Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Calming and Rewarding"

This poem is spillover from the February 5, 2019 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] mama_kestrel and [personal profile] dialecticdreamer. It also fills the "cooking with love" square in my 2-1-19 Platonic card for the Valentines Bingo fest. This poem belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series. It directly follows "Chewing Anyway," so read that first so this will make more sense.

"Calming and Rewarding"

[Monday, January 12, 2015]

Shiv followed Elisabeth into
the kitchen, where the crocks
sat in a colorful row on the counter.

"We'll start with the sourdough bread,"
she said. "It requires some kneading
and a considerable amount of time
to rise before we can score it."

"Then we'll do some of the others
while waiting for that?" Shiv guessed.

"Exactly!" she said, smiling at him. "You
can start by proofing the extra yeast."

While Shiv added yeast to a bowl
of warm water, Elisabeth got out
the other ingredients they'd need.

Once the yeast began to bubble
and give off a bright tangy smell,
she mixed in the sourdough starter,
then the flour and salt, until it came
together in a blob of shaggy dough.

Briskly she floured the countertop,
then turned out the dough and
divided it into two sections.

"We'll knead this for ten to
fifteen minutes," Elisabeth said.
"It should get smooth and springy."

At first, it was an aggravating mess,
sticking to Shiv's hands and the counter
no matter how much flour he used.

Over time, though, the dough
mellowed and began to behave.

This was one of the things that
he loved the most about baking,
the feel of the dough underneath
his hands as he pushed and pulled
and turned it on the working surface.

It grew stretchy and firm in his grasp,
bounding back when he pushed on it.

"I think mine's done," Shiv said
as he wiped his forehead with
the back of his hand. "Check it."

Elisabeth reached over and
poked the dough, which left
a dent that swiftly refilled.

"Yes, it's ready to rise now,"
she said. "Shape it into a ball."

Shiv watched, copying her motions,
and then they put the balls of dough
into oiled bowls and covered them
with a pair of damp dishtowels.

"Now what?" Shiv wondered.

"Help me carry these to
the laundry room, please,"
Elisabeth said as she
picked up her bowl.

Shiv grabbed his
and followed her.

The laundry room was
already warm and steamy --
someone must have been
doing laundry earlier.

They put the bowls
on the washer and dryer.

Then Elisabeth hung a sign
on the door that read, Happiness
is the smell of freshly baked bread

"That lets everyone know that there
is dough in the room, so they don't
accidentally drop a load of laundry
on top of it," Elisabeth explained.

Shiv had a pretty good idea
why they bought that sign.

His soft snicker caught him
by surprise. He hadn't
laughed much recently.

"How are you doing?"
Elisabeth asked gently.

"Better, some," Shiv said.
"I just ... I've been antsy
all month. It's stupid."

"No, trauma can really
wreck your mood for a while,"
Elisabeth said. "That's normal.
If you want to get anything off
your chest, I'm not a counselor,
but I'm a very good listener."

Shiv leaned on the wall,
bouncing his back against it.
Silently he shook his head.

"It's okay if you don't want to talk
about it, Shiv," said Elisabeth.
"Some problems don't respond
well to that, some people don't
feel comfortable with it, and
sometimes it's just too soon."

"You sound like you actually
understand that, not just
parroting it from a book,"
Shiv said, glancing at her.

She had a thoughtful look,
unlike her usual cheer.

"After my parents died, I didn't
want to talk about it directly for
quite a while," Elisabeth said.
"I felt raw all over, inside and out.
While I was healing, I was just
sluggish, but later I was angry at
almost everything for a while."

"No shit," Shiv muttered.

"That was a big reason why
the social workers put me into
a Sankofa Home instead of with
an adoptive family," she went on.
"They thought I couldn't bond with
anyone new. They were wrong, but --"
she shrugged. "It worked out in the end."

"Yeah, you seem pretty attached
to your Sankofa folks," Shiv said.

"They're my family," she said simply.

Shiv followed her back to the kitchen,
where they both cleaned up after
the first batch of bread dough.

