Lumps in farina — often hidden so that you had no chance to brace yourself — were a scourge in childhood. Scary and creepy… When your tongue senses the advent of one of these you feel something is terribly wrong. It’s not just disgusting, you’re way beyond that: something has gone wrong on a universal level. A gear has broken, the toilet is flowing backward, you can’t get air into your lungs any more. Perhaps this is how it feels an instant before true death. “I’m dying, Archibald,” you might say as the absolutely shocking certainty of the thing mounts.
Compare Herman Melville’s “Try-Works” chapter late in Moby-Dick, where our narrator Ishmael, steering the Pequod on a midnight watch, feels something is utterly, fatally wrong but has not yet quite discovered that he’s fallen asleep at the wheel and the ship is about to capsize. “A stark, bewildered feeling, as of death, came over me…”
Convulsively my hands grasped the tiller, but with the crazy conceit that the tiller was, somehow, in some enchanted way, inverted. My God! What is the matter with me? thought I.
But soon the sensation of the current lump, horrible as it may be, has taken the first step in the process of becoming only a memory.
To be sure, you recover soon enough, complain loudly and turn aside gentle suggestions of what you might eat instead. You are flooded with relief…
How glad and how grateful the relief from this unnatural hallucination of the night, and the fatal contingency of being brought by the lee!
The timbre of the clanging of a spoon against the inside of a ceramic bowl, the opening and shutting of the refrigerator door, the inane proposals for what you should eat or do — all these conspire to remind you that you have awakened and re-emerged from the trance-like dream-state in which you had been trapped. It hits you that the complete suspension and pause in ordinary concerns that had consumed you has ended and the goings-on of human life are suddenly resumed…
For a fuller description of the Farina Effect, see Thomas DeQuincey’s “On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth”
All right, now we are ready to proceed with a few words about:
My cooking education, successes (implied) and failures (3).
That farina, early in childhood, was cooked for me by my grandmother, who cooked bacon for us kids all the time — “to make you big and strong”— though she herself was kosher. Later I worked with her, helping her make mandelbrot, cookies and blintzes. I remember her dark green mixing bowl being broken (not by me!) — one of my first memorable losses, something like my yellow Tlaquepaque serape that was left in my Baltimore house when, as an adult, I moved to Singapore.
Maybe with my grandmother’s influence, or genes, I was a good cook when I grew up. But I had 3 failures (3):
1. Making fudge, age 8. Couldn’t find any confectioners sugar so I used normal, granulated sugar. It stayed grainy, never jelled into fudge. But the amorphous sweet chocolate I scraped from the pan was nevertheless good eating!
2. In my graduate school days when I lived with Meryl in a cozy Berkeley cottage I undertook to make a variation of arroz con pollo but substituted applesauce for something. Meryl, a gourmet cook herself who subscribed to the magazine, judged this to be uneatable.
3. For Thanksgiving once, with my radical friends at someone’s house, my famous oeufs à la neige — a.k.a. Floating Island — this time failed to jell properly and Steve Brown famously described the raw sienna mixture, “Looks like shit.”
Well, aside from these, whatever I’ve cooked has been a blazing success. Or at least so I like to think.
© Jerry Kurtz 2015