Lesson #8 : Coq au Shiraz

A Shiraz will tarry on your tongue—even after your palate has been cleansed with water.

The only coq au vin recipe I’d known was the one so dearly hailed by Julia Child. Its origins begin in Bourgogne, and its base ingredient: a swig (or three) of Burgundy.

I buy a $5 bottle of Australian Shiraz.
First notes: chocolate, cherry, and coconut.
Second notes: vanilla, berry, and spice. It is like the pain d’épices of wine—which is as close as a wine which is not Burgundy can get to a bottle of full-bodied Burgundy.

             My heart bleeds like wine,
             although I never drink it,
             dripping blithely;
             the slow-cooked chicken
             under a smoky oven
             drunk-tender with
             pearl onions.

Lesson #7 : How to eat chocolate

I am told that I have been eating chocolate the wrong way all my life. This is a revelation for me.

I
You need to suck on it.
Let it melt on your tongue; the sooner
the taste disappears, the cheaper
the quality of the
Chocolate.

She places a thin shaving of dark chocolate
On her already wet and salty tongue–
her eyes roll back into the
whiteness of silicone
paper.

II
It isn’t like truffles;
It has nothing to do with aroma
— Once infused
with other ingredients the
Textures melt and disintegrate
Into particles of mixed flavours.

A faint hum
of the electric mixers
resonate throughout the kitchen
and slowly fade from her
Mind
now calm, and focused on one thing:
the eating of
Chocolate.

III
Love was once described
by the Greek poet Sappho
as being sweet first,
then bitter.

The chocolate is semi-sweet:
it has hints of both
milk and cocoa.
She swallows and it
lingers in her mouth.
Moments later, there is still
Sweetness.

Sweetness, and then
Nothing.

Lesson #6 : You’ll never gain weight

There’s this hopelessly gorgeous song
by Tori Amos
called
“The Doughnut Song”,
which tells you that you’ll
Never
Gain weight
from a doughnut hole.

I am convinced that this song is
about
Sex and
stuffing vaginas with
Dicks (and/or dildos).

I feel a constant need to stuff
My mouth with
Things—
usually food, and
Occasionally dicks.
For a while
that thing was my fist
but now I’m back to
Eating just food and dicks.

This interchangeability
keeps me thin
and I never
need to go on a
diet.

Lesson #5 : In search of lost tastes

For ten years I had wondered what a madeleine would taste like.
I knew that they were like cakes
and
I knew that they were like biscuits.

 I also knew that they were supposed to be dipped in tea
and that         Proust adored them.

             Pretty shell shaped sponges;                                                                                       they
reveal hints of honey, lemon and butter
             and fail to trigger memories.

             I am a madeleine virgin. And I am searching for lost tastes.

Pancakes

I make pancakes for breakfast, which we eat past eleven. It is technically brunch but we never use the term “brunch.” Brunch is something trendy people in the Eastern suburbs do on a Sunday—and it is usually done following a session of morning yoga. People who do Sunday brunch are the sort of people who can pay $22 for a few slices of pressed avocado on linseed toast and still keep a straight face. I have never been on the paleo diet—which, as far as I’m concerned, is a good indicator as to how I might feel about things like Sunday brunch and yoga.

Pancake breakfasts have been a bi-weekly ritual of ours since about a month ago. They are usually clock-shaped, and eaten with a slice of lemon and brown sugar.  Today I decide to cook pancakes in the shape of penises. Milo is not impressed. Milo is a feminist and doesn’t partake in phallogocentrism. Of course, he does not say ‘no’ to blowjobs—but he always holds my hair back, and kisses me on the lips afterwards. Milo has a paradoxically large penis; it is why he’s so phallo-sensitive. Condoms are a pain to buy—size large ones are often out of stock, and extra-large ones need to be bought online. When I think about Milo’s penis, I imagine a cactus: alone in a dessert, full of water and waiting to be had by some thirsty passer-by. This makes me think of Paris, Texas, and I consider looking for a pink mohair sweater at h&m, and getting my hair chopped into a lob. Milo eats his pancakes in silence.