"Hey, the signs match," Shiv said,
pointing to another one that read,
Bake the world a better place.

"Yes, we got a set of them,"
Elisabeth said. "Tolli has
This kitchen is seasoned
with love
. We gave some
to Heron and Mallory too."

"Yeah, what?" Shiv said.

"Heron's is Baking and
cooking with love,"
she said.
"Mallory's reads, First I drink
the coffee, then I do the things."

Shiv laughed. "I like those too,"
he said. "Uh, Heron told me that
he can't bake yeast bread. You
got any idea what's up with that?"

"For years we didn't," Elisabeth said.
"Now Turi thinks it might have something
to do with his abilities -- that Heron is
affecting how the yeast grows, pushing
the rate down or up, mostly down."

"He doesn't mind people knowing?"
Shiv said, narrowing his eyes.
"He's usually careful about that."

"He doesn't mind us knowing,"
Elisabeth corrected. "Please don't
repeat that outside of family."

"Okay," Shiv said, even though
it still felt incredibly weird to be
included in anyone's idea of 'family.'

"The sweet bun dough we can make
right on the countertop," Elisabeth said
as she brought out the ingredients.
"Has Heron showed you this trick?"

"Uh, yeah," Shiv said. "He can't
make yeast bread, but we've made
Irish soda bread several times.
That's pretty good stuff."

"I'm glad you like it," she said.
"First we sift together the flour,
milk powder, caster sugar and salt."

They made a snowy pile on the countertop.

"Next, add the dry yeast," Elisabeth said.
"Make sure you mix it in very well."

Shiv loved the silky feel of the flour
as it slipped through his fingers.
"Okay, I got it mixed," he said.

"Make a well in the flour mound,"
Elisabeth said. "Then you add
the beaten egg and the butter,
mixing them into the dry stuff."

Shiv remembered this process
from making soda bread with
Heron. He was even getting
to where he didn't panic over
maybe spilling it on the floor.

It wasn't dough yet, more like
wet crumbs, but he knew
that would change soon.

Shiv liked being able
to anticipate something
that didn't totally suck.

"Now add the water,
just a little bit at a time,
and mix it in to form
a soft dough," she said.

Shiv obeyed, watching
the dough come together
with a feeling of satisfaction.

This was something he could do,
and when it was done, he'd have
a delicious pan of rolls to show for it.

"That looks good," Elisabeth said.
"Flour the counter, turn out the dough,
and then we knead for twenty minutes."

The dough felt good in his hands,
soft and pillowy, not ragged and sticky
like the sourdough had been. He
chuckled at how the 'sweet' dough
behaved better than the 'sour' one.

Shiv let himself fall into a zone,
his hands working automatically
in the familiar rhythm, his mind
finally drifting free to rest.

A weird thumping made
him look up, baffled.

Elisabeth was tapping
a wooden rolling pin
against the countertop.

"There you are," she said.
"It's been twenty minutes."

"Already?" Shiv said, startled.

"Check your dough," she said,
pointing at the mass in his hands.

Shiv checked, and yes, the dough
had gone satiny and elastic. "Huh."

"Now roll that into a big ball and
put it in here," Elisabeth said,
offering him a greased bowl.

"Does this go in the laundry room
with the sourdough?" Shiv asked.
"Will they be okay together?"

"Yes and yes," Elisabeth said.
"Yeast is not a jealous fellow."

They went back to the laundry room
and scooted the other bowls closer
to make room for the new ones.

"Hey, look, it's getting bigger,"
Shiv said, pointing to the dough.

"It sure is. That needs to get
twice its original size, though,"
Elisabeth said. "Let's go back
to the kitchen and set up
some artisan bread."

"Thanks for ... you know,
taking time for all this," he said.
"I know you're pretty busy."

"You're worth every minute,"
she assured him. "Besides,
I love baking with people."

Back in the kitchen, Shiv
was amazed at the size of
the tub she pulled out
of the refrigerator.

"How much dough do
you have in there?"
he said, staring at it.

"Forty pounds, if nobody
has been cutting bits off it, which
they probably have," Elisabeth said,
plopping the dough on the counter.
"Would you dust cornmeal on
some baking sheets for me?
These need a base to rise."

