Thursday, August 27, 2009

Good Food: What does love taste like?

Baking makes the world better; so does my friend Dave*. Yesterday, I made double chocolate cupcakes (chocolate, with chocolate chips) for today's 'Mommy and Me' workshop at a domestic violence shelter that serves women with disabilities (some caused by trauma and domestic violence) and their children. Around the table, women sat next to their children, all smiles, as they smelled the buttercream icing, which had been divided evenly among the bowls before them. We began with a story Dave wrote. Each of us, kids included, read a short section. When we finished, the kids dyed the icing and we began decorating. Lovingly, mothers presented cupcakes to their children and vice versa. Sticky fingers embraced. We joyfully finished with sprinkles, smiles, and cupcake moustaches.

Here's the story, with Dave's permission:

Once there was a little girl. She had the loveliest singing voice. She would sing and people would smile and relax, and every day she sang would be like a holiday. On her 8th birthday, she caught a cold and her singing voice was never the same again. This made everyone in her town sad. The townspeople didn't know what to do without their happy voice. The girl became very sad because she would love being able to cheer up the people with her talented voice. She started crying one day and when her mother heard her, her mother started crying. Then the whole village started crying. Everyone except for her grandma. Her grandma took her to the side and told her that she was going to teach her the secret to making everyone happy again. The grandma told the little girl to go to sleep early and sneak out to the kitchen after midnight. The little girl choked back her tears and agreed.

The little girl came to the kitchen in her pajamas and her grandma wrapped her up in an apron. The little girl asked what they were going to do. The grandma told her to stop asking questions and get to work. The grandma put the little girl's hands to work sifting flour, pouring sugar, cracking eggs, shredding lemon peels. Before the little girl could realize what she was doing, she was covered; her face was white with flour and her hands were sticky with eggs. Then her grandma turned on the oven and gave the girl cream cheese and milk and colored food dyes, sprinkles and colored sugar crystals, even gummy dinosaurs. The grandma filled trays with the batter, and as the oven was opening one hundred beautiful cupcakes were in the little girl's sight. The grandma told the girl that she had to go and that the girl needed to get to work. The little girl said, "No. I don't know what to do." Her grandmother said, "Yes, you do, sweetheart, you always did."

The little girl cried and banged on the table. She knocked over some frosting and sprinkles and looked down. All of the cupcake decorations made the top of a cupcake look just like a sunflower. The little girl stopped crying and said, "That can't happen again." She hit the table and BAM! another cupcake was decorated; this time it looked like the face of clock. She started working harder; the cupcakes looked like panda bears, roses, eyes, jewels, the sun, rainbows, even little baby faces.

Soon the sun started coming up and the little girl ran down the hall to her mother's room, screaming "Mommy! Mommy! Look what I made for you!" carrying the most beautiful red rose cupcake. Her mother wasn't in her bed. She wasn't anywhere to be found. The little girl heard a stir from the bathroom. Her mother came out wearing a bathrobe, her eyes were drawn and blue she looked so tired. The little girl passed the cupcake to her mother whose face brightened up when she saw the cupcake; her smile turned bright red, her eyes opened and she hugged the little girl who had a gigantic smile on her face.

The little girl put the cupcakes in the front window for all to see. The townspeople cheered and she even heard one man say "Those cupcakes smell like a a beautiful song." The little girl saw her mother's bathrobe and saw a little white powder and asked, "Mommy, what's that spot?" The mother pulled the robe to the side and said, "Nothing, sweetheart, I think we both know a very sweet way to say 'I love you.'"

The story, and today's session, remind me of why I love baking. Homemade sweets, especially colorful cupcakes, bring smiles like April showers bring May flowers. I dare you to give a cupcake the stink-eye. When I bake, I don't think or worry. I just love...and stir. It's magic.

*My friend Dave is admirable and awesome and - he would say - ordinary. Please see photo below. Even when I'm at my very best (caring, thoughtful, generous of spirit/time/energy, and kind), I approximate Dave at what I imagine to be his worst. He lives to make others' lives better, and he regularly--without fuss or attention--succeeds.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Good Food: The Last Supper

"Somewhere between a classroom and a disco."

My friend Coralina, who has recently allowed me to become co-conspirator, created The Last Supper Salon five years ago. What started as creative folks sharing art, film, music, and conversation over a homemade feast has blossomed into an annual event with an ever-increasing audience; last year's was somewhere between 600 and 800 people. This year's theme, as it is on everyone's minds, is "means." Artists (some using food as medium), musicians, and filmmakers will present their work at 3rd Ward (in Brooklyn) on September 26th. For more information, please see the website: The Last Supper Festival We hope you'll join us!

As director/manager of the Fundraiser, I'd originally been interested in domesticity, gendered labor and gendered space, the body, and value. Further contemplation (and a resurgence of my fixation on the WPA) resulted in the following meditation on rustic living:

Drawing inspiration from past periods of economic hardship, the Domestic Labor Dinner + Dance Hoedown celebrates simple pleasures and simple measures: the fruits and labors of local artists, farmers, craftspeople, musicians, djs, filmmakers, and writers. With earnest appreciation, we turn to the local-pastoral in order to revisit the past and re-imagine the future. Please join us in conversations about labor, value, and alternative economies of means, while enjoying a farm feast inspired by the Food Files and Films of the WPA.*

The event will feature canning demonstrations and clips from WPA films about conservation, rationing, and sustainable food practices, toe-tapping tunes, and a delicious farmhouse dinner prepared by Lila Dobbs.

*Shout out to John Mattioli for those years spent living frugally: finding sustenance in conversations about alternative means and economies.