I go to my drawer and consciously retrieve the closest thing I own to a pink mohair sweater. It is a button-down cardigan the colour of strawberry macaroons. I usually wear it with plaid skirts and patterned stockings. The problem with having a face that still requires I.D. in order to prove you’re not still in high school is that you think it’s okay to still dress like a high-schooler, even though you’re twenty-seven. It’s okay to still eat KFC on a weekly basis and snack on potato chips instead of carrot sticks—or whatever it is that figure-conscious women in their late twenties tend to eat nowadays. I love the idea of dieting because it sounds so stylish. A fridge stocked only with a particular brand of almond milk, lab-grown kale, and organic non-dairy cheese is like a clothing store that sells dresses in one size only, and some assorted hosiery. Exclusivity has such a classy ring to it. But of course, Milo and I are neither classy nor trendy. We shop at big-chain supermarkets and buy pancake mixes for $1.99. I get my jeggings from Target for $20—someone once asked me if they were by True Religion or Citizens of Humanity. She carried a thousand-dollar Longchamp bag, so you can imagine the horror on her face upon learning where my jeggings actually came from.

I wonder how much I would be willing to pay for an exact replica of the pink mohair sweater Natassja Kinski wore in Paris, Texas. I feel like my limit would be $70. That amount is, of course, due to its novelty-value for which I feel I would be able to easily justify.

I have never worn fuchsia—not even as a little girl. For most of my life I avoided the saturated shades of pink. It’s an odd colour to wear when you’re a loner and dislike being the centre of attention.  So what would I even do with my replica of Kinski’s pink mohair sweater? Would I leave it hanging in my closet to save for a special occasion, only to have that special occasion never come? Would I wear it for Milo, ask him ‘do you mind if I take my sweater off?’—proceed with taking the sweater off, and then never wear it again? This pink mohair sweater that I do not own is the most existential piece of clothing I do own in my mind’s eye. In my mind, I’m wearing it all the time—in bed, in the kitchen, at the library—it is like a second skin and doesn’t itch.

She told him that she dreamed about escaping. That was all she dreamed about: escape.’ Perhaps that’s how my non-existent sweater would feel, hanging in my closet: empty and pensive in its absence of a wearer. Clothes carry memory in its fabric, the way memory is stored in quantum particles. This may only apply on a psychic level, yet it is the reason why most people find it so difficult to throw old clothes away. Not only does my imaginary sweater have a particular texture to it; it also has its own scent. It is strong and sweet, but it isn’t like candy. It is the smell of pancakes cooking on a non-stick pan with a little oil—no butter. It is the smell of Milo’s un-shampooed hair which I breathe in as he buries his face into my neck on a Sunday morning.  I have worn this sweater a dozen times. I wear nothing underneath, and only wear it in order to make love.

I give Milo a cactus plant for his birthday, along with a book on the essential works of Allen Ginsberg. Tomorrow morning, I’ll make pancakes in the shape of cactuses.

Bathing with Austen: Saltwater

Bacon sandwiches always taste better after a quasi-swim; they also make me feel meditative, whether I want to or not. This defies the overwhelming claims that processed meats are the cause of “brain fog”. Or maybe not—after all, being in a meditative state is a little like experiencing a brain fog. Virginia Woolf had referred to Jane Austen as the “mistress of a much deeper emotion than appears on the surface.” Those deeper emotions are made intelligible near shallow waters as I enjoy my bacon sandwich.

Sea bathing, or heliotherapy, is still a popular concept today. The relaxing properties of salt water can now be experienced away from the sea—or so a woman at a health store tells me— as she (successfully) sells me a lamp apparently made of rock salt extracted from the Himalayas. I buy a small one for my room: it weighs 2kgs and costs $18. If the air in my room is being ionized I do not feel it. And I would much rather be eating a bacon sandwich by the sea than on my bed, in front of a computer screen watching episodes of Downton Abbey.

Beach visits are a novelty. So should be bacon sandwiches. I cross my heart and swear that I’ll begin my alkaline diet tomorrow. I google what might happen if I were to subsist on a diet of kale, and kale alone—the goal being to acquire a figure just like Lady Mary Crawley’s. I then google what Michelle Dockery eats. Marie Claire tells me sushi, wine, and Nespresso pods. I don’t drink, and I can’t afford a Nespresso machine. I decide that as long as I’m swimming I may as well allow myself some bacon on white bread slathered with butter. This summer, I’ll visit the beach often.