Shiv found the baking sheets
and the cornmeal, then set up
a row of them on the counter.

Meanwhile Elisabeth pinched up
hunks of the dough and snipped
them loose with kitchen scissors.

"We're going to make what's
called a boule," she said. "Boule
is the French word for ball, so it's
a round, domed loaf of bread."

Shiv loved the way that Elisabeth
explained things without making
him feel stupid for not knowing.

"You need to work fast, and don't
squeeze all the air out of the dough,
or it'll brick up," she said, deftly turning
a lump in her hands. "See how I pull
the sides under the bottom and squeeze
to make them stay there? That creates
surface tension to round the top."

Shiv watched in amazement
as a loose hunk of dough
became a tight mound.

Elisabeth set it on a tray,
then said, "Now you try."

Shiv groaned. "I hate
that phrase," he said.
"I always fuck it up!"

"Then I'll try to say it
some other way next time,"
Elisabeth said. "Meanwhile,
give it a go. It's just bread.
Don't let it intimidate you.
It's not nearly as much
of a badass as you are."

Shiv laughed. "Watch out,
bread, I'm gonna wad you up!"

It took a few false starts,
but soon he got the hang
of making the boules.

They wound up with a row
of trays covered in loaves
the size of a softball.

"We'll let these rest for
about forty minutes,"
Elisabeth said. "Let's
go check our sourdough."

They found that the dough
had plumped up beautifully.

They carried the bowls
back to the kitchen, where
Elisabeth said, "First we
punch down the dough --
or do you want to do it all?"

"Can I really?" Shiv said.

"Sure, we're baking for
your comfort," Elisabeth said.

So Shiv got to slam his fist
into something that absorbed
all the force instead of echoing
right back up his arm bones.

"Now we divide each batch in half
and shape the pieces into balls,"
Elisabeth said, and they did. "Put
the dough on a lightly floured surface --"

"Uh, we're starting to run out of room,"
Shiv said, looking at the counters
still crammed with boules of dough.

"We'll put them back in the laundry room
and let them rest for twenty minutes,"
Elisabeth said. "Don't worry, Shiv,
this happens all the time here."

Shiv frowned at the boules.
"These aren't rising very much,"
he said. "Did we wreck 'em?"

"No, they don't plump up a lot
on the counter," Elisabeth said.
"They'll rise more in baking --
that's called 'oven spring' and
it makes the slashes open up."

"Okay, then," Shiv said.

After they set aside the dough
they had just punched down,
Elisabeth said, "We don't have
more bread ready to work yet,
so now is a good time to start
making that pot of Irish stew."

"I love that stuff," Shiv said.
"How can I help out?"

"May I see your hands?"
Elisabeth asked, instead
of just demanding it.

Shiv nibbled thoughtfully
on his pencil topper. "Yeah."

When he held out his hands,
they were steady, not twitchy
like they'd been this morning.

"Wonderful, you're steady enough
to do the cutwork," Elisabeth said.
"I'll start assembling ingredients
and cooking equipment. You can
begin by cutting the lamb roast into
bite-sized pieces. Use the cleaver
and include the bones with the meat."

Then she handed him the cleaver
as if it were no big deal at all.

Shiv smiled, fondling the knife
with his superpower. Unlike
most kitchen knives, it was
thick and heavy, made of
soft, tough steel that could
withstand high-force blows.

He lined up the roast on
the wooden chopping block,
then whack-whack-whacked
the meat into thick slices.

Turning it, he repeated
the process to produce
a pile of tidy little cubes.

"How's this?" he said.

"Very good," Elisabeth said.
"You have impressive control."

"Well, I can feel the metal, and
I work at a restaurant," Shiv said.
"Cook asks me to chop sometimes."

"I certainly appreciate your help,"
she said. "I'll brown the meat, and
you can cut up the vegetables --
onions and carrots first, please."

Shiv got a different knife for that.
Then he went to work reducing those
to suitable pieces, trying to ignore
the mouth-watering aroma rising
from the pan of browning lamb.

