The Quiche

[This is a story about a novice cook learning to feed herself in the world outside of a college cafeteria or the warmth of her mother’s kitchen. Her baking and culinary skills are average at best, never warranting bragging rights or 4-H ribbons. She spends hours pouring over recipes online, vegetarian cookbooks, and pictures of delicious-looking authentic cuisine before putting some olive oil in a pan and cooking the oldest vegetable in the fridge. This story is about that girl and a delicious dinner experiment.]

I found an extremely thick paperback lying near the KitchenAid near the stairs. The spine was broken down the middle from handling and culinary love. (Beware the unbroken cookbook). Tonight, I would make a quiche. More realistically, tonight I would make the crust of the quiche because I had plans and not enough time. I followed the instructions for a Basic Tart Crust, watched the food processor whir into action and rolled out my buttery masterpiece before sliding it into the refrigerator to cool.

 

When I retrieved the pie dish the following evening, my heart sank. My crust, the first I’d ever made, was covered in white spots. Flecks of butter like pimples on picture day had appeared over night. It looked diseased. “Eh, I’m sure it’s fine. Cook it anyway and see what happens.” That was my mother.

Half the recipes I found told me to pre-cook my crust and layer the cheese on the bottom. The other half didn’t pre-cook their crust at all and added their cheesy goodness right in with the rest. I followed the first advice because seeing my infected crust another minute would have forced me to abandon the project and order pizza. After 10 minutes in the oven, the crust had begun to look better and I felt a renewed sense of hope. So I flew into a frenzy, sautéing some onion and green pepper, shredding cheddar and Parmesan, and whipping together as many eggs as I could find. A juicy red tomato on the counter looked lonely so I cut him up too.

My knife’s eye turned out to be bigger than my crust’s stomach. My tomato, sautéed ingredients, egg-and-milk liquid, and cheese overwhelmed the small dish.  I slid the overflowing mixture into the oven, closed the door and checked my watch.

Over the next 30-40 minutes, the quiche bubbled, changed color, and breathed a sigh when I poked at it with my various kitchen utensils. Eventually, it resembled something edible so I pulled it out of the oven and called Jules. As a last-ditch effort, I made a salad with some fresh corn-off-the-cob and made a silent prayer that I wasn’t poisoning my only close friend in Northampton. When Jules arrived, we sat at the kitchen table and she watched as I took my first bite… 

IT WAS DELICIOUS! I beamed at the beautiful egg-based pastry sitting before me and wondered why it had seemed so daunting just an hour before. My pie in the sky became a quiche at the table and I couldn’t have been more proud or relieved. There was no telling what culinary feats I had yet to accomplish. 

So why write about a simple cooking experience? Why tell you about a seemingly insignificant event in my life? Because that quiche represented something more. I could have baked anything, followed any number of recipes to create a meal. Even the greatest chef can’t promise with 100% certainty that she will open the oven door to find something worth eating. But we go on cooking just the same. I followed pieces of countless recipes, each with a different spice and specific procedure. In the end, you cannot follow anyone’s recipe but your own and that has made all the difference. 

And by difference I mean quiche. Bon appetite!

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Friendship Within Silence

He who does not understand your silence will probably not understand your words.  ~Elbert Hubbard

I often define my friendships by conversations. Past jokes, heated debates and the stories act as landmarks along my living timeline. I converse to connect with others and to mutually share internal thoughts. But what about the moments in between speech? What about the silence?

My friend Juliane and I arrived late Saturday afternoon at the Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary just off Route 5 in Easthampton, MA. Despite the beautiful weather, it was too far to walk so I drove with the sunroof open, arms dangling in the warm breeze. Our day, until that point, had been stimulating: an estate sale, lunch at the delicious vegetarian-friendly Green Bean and shopping downtown at FACES for new sunglasses and a bed spread. I believe it was the way a Saturday should be spent, free of any responsibilities but the enjoyment of tag sales, sunshine and the closeness of a friend. A stroll through nature seemed like the logical next step. Quite literally. 

I parked the car and we ventured off, the crunch of gravel giving way to the muffled paw paw of the earth beneath our sneakers. Particles of dust floated through beams of golden light as the path led us away from the parking lot and into the trees. Our conversation slowed and tapered off, lost in the softness of young pine needles and patches of shy green ferns. Silence crept into the space between our bodies and our thoughts. We walked on.

I don’t remember how long we walked or who eventually broke the silence. Eventually, the cadence of our voices rejoined as we reemerged into the sunlit field. I was struck by the natural quality of our silence–void of panic or fear to fill the space with meaninglessness. We had walked together but our thoughts had moved independently, weaving in and out of conscious thought creation. We were worlds apart and an arm’s length away. 

