A Taste For Magic – Cookbook Essay 2 – by J. Wolf Hardin

by on July 14th, 2008
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pestofixins5-sm.jpg“A good cook is like a sorceress who dispenses happiness.”
-Elisa Schiaparelli (1956)

An apt and sense-itized student, Jared, answered artful cooking when asked to list his blessings and abilities. It reminded me again, of how there’s an element of magic in any cooking… and how every truly enchanted cook is a magician.

Magic, after all, is the spell behind every successful recipe no matter how basic its designs or mundane the presentation, no matter how often it’s been served or how quickly consumed… and it’s one of the missing ingredients in any culinary flop. It’s evident to our sanctuary guests, sitting wide eyed in the presence of a flaming glaze flambé at midnight, or ushered into the state of enchantment by the designs of foodstuffs artfully arrayed on the plate, their colors swimming about under the influence of allspice and candlelight. There’s certainly magic afoot whenever sunlight does that ol’ soft-shoe across the drying dishes. Whenever Loba leans towards the window facing the river, to better spoon moonbeams into the blueness of her bowl. And when an eagle calls, just as the cook concludes her daily dinner’s blessing. Watch her lift a spatula in the air like a magic wand, followed by a trail of tiny exploding stars! A gentle motion of her hand, and Loba calls forth the spirit of flying doves from a steaming pot pie, evokes the essence of laughing children residing in homemade cookies and milk, raises swaying sheaves of wheat from the holy ground of her wholesome crusty bread.

Not that the essence of the magical is restricted to such singularly exquisite moments. There is utter magic in the way that organic molecules reconfigure themselves, making the transition from soil to plant, to animal and to human, and inevitably back to soil again. There’s magic in our digestive systems, a partnership of bodily acids and bacteria rendering food into a puree of assimilable nutrients. In the way smells transport us through an ether of mirage-like memories and immediate desires. The way that tiny single-celled yeast plants inspire bread dough to heave and rise. The way that the sun’s rays are swallowed up by the glistening leaves, sweetened with the tree’s best intentions, and then squirted into the chambers of a pulsing orange. The effects of an orange on our tongue. The bodily mending made possible by its vitamins and its minerals. The inevitable smile on the face of any kid who eats it.

The greatest magic of all is that which is intentional, directed not just by the penchants of destiny and the attitudes of spirits but by our own intent, will, personal power and impeccable followthrough. We can make the preparation of our food a sacrament, casting a circle of unity, focus and protection around our kitchens. Honoring the four directions, Spirit or God by any name you know it. Honoring the plants and animals that gave their life, the eggs that surrendered their opportunity to become chickens, the trees that fruited, and the water and soil that brought them to fruition. Give thanks to the wood, electricity or gas that provides the heat. Treat your table and counters like altars, your knives like ritual items. Chant, sing or pray. Extend the meal not only your empathy but your joy.

A magic potion is that which enchants and charms, inducing a state of heightened perception, raising the sensation of smells and tastes to a fevered pitch. It dissolves the line between excruciating awakeness and sensuous sleep, daytime visions and nighttime dreams. They say it only takes one dusting from the Fairy Godmother’s silk lined box, or a splash of water from a sacred spring, or a drink from a blessed ram’s horn for the heart and senses to overcome the rigidity of the rational mind. When you make one of Loba’s or Kiva’s recipes, a connection with self, earth and anima is made. Taking a single conscious bite can be a revelation, with perception-bending revelations thundering in. In that instant a connection with the universe is made. Great things are suddenly possible, and yet there is nowhere one needs to go to do them. All that matters is right here.

-Jesse Wolf Hardin

(excerpted from The Enchanted Pantry, an Anima cookbook in progress)

(photo by J. W. Hardin)

Categories: Jesse Wolf Hardin – Essays & Tales

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