No sooner did he finish than
Elisabeth beckoned him over.

She had removed the meat
from the pan and set it aside.

"Put the onions and carrots
in here," Elisabeth said. "Then
cut up the celery and the potatoes."

He set about chunking the vegetables.

Soon she called for him to add those,
then said, "Okay, you're done for now.
I just need to add the spices and stuff."

Shiv started cleaning up the mess, but
his stomach growled, ever more insistent.

Instead of ignoring him, Elisabeth said,
"If you've washed the meat things already,
just grab yourself something to eat. We
have some of Jaliya's heatable meals."

Shiv followed her directions and found
the stash of containers, each one
neatly labeled with the contents.

"Salmon!" he yipped happily,
snatching it from the stack.

"Get me a shrimp on peppers,
please," Elisabeth said, so Shiv
grabbed one of those as well.

He popped them into the microwave,
and more mouth-watering smells
immediately began to pour out.

Shiv was whining with hunger
when something bright waved
slowly in front of his face.

He crossed his eyes.
"Energy gel?" he said. "But --"

"I know, we're eating in a few minutes,
but I think you've gone off feed,"
Elisabeth said. "So let's get
some sugar in you before
you faceplant on the floor."

Shiv didn't protest again,
just slurped it down.

It really did help.

His food, when it came
out of the microwave, wasn't
just salmon. It was salmon with
mango chutney, a pile of asparagus,
and a big scoop of brown rice.

He started to wolf it down like
usual, but the flavor made him slow
so that he could enjoy it more.

Elisabeth's shrimp looked nice on
their bed of brightly-colored peppers,
too. Shiv might have to try that one later.

After they finished eating, they went
back to the kitchen and finished cleanup.

"It's time to deal with the dinner rolls,"
Elisabeth said, and so they went
to fetch the dough for those.

Shiv got to punch down all of it
again, which made him happy.

"Now we flour the countertop
and knead for ten minutes,"
Elisabeth said, setting it up.

This dough still felt softer
than the sourdough, and Shiv
felt compelled to handle it
more gently than the other.

Kneading it felt like lounging
on a thick, cushy mattress.

"Okay, that should do it,"
Elisabeth said. "Next we
divide it into sixteen parts."

"How?" Shiv said, appalled.
"They'll never come out even!"

"They will," Elisabeth said.
"Let me show you a trick."

She cut her dough in half.
Then she cut each of those
in half, and kept going until
she had sixteen tidy chunks.

"Wow," Shiv said. "That's cool."

"Do you think that you can
copy what you saw without
needing me to narrate steps?"
she asked, waving at his batch.

"Well yeah," he said. "It's easy.
You just cut, cut, cut, cut ..."

His hands followed his words,
and soon he had all sixteen chunks.

"Very good," said Elisabeth.
"Roll those into balls and put
them into a baking pan."

It was a lot easier to make
little balls than the boules
that had to be stretched tight.

"Done," Shiv said, pushing
his pan toward Elisabeth.

"Back to the laundry room
with these," she declared.

They retrieved the sourdough
and brought it to the kitchen.

"We're not punching this time,
so handle with care," Elisabeth said.
"Just shape the dough gently into
a sandwich loaf and put it in the pan."

Once that was done, she covered them
with a damp towel and took the pans
back to the laundry room to rise.

"It's time to prepare the boules for
baking," Elisabeth said, leading Shiv
to the kitchen. She turned on the oven.
"First we dust flour over the tops."

A sifter made short work of that,
so it only took a few minutes.

"Now we get to the fun part,"
Elisabeth said. "Hands still steady?"

"Not a quiver," Shiv said, showing her.

"Terrific," Elisabeth said, and brought out
her kitchen scalpels. "The key to slashing
bread safely and effectively is to use a blade
with a nice long belly. I have no idea why
people try to use razor blades, it's stupid."

"Well, duh," Shiv said. Then he actually
thought about it. "Maybe they just don't
know how knives are supposed to work.
I mean, they don't think about how
the blade does the cutting."

He always knew. He could
feel how the blade moved.