Bathing with Austen: The Beach

I once read that Jane Austen had multiple lovers. She had written a letter to her sister Cassandra—in which she complained that Tom Lefroy’s morning coat was too light, and of how they only managed to (conveniently for him) hook up at dances. For me it is something akin to the sort of man you sleep with no more than twice in your life. He is the sort of man who refuses to go down on you for longer than two minutes— after he’d already spent a good twenty minutes or so holding your head down onto his crotch so that you’ll swallow him whole. He is also the sort of man who does not offer you a cup of coffee the morning after, and will allow you to leave without first taking a shower. I have been with several Tom Lefroys, and I slept with all of them more than once, and no more than twice. But unlike poor Jane, I was never attached to them.

I am supposed to have multiple lovers; I am in what you would call an “open relationship.” I haven’t fucked anyone else since meeting my boyfriend—it appears that I don’t have the capacity for it. ‘To be fond of dancing is the first step toward falling in love.’ I am not fond of dancing in the manner that Austen would have danced; I was trained in classical ballet and worked with one pas de deux partner. It is like having a large and insatiable appetite for one type of food. I put off masturbating the night before I see my boyfriend so I can fuck him multiple times.

I often think with my body. It starts off craving specific body parts of certain people: the dishevelled brows of one; the veiny and pulsating neck of another. My taste buds swell up as if they have tasted the intoxicating vigour of French wine. This passes quickly and I come to my senses. Emotions precede thought. Desire precedes sensibility. Sensibilities prevail every time.

I recently experienced something similar to what Emily Blunt’s character—Prudie—encounters in The Jane Austen Book Club. Prudie uses her book club meeting at the beach (which she’d cancelled) as a cover-up to meet up and have sex with one of her students at a motel. He waits for her to cross the road, but Prudie—doused in sunscreen, remains frozen. The traffic lights turn from red to green to the orange capital letters which spell out “WHAT WOULD JANE DO?”. For me, this epiphany happened one rainy Thursday. The young man in question had romanced me with the promise of home-made pasta, and potent sex with a twenty-one year old to Tchaikovsky’s 5th on a vintage record-player. We were due to meet at Sappho’s Café and Wine bar at 4.00pm. I had spent the entire morning waxing my vulva raw. By 1.30pm I was ‘half agony, half hope.’ I never went through with it.

It wasn’t until the following Tuesday that I realised what had happened—this new realization aptly triggered by the smell of cheap, thick sunscreen lathered on my skin. My boyfriend held me up high each time the waves crashed in on us. It is important that I keep my left ear dry so as not to irritate the fistula which inhabits the tract that ascends close to my brain. My body being pressed up against his body was not felt wholly—or at least I could not feel it in the physical sense. The sensation of salt water mixed with sweat seemed somehow separate from my skin; my thoughts now disembodied. In my state of nonentity I saw a vision of myself surrounded by the immensity of sea water; I was floating on an inflatable pink flamingo, and by my side was the very man who was by my side at the present moment. It was around 11.00am when I understood that what I was feeling was contentment.

Lesson #4: Escoffier’s Toque

It is said that the folds of a toque blanche (chef’s hat) is indicative of how many different ways the chef can cook eggs.

If that is the case, then I deserve no less than ten folds.

I crack three eggs and whisk them with a fork:
they form into a yellow pool
and coagulate                                                                                                                                       on a hot
pan of melted butter.
I eat them in my underwear and singlet.

Omelettes should be eaten bra-less
On a Sunday
Or Monday morning —
Whichever you consider to be the beginning or the end of the week.

A crisp asparagus breaks the lining of an under-cooked yoke and makes it runny.

I cannot poach an egg without the aid of cling wrap;
it’s like using a condom, in a way.

Lesson #3: An educated woman…

 

                You admit that your first love has nothing to do with baking;
                that you wanted to be
                like Louise Bourgeois, like Tracey Emin,
                like Virginia Woolf, like Sylvia Plath
                before you wanted to be like Julia Child, like Nigella Lawson.

People ask you why you quit University                                                                                           In order to slave away at a hot oven.

                Didn’t you learn about feminism?
                Why do you choose to wear an apron?

As far as I know, a chef is predominantly a “man’s job”, and the professional kitchen is no place for a woman.
As far as I’m concerned, a man who insists that cooking is a man’s job
is the sort of man I am only too willingly happy to accept.