was out of bed the Red River cereal was already soaking in a bowl of molasses and water on top of the iron radiator in the kitchen, it's sweet warmth hovering in the hallway outside my room. When she'd returned from her morning run, the dough was ready to punch down. This was my job—the only part of bread-making I ever cared to learn, and my favourite part of cooking at all—and I executed the task with a sort of luminous zest.
Swinging like a boxer (I learned eventually that such gusto was not required), I'd sink my fists deep into the first bowl, deflating it like a balloon and allowing the suction to swallow my wrists; then, recoiling quickly and imagining myself to be Mohammed Ali, I'd jump around to the second bowl and plant a strong right jab into it's doughy centre. After replacing the bowls back on top of the radiator, I'd head off on some other Saturday activity—The Smurfs, maybe, or He-Man, or swimming lessons at The Y—until payment was offered: One warm slice, fresh out of the oven, slathered in butter and drizzled with honey. Not a flake of ham in sight.