"That could be true," she agreed.
"Anyway, I like to use scalpels with
good handles and disposable blades.
By 'disposable' I mean cut one loaf
and then throw away the old blade."

"But that's ..." Shiv said, then trailed off,
not wanting to annoy her out of a lesson.

"It's similar to what I do in the hospital,
for the same reason," Elisabeth explained.
"A blade that sharp dulls very fast, and
a dull blade drags through the dough."

"I guess that makes sense," Shiv said.

Elisabeth reached into a cabinet.
and brought out two round things.

"I like to slash dough on a lazy Susan,
because that makes it easy to turn,"
she said. "You can if you want to."

"I'll do whatever you're doing,"
Shiv said. That made it easier
to follow her steps correctly.

Elisabeth transferred a loaf
onto each marble disc.

"Okay, here's the lesson on
cutting: be decisive," she said.
"You need to make it quick and
clean. Don't hesitate, and keep
control of your blade at all times."

Shiv couldn't resist. He reached out
with his power and very delicately vibrated
every piece of metal and glass in the kitchen.

Elisabeth grinned a challenge at him.
"Now let's see you do that on the dough."

It was challenging, and Shiv killed
more than one loaf, but Elisabeth
was careful and patient with him.

"Single cuts are easier than multiples.
Parallel cuts are easier than crossing.
Straight cuts are easier than curves,"
Elisabeth explained, demonstrating.
"Now I'll do a set for you to copy:
single cut, cross, windowpane,
crosshatch. Give that a try."

One, two, four, eight.
Shiv's cuts were not
as neat as Elisabeth's,
but he was getting better.

"Good job," she said.
"The next set is harder,
because the last two are
curved instead of straight.
Parallel lines, clamshell,
stalks, and pinwheel."

Shiv had no difficulty with
the first two patterns, but
his stalks came out ragged.

"Remember to turn your base,"
Elisabeth prompted. "That
makes it easier to curve."

Shiv used one hand to hold
the scalpel and the other one
to steady the ball of dough,
cutting in careful arcs.

"Well, now I'm just envious,"
Elisabeth said, shaking her head.

"I could, uh, do that for you too,"
Shiv said. "If you want. It's not hard."

"Only if we're taking turns," she said.
"We both need to concentrate."

"So show me a harder set,"
Shiv said. "I'll turn for you."

"Okay, you're on," Elisabeth said,
transferring the next round of dough.
"Half-moon, S-curve, spiral, cloverleaf."

It was enchanting to watch her hands
move with such grace and confidence
as they cut through the fragile dough.

Shiv managed the half-moon well enough,
but the long S-curve killed another loaf.

"Mother of fuck!" he snapped.

"Softly," Elisabeth coached.
"I know it's frustrating, but
a kitchen is a bad place
to lose your temper."

Shiv remembered
setting his on fire for
exactly that reason.

Carefully he put down
the scalpel and backed off.

He leaned against the fridge,
feeling the cold seep through
his shirt and help him calm down.

After a few minutes, he came back
and said, "Okay, I got a lid on it."

"Well done," Elisabeth said.
"I'm glad you found a coping skill
that works so well for you."

"Spiral ... I dunno if I can
do this," Shiv waffled.

"I couldn't the first few times
I tried it," Elisabeth said.
"I got better, though."

"Right. It's just dough.
Nothing to be afraid of."
Shiv gripped his scalpel
and stroked it over the top
as he spun the lazy Susan.

The resulting spiral wasn't
perfect, but the lines didn't touch
and the loaf didn't collapse, so
Shiv was satisfied with it.

"How do you make the leaves
come out even on the clover?"
he asked, gazing at hers.

"It's all in the wrist," she said.
"You need to make the same kind
of motion each time you cut a loop --
go up, around, and back down,
then rotate and repeat it."

"Same motion," Shiv echoed.
"Okay. I can do that. I do reps."

He tried to be both decisive and
controlled. The leaves didn't
come out exactly the same,
but they were pretty close.

"Aww, yeah," Shiv said happily,
then turned to look at Elisabeth.

