Night was falling all around us in blues and dusks, as I chopped apples from our bounty picked last week at the orchard. Metallica played in the kitchen as Shaya and I chopped almost in unison on partner cutting boards, depositing the small pieces of apple in the pot.
I shredded nutmeg over the cut apples, sprinkled in sugar, added cinnamon and cardamom pods and a little bit of water. When we had cut all the apples chosen for this venture, I put the pot on the center burner and set it to cook.
Next were the tomatoes. We picked those, too, and though their sweet softness had melted on my tongue all week, the softest among them were to become sauce for pasta or perhaps stuffed cabbage to be made on the weekend.
Shaya helped me cut the tomatoes and put them in a saucepan, where garlic was softening in olive oil. I sprinkled in salt and pepper, cut basil leaves from the garden and twisted them to release their flavor. I pulled some parsley, too, and added at that in, plus a few shakes of jarred Italian spices and a little sugar for good measure.
I had made a salad for dinner and picked up $5 pizzas. The leftover olives and beets got into little bowls of their own, and I eliminated the ends of the green beans we picked in the orchard and steamed them with a little salt.
It had been a long day. The temperature was finally dropping, the humidity cut by the oncoming of fall. The children had finished day 2 of the new school year. On the way to her bat mitzvah lesson, Eliana slept in the car for an hour.
Asher was up late, finishing two assignments for his high school classes, realizing the onslaught of responsibility that comes with advanced achievement. We were dangerously close to stepping back onto the hamster wheel of too-busy, so it soothed me to cut the apples, mix them as they melded into a sauce over the open flame.
A dear friend of mine cleans when she is stressed; that’s her outlet to let it all go, to release. For me, it has to be cooking. When I look into the fridge to decide what will combine to make something new and reassuring, the stress and tension melt out of me as if they were never there in the first place.
Baking, too, completes the process. Measuring, cracking eggs on the counter to break over an open bowl, adding sweetness and leavening, a bit of salt to bring out the flavor, some add-ins like nuts or chocolate chips or spices that will be unexpected.
The creativity of cooking as well as the fact that I can never rush it, it takes the time it needs to complete, are what draw me to them when life gets busy.
I remember living in New York City at 22 and spending an hour or longer making dinner in the tiny one-bedroom with my roommate Lydia, jazz on the radio, our fancy work clothes already in the hamper. Cooking was the way we unfolded and unwound after a long day of focus, of commuting, of having to be and do and accomplish.
We poured glasses of wine, playing at being adults, and settled into the apartment together. She would often sit with her shirt off, only a bra covering her skin, and swiped crackers or bread into a full container of hummus as the chicken sizzled on the stovetop.
When I don’t even have time enough to cook, that’s when I know life has gotten off-kilter. We all need something that brings us back to basics, that reminds us of the beauty and wisdom in a moment of true living.
In the refrigerator today, a full container of applesauce awaits me for breakfast. A mason jar of tomato sauce, plus another in the freezer, are ours for enjoying some time, to remember the bounty we found in an open field on one of the last days of summer, when we still had time to roam.