The Enchanted Cook – by J. Wolf Hardin
(Introduction: The following is the first in a series of short pieces that teach about nourishing ourselves, noticing our world and taking responsibility for magic… as told through the story of Loba and her kitchen of healing and possibility. Each is due to appear in Loba’s cookbook “The Enchanted Pantry,” expected to be ready for publication and sale by the Winter of ‘08/’09.)
Like the fabled unicorn or other mythical creature, an Enchanted Cook deserves an accurate depiction. And as with any legend, Loba’s story deserves a proper telling.
There’s no one like her, and we can understand that you might not know how to take it when we tell you it’s as if she had been born out of a pairing between Aunt Jemima and the Frog Prince. Between Pa in “Little House on The Prairie” and “I Love Lucy.” Between Thumbelina and the Absent Minded Professor, Tarzan’s Jane and the genie in Aladdin’s magic lamp, Mowgli of “The Jungle Book” and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. She’s absolute sincerity in the form of a floating wood nymph, a gift from the Spirit presented to an unsuspecting mortal for the purpose of instilling humility and inspiring grace.
She may not have known how to heat up or stir anything but hearts when she got here, but she quickly developed a personal intimacy with food like we’d never seen. I try to imagine somebody else putting that much love and energy into their meals, dressing up in something special before they start to cook. Talking to their asparagus as if they’d gone to the same school together. Singing to cheer up some slightly sagging lettuce, keeping a beat with the strokes of her garlic knife. Massaging that fish so good that it thinks it’s still alive. Each sampling bite a kiss of approval. Praying for success, while being thankful for whatever comes. Perhaps a flower bedecked matron from the cooking clubs of Guadalupe or Martinique tends her meals as well. Perhaps a child making a simple treehouse lunch into an affair of import. And surely a man shipwrecked on some barren desert isle, preparing a meal with the very last of his food, would by that point have learned what it means to make it last…. to tend its precious ingredients, its artful preparation, its nuances, tastes, textures and smells. Surely he’d know by then to give each moment, each and every meal its proper due.
For Loba, that can mean “giving proper due” three, four or more times a day.
“I exercise so I can eat more,” she unabashedly explains.
I guess if you’re going to be an Enchanted Cook, a purveyor of magic and baker of bliss, it helps to be crazy about eating! Our food notices the difference, and responds accordingly. Loba’s foodstuffs are highly honored to be a party to her ministrations. There’s much competition among the fresh greens as they vie for her touch. The spices in their jars are comforted just to hear her voice. Every element summoned to be part of the dramatic play has confidence in the part they’re assigned. They know full well that no ingredient will be allowed to upstage the rest, and that all will be encouraged to shine in their individual as well as collective glory. Each will be essential to the script, be credited by name, and be remembered for years to come. Encore!
Word has it, it may not always have been so…. that there could have been a time in Loba’s life when food was lusted for without commitment, with some actually prepared and served by strangers! And that there was possibly a brief interlude where Loba’s political correctness revolted against the visage of a slavish Betty Crocker tied by apron strings to the hot stove of male domination. But without prodding from anyone, no more than a couple of weeks went by before the kitchen had won her heart. It was as if the kitchen, like Cinderella’s glass slipper, was made to fit. As if the silver spoons with Celtic Knots were wrought special for Loba’s pretty fingers, the plant dangling in the window blooming forth in brilliant reds especially for her, a “toy chest” of colored bowls and saucers inviting her to play, play, play until everyone’s fed…. and the promise of flour, drawing her forth with visions of fresh baked bread.
Whether cooking in her special little kitchen or outdoors over a campfire, she is nothing less than a priestess of sustenance, a food genius, an impresaria of dancing treats, a purveyor of health and wholesomeness. She’s an anointed alchemist transmuting the elements, enjoined to a more rewarding task than merely turning lead into gold. Here lies the real treasure, finding personal empowerment and reconnection to the All through the medium of food. Superior to any mood altering drug, Loba’s recipes should be prescribed for depression. Better than any known therapy, Social Security should pay her to serve her meals, her advice, her example. If culinary schools gave out honorary degrees for life experience, every single college should award her one. Her concoctions entice, console, nourish and cheer. Each complete serving is a mom’s heartbeat, a grandparent’s lap, a cat or dog sleeping on your foot, the gentle winds that ease you off to sleep and the splash of cool creek water that awakens. And believe me, if the experience of eating could be but a blanket, Loba’s feasts would withstand the coldest Winters of the human soul. Her message offers us a kind of salvation, potentially saving us from oblivious consumption, and the terrible tragedy of food unsavored, or of dying without having fully lived.
When her own time comes to pass on, we pray that the afterlife will honor this Enchanted Cook by appearing as much as possible like the canyon home she adores. We pray that she be welcomed the night she arrives there, pigeon-toed as always…. carrying love in the immensity of her heart, a tray-full of dinner in her soft and skilled hands.
Categories: Jesse Wolf Hardin – Essays & Tales, Traditional Foodways