"That's very good," she said.
"With more practice, you'll learn
to make those exactly even."

"Hey, can we do some adinkra?"
Shiv asked. "I've done easy ones
a few times, but I bet you could
do a lot more complicated stuff."

"Sure, just find us a reference,"
Elisabeth said. "It'll be fun."

So Shiv washed his hands
and called up the symbols
using his smartphone.

Elisabeth showed him
how to transfer that to
the big dedicated tablet
in the kitchen for recipes.

Shiv cut the pointed box of
Fihankra, the compound house,
for security; and then he made
the hooked spiral of Kokuromotie,
the thumb, for cooperation.

Bese Saka, a bunch of kola nuts,
stood for abundance and looked a lot
like the clover with a central circle.

Agyin Dawuru, or Agyin's gong,
had four broken circles facing
the center in a show of loyalty.

"What did you make?" he asked,
turning to Elisabeth, then stared.

She had made the spiral heart,
of course, one of several symbols
for Sankofa and wisdom of the past.

She had also carved the double spiral of
Gyawu Atiko, the war hero's hairstyle,
which would represent bravery.

Then there was Sesa Woruban,
the starred wheel of transformation,
and the intricate crosshatch and loops
of Abusua Pa, the good family
which stood for family unity.

Shiv wondered if she was
maybe commenting on
something with those,
but he didn't ask.

He just said, "Those
are beautiful boules."

"Thank you," Elisabeth said.
"Yours turned out well too."

They put the first batch of
boules in to cook. They were
small, but it would still take
several rounds to do them all.

It took a while to get through
the batches, so Shiv and Elisabeth
took breaks in between them.

When the boules came out
of the oven, they crackled loudly.

"Yes! They're singing!" Elisabeth said.

"Whaaat?" Shiv said. "They're
bread. They can't actually sing."

She chuckled. "That's just what
people call it when the bread
crackles as it cools down."

Shiv listened. There was,
maybe, a musical sound to
the crunching and pinging.
"Yeah, I hear it," he said.

The smell of them perfumed
the whole kitchen, too.

"It's time to check the rolls,"
Elisabeth said. "They should
be ready to score and bake."

They were. Elisabeth and Shiv
brought them to the kitchen
and turned the oven on.

"We're doing hot cross buns,"
Elisabeth said. "Get ready."

Shiv set up his workspace.

"This time, focus on precision,"
she said. "Try to make all
your cuts identical."

That was easier said
than done, of course.

Shiv tried, but the ends
of the lines kept wavering
or coming out different lengths.

At least he had gotten the hang
of making crosses at right angles
with centers that didn't distort.

Then Elisabeth made it harder.
"Try making parallel slashes,"
she said. "They'll open into fans.
The challenging part is keeping them
exactly the same distance apart."

She didn't mention the part where
parallel lines tended to drift and
there was no room to correct
that on a tiny little dinner roll.

"You're doing fine," she said.
"Fan rolls will change shape
as they bake, so mistakes
don't show up too much."

"Then why make such a fuss
about it at all?" Shiv whined.

"To prove that you can do it,"
Elisabeth said with a wink.
"You're getting closer."

By the time they were
ready to brush on the egg,
Shiv had maybe three or four
identical rolls of each pattern.

"Well, that didn't suck too much,"
he said, passing her the pan.

She put the dinner rolls
into the oven to bake.

"One last round of
scoring, and this time
we have more room,"
Elisabeth said. "Let's
go get our sourdough."

The loaves were peeking
up over the edges of the pans.

"This time, use what you learned.
Elisabeth urged. "Try a design
more complicated than before."

Shiv put the ideas together
and used the wheat ear pattern
that he'd seen in the references.

Elisabeth had likewise chosen
a wheat theme, but she had cut
a long S-curve with several ears
slashed along both sides of it.

They put the last loaves in
the oven, then cleaned
the kitchen again.

"This has been fun,"
Shiv said, smiling.

"I'm glad," she said.
"I don't like it when you
feel restless or unhappy."

Shiv didn't mention how
that was much of his life.

It was getting better anyway.

