I don’t run a tight ship around here.
I’m not one of these Martha Stewart types with the spice rack in alphabetical order. No, my spice rack looks like what I imagine Dorothy’s house turned into after spinning and spinning in slo-mo above the orderly rows of corn left behind in the Kansas plains.
They never show you that part in the movie.
I try and keep some semblance of logic with my herbs and spices: savory to the left, sweet to the right. But that line of logic fails as I step outside conventional culinary boundaries, which I do often.
Like when I sprinkle a dash of cinnamon into my ground beef for moussaka. Inevitably, it finds a spot next to the oregano, which I also use.
Or if I add a pinch of chili pepper to a batch of spicy Mexican brownies: that relocates to the whole and ground clove neighborhood.
The spice rack gets turned into Dorothy’s living room fast.
My countertops don’t fare any better. They are cluttered with things I seem to perhaps possibly urgently need some time in the very near future. Simply put, things I am too lazy to put away: the credit card bills I need to pay as soon as I win the lottery, my daughter’s progress report I was supposed to sign back in, oh wait, 2004. There are stacks of magazines I readily signed up for when I thought I’d have the time or interest in learning about color coding my closet or taking ten steps for a toner tummy.
These are relics of my impulsivity that watch me at work in the kitchen, getting coated with a steady film of flour or sugar or salt.
I envy my friends with more discipline and neater aesthetics. Those whose kitchens look like a snapshot from Architectural Digest, or at least, whose countertops can be seen, even used, without interference. I wonder how this gene managed to skip me? How much farther I could have gotten if I just put stuff away instead of letting it grow and smother me like an unwanted cardigan knit by a well-meaning but overbearing grandma.
The other day I decided to take charge and felt such a bold move warranted an announcement:
“I’ve decided to take charge,” I announced to the dog, my daughter (plugged into her computer) and my son (hypnotized by Sponge Bob Square Pant’s disturbingly high-pitched voice.)
The dog was the only one who responded, cocking his head to the side and hoping there was bacon in it for him.
I grabbed the stack of junk that had grown a good six inches high and began sorting.
There were magazines for my son, my daughter, my husband, and I. Thousands of pages of print never once read by any of us. Stories countless writers had pitched, researched, interviewed, written, and rewritten. Writers, who at some point in their career, had faced draconian editors who had shunned their efforts, leaving generic prefabricated emails claiming, “Thank you for your submission but this work does not suit our needs at this time,” or worse than that, crumbled their vulnerable egos with complete silence. I knew this feeling. As a writer, I’ve lived it many times.
I was riddled with guilt at this sloppy moment of cleaning up, flooded with a sense of betrayal towards my fellow colleagues out there, left behind by me, after a long-fought battle in the unforgiving world of publication.
So it was there, at that moment, that I took pause and dusted off a piece of leftover quiche that had stubbornly glued itself onto Sofía Vergara’s ample bosom.
“I leave no writer behind,” I offered valiantly to the dog, who had given up on the promise of bacon and was eating the piece of petrified broccoli quiche.
I started perusing the stacks of glossies in a quick homage to all those who had worked hard to get in print, hoping all the while that if it were ever my work it wouldn’t end up trapped on a sloppy woman’s kitchen counter, unread.
It’s a wonderful thing to carve out some time to read a magazine, or two or three. I realized I shouldn’t wait for my house to be a contestant on Hoarding: Buried Alive to do this. I learned about tips on sleeping better, training your mind to sit, and yes, how to get perfect abs in five minutes. And then, just as I was considering hitting the floor to start my crunches, I came across a delicious gem: a recipe for Rosemary Pear cake.
It was informal and humble and used that play on savory and sweet that calls my attention and messes me up with my spice rack. Thankfully, it called for fresh rosemary, which I had growing undisturbed in the corner of my garden.
This is fate, I found myself thinking, glancing at the fruit bowl brimming with bruised pears. I turned away from my counter, now even more cluttered by the explosion of magazines my reading marathon had incurred. The mess and the flabby stomach would have to stick around for a while longer. My mind was already slicing pears and simmering rosemary syrup. The dog wagged his tail in unwavering alliance.
I was going to have to re-read that piece on teaching my mind how to sit.
(adapted from Real Simple Magazine November 2013 Issue)
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ cup yellow cornmeal
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 ¼ cup sugar
- ½ cup buttermilk
- 2 large eggs, whisked
- 3 ripe pears, peeled and cut in 1” chunks
- 6 large sprigs fresh rosemary
- Heat oven to 350F. Butter a 9-inch pie pan.
- Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt and 1 cup of the sugar in a large bowl.
- Whisk together the buttermilk, eggs, and melted butter in a medium bowl.
- Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and whisk to combine.
- Fold in the pears.
- Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, prepare syrup:
- In a small saucepan, heat up remaining ¼ cup sugar, ¼ cup water, and rosemary. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to medium. Simmer until reduced to half, 5-7 minutes. Remove rosemary.
- Cool in a pan for 15 minutes.
- Remove onto a wire rack.
- Brush the cake with syrup. To avoid disaster, I place a sheet of wax paper underneath the wire rack. You’re going to use most of the syrup. Don’t worry; the cake will absorb it. Use the brush to paint it all around and on the sides.