I wish the same for you and your friends going into the future. The silence might appear suddenly–at the dinner table or in the moments before a goodbye. Do not be so quick to fill this space, it is not empty but full of depth, mystery and internal questioning. Define your friendships in the things unsaid just as you define those moments in the things that are.

As close in the silence as in speech.

We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness.  God is the friend of silence.  See how nature – trees, flowers, grass – grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence…. We need silence to be able to touch souls.  ~Mother Teresa

Newness

Hello friends. It has been a while since I sent my thoughts out into the universe. I missed it and I’ve missed you. In the time since completing 1984, I’ve made some pretty big changes in my life. Instead of lamenting my trials and tribulations of moving to a new city into a new apartment with new roommates to start a new job, I will leave you with some wisdom I gained along the way.

  1. In furnishing your new bedroom, do not overestimate the strength of your muscles or underestimate the steepness of the stairs.
  2. If you neglect to purchase window curtains due to time and stinginess, remember that the people across the street can see you at all times–clothes or not. Welcome to the neighborhood.
  3. When attending a company picnic on the Sunday before work, assume you will get mistaken for your boss’s wife. Welcome to the company.
  4. Always stop for pedestrians. And their little dogs.
  5. When exploring a new health food grocery store, BRING A LIST. Or leave an hour later feeling extremely overwhelmed, carrying only a stick of organic deodorant and a bag of organic whole wheat penne on sale.
  6. Sign up for the customer shopper cards at every grocery store you find. It makes you feel like a local even if four separate employees stopped you in produce because they thought you needed help.
  7. Locate the caffeinated tea or coffee maker in the office. Or suffer the consequences of the 2:00pm lull. While your boss is speaking.
  8. Only cook a casserole you really enjoy eating. Because it will be your lunch and dinner for the next 7 days.
  9. Remind people you are living in a new city, trying to navigate the working world. You will get a lot of sympathetic head nods and free drinks (in theory).
  10. When in doubt, smile. It’s way cheaper than…everything else right now.

Granted, I’ve only been at work for three days (all training) and moved in only two days before that. My mom, my dad, and the old hitchhiker my dad picked up are the only people who have ridden in my “new” ’98 Subaru Forester. My personal budgeting sheet is a template I downloaded online and don’t know how to use. In absence of my mature wisdom, I will leave you with a quote by Victor Kiam.

Even if you fall on your face, you’re still moving forward. 

Motivational? Perhaps. Realistic? Definitely.

Reading the Classics

George Orwell’s 1984 was one of those classics I had never read, just one of the countless books that escaped my summer reading list, my high school syllabus from year to year, and my desire to explore another outdated work of literature. While visiting some college friends last weekend, we got on the topic of the famous classic novels and when my friend recommended 1984, I decided it was worth a try. Plus, a couple of movie versions had been made in case I couldn’t get past the second page.

The small paperback copy was covered in dust when I extracted it from the shadowy depths of my basement. I turned the yellowed pages with care–my mother’s textbook from 1970–and wondered how such a small and dated book could possibly have relevance to modern society. My predictions could not have been more wrong.

The story follows Winston, a middle-aged man living in a negative utopia of Oceania. Oceania is controlled by the Party and symbolized by an idealized figurehead referred to as Big Brother. The mustache-ed face of the leader is plastered on billboards, buildings and walls across the city of London. Winston’s every movement and facial expression is closely monitored. At work, it is by his co-workers. At home, it is through the telescreen that remains on day and night. Winston struggles to remember life before the Party and begins to reject the Party’s key slogans: WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, and IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. Winston’s internal dialogue against the Party and quest for love develops into a dark and unforeseeable search for truth and reality.

The content is deceptively heavy and forces the reader to think way beyond a fluffy summer read. The book was published just after World War II and the rise of both Hitler and Stalin. I was pulled into a world Orwell created and couldn’t help but notice the parallels to our society today. Have we become emotional slaves blindly following the majority, repeating accepted ideologies, and repressing knowledge of repeated history for the illusions of conformity? I stayed awake reading until the clock glowed 1:40am and I was forced to remove myself from the internal struggles of Winston in exchange for unsettled sleep.

Orwell did not write a book to predict the year 1984 or 2000 or 2012. He wrote a warning to people of every era by creating a plausible future within slightly altered circumstances. In a world where war is constant, freedom of thought is removed and the Thought Police governs our every movement, passion, love and creativity are null and void. We as humans cannot let allow this to happen. Now or ever.

Read 1984 and tell me you agree. Or tell me you don’t. Such is the power of freedom of thought.

George Orwell’s 1984