"Thanks for taking the time,"
he said. "I learned a lot."

"I'm happy to hear that,"
Elisabeth said. "It seems
to have calmed you down."

"Yeah, I'm a lot more relaxed
than I was earlier," Shiv said.
"Baking makes me focus.
On weighing the sugar.
On sieving the flour."

"Me too," Elisabeth said.
"I find it calming and rewarding
because, in fairness, it is sort of
magic -- you start off with all this
disparate stuff, such as butter and
eggs, and what you end up with is
so totally different. And also delicious."

"That's baking in a nutshell, all right,"
Shiv said. "It smells wonderful."

"Are you tired, or do you have
enough energy for one more dish?"
Elisabeth asked, watching him.

"What dish?" Shiv said. "We put
the stew on and finished the bread."

"I thought we could make up
a nice winter salad," she said.

"Ugh, rabbit food," Shiv said,
wrinkling his nose at her.

"Well, you don't have to eat it
if you don't want to," Elisabeth said.
"I would still appreciate your help
putting it together, though."

"I guess," Shiv said. She had
put up with him, so he owed her.

Instead of ordinary lettuce,
Elisabeth brought out bags
full of stuff he didn't recognize.

"Let's see what we've got, hmm?"
she said, laying them on the counter.

"What are those little things?" Shiv said,
pointing to dark red oblong shapes.

"Those are baby sprouts of
Bull's Blood beets," Elisabeth said.
"They're colorful and earthy. Try one?"

Shiv shook his head. "Fuck no."

"Okay, what else do we have?"
Elisabeth said. "Bright Lights
is a type of Swiss chard."

"That's pretty," Shiv said,
edging closer to look.

"Here, take a piece and
play with it," Elisabeth said,
handing him a green leaf
with brilliant yellow veins.

Shiv traced the veins and
nibbled on the green part.
It tasted like leaves to him.

"These are both endives,
and when it's frilly like this, it's
called frisée," Elisabeth said.
"We have yellow and red."

"Warm colors, except for
the green," Shiv said.

"You're right," she said.
"I'll put away the kale and
baby spinach. We can
make Winter Sunrise salad.
It's very colorful -- I think
you'll enjoy looking even if
you don't taste any of it."

"The different textures
are interesting," Shiv said.

"Yes, they are," Elisabeth said.
"Try the Scarlet Frills mustard."

"I dunno," Shiv said, hesitating.

"Just feel it, and smell it," she said.
"It's good to explore food before
you put it into your mouth."

"Yeah, but I don't want
to waste it," Shiv said.

"Are you done with
that chard?" she said.

"Sure," Shiv said.

Elisabeth popped it in
her mouth. "See, not
wasted," she said happily.

"What's that one?" Shiv said,
pointing to a yellowish bundle
of fleshy leaves with pink tinges.

"That's purslane," Elisabeth said.
"Some people call it a weed, but
I got this at a farmer's market."

Shiv was curious enough to taste
that one. It was crunchy, then chewy,
with tangy and spicy flavors.
"Okay, that's not awful."

"I'm happy to hear that,"
Elisabeth said. "Does it
remind you of anything else?"

"Yeah, it tastes a little bit
like lemon pepper," Shiv said.
He picked another leaf and ate it.

"That's good," Elisabeth said.
"Now let's wash some of each,
then put these leaves together
to see where that takes us."

Shiv had to admit it was beautiful,
all pinks and yellows and reds.

"Okay, time to add something
other than leaves," Elisabeth said.
"What do you like in salads?"

Shiv shrugged. "I'm not a fan."

"Well, I'll throw in some jicama,"
Elisabeth said. "The white will
contrast with the warm colors."

"That one I do like," Shiv admitted.
"We did a tasting party with it once."

"What fun!" Elisabeth said, offering
Shiv a long ribbon of jicama.

"I like fruit," Shiv said slowly.
"People put fruit on salads, right?
I mean leaf salads, not all fruit."

"Yes, that's very popular," she said.
"Check the fruit bowl and see if
anything there appeals to you."

Shiv looked it over and grabbed
two things. "Grapefruit peaks in
winter, and we have pink and white."

"Oh, that will work!" Elisabeth said.
Then she peeled them ... and
delicately separated the flesh
from its papery membranes.

Shiv watched her use the scalpel
and doubted that he would ever
have that much finesse.

"Here, have a piece,"
Elisabeth said, and
gave him a pink slice.

Shiv bit into it, and
the bittersweet flavor
exploded over his tongue.

"Yeah, that's good," he said.

"We'll need a dressing or two,"
Elisabeth said. "Look for citrus,
it's in a big jar. Raspberry is
in a much smaller one."

"You mean this?" Shiv said.
"But it's a whole gallon!"

"It was when we made it,"
Elisabeth agreed. "It's not now,
we've been tapping that all week."

"It has chunks of something
floating in it!" Shiv complained.

"Those are Meyer lemon wedges,"
Elisabeth said. "They're not meant
to be eaten, just for color and flavor."

She put out a dab of citrus and
a dab of raspberry in a white dish.
"Try them if you want, or just play
around with the different colors."

Curious, Shiv smeared them
around with fingertip and then
tasted them. They were tangy
and creamy ... actually quite good.

"I think I like this," he confessed.

"There's plenty more where that
came from," Elisabeth said as she
refreshed his dish. "Try a leaf."

Shiv picked up another sprig
of purslane and dragged it
through the citrus vinaigrette.

The flavor brightened considerably.

"Okay, yeah, that's pretty good,"
he said. He nicked a piece of
the pink grapefruit. "Mmm."

"I think this will do nicely,"
Elisabeth said. "Let's put
this bowl on the table. Could
you bring the dressings, please?"

Shiv tagged along and put
those on the table too.

He looked around at
the giant mass of bread.

"Shit, it's too late now,
but who's going to eat
all this?" Shiv wondered.

"We are," Elisabeth said with
a laugh. "Believe me, it won't
last long in this house. We can
always share some with friends,
though. Why don't you wrap up
a few loaves to take home?"

"Why not do it later?" Shiv said.

Of course that was when Aida
wandered into the kitchen and
inhaled a whole boule at once.

"That's why," Elisabeth said dryly.
"Claim yours now or you'll be
lucky to go home with crumbs."

Shiv grabbed a loaf of sourdough,
a couple of boules, and six buns.

"What's for supper?" Aida asked,
as if she hadn't just eaten a loaf.

"Bread, obviously," said Elisabeth.
"Irish stew and Winter Sunrise salad."

"Sounds great," Aida said. "Are we
making bread bowls for that? Do
you need me to help with it?"

"Yes, we're making bread bowls,"
Elisabeth said. "Help is welcome."

She lined up some boules and
then started slicing the tops off.

"Hey!" Shiv objected. "We
worked hard to decorate those."

"Don't worry, we're not going
to waste anything," Elisabeth said
as she passed the opened boules
to Aida, who dug out the insides
and placed the white in a bowl.
"We'll make bread pudding with
the middle bits, and the tops
will go over the stew as a lid."

Aida passed back the first bowls,
and Elisabeth ladled stew into them.
It had gotten a lot thicker over time.

With the lids on, the boules looked
almost like they came out of the oven.

More people drifted into the kitchen,
making appreciative noises.

"Shiv and I did comfort-baking
today," Elisabeth said, and then
all the noises focused on Shiv.

"Are you feeling better?"
Molly said, leaning toward him.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine now," he said,
tucking his pencil topper into his pocket.
He sure as hell didn't need that now,
he was too tired to fidget and too hungry
to wait. "You want to thank me?
Then shut up and eat it."

Aida laughed. "Glad to."

As Shiv sat down to eat,
he looked around at the people
and felt a little warmer inside.

There was delicious bread
with savory Irish stew, and he
even took a few leaves of salad
with a dab of citrus vinaigrette.

Yeah, that was the thing about
comfort-baking. No matter how
messed up your life might be, it
was always calming and rewarding.

* * *


This poem is long, so its notes appear elsewhere.</user></user>
Tags: crafts, cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, food, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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