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Digestible Prose

By "Guido Veloce"
Illustration by Gilbert Ford

In The Writing Life, Annie Dillard declared, "It is no less difficult to write sentences in a recipe than sentences in Moby-Dick. So you might as well write Moby-Dick." As a lover of cookbooks, I would like to reverse the equation. Why not write recipes like literature? I'll give it a try and maybe readers will be inspired to do it right. We may have a cookbook in our future.

The Fable of a Bigamous Wedding

It was to be a marriage of Oil and Vinegar. Oil was olive, from the ancient town of Lucca, and she was extra virgin. (This is a fable.) Vinegar, only a sixth to an eighth the size of Oil, was first into the wedding bowl. Vinegar was from Modena, where he had become quite aged and a bit balsamic. There then splashed into the bowl a stranger, strong, robust, and from Spain, likewise a sixth to eighth the size of Oil. His friends called him Sherry. Soon they were joined by a pinch of Salt, a twist of Pepper, and a guest from Dijon, drab yellow, pungent, and to taste. A hand from above, grasping a whisk, swirled them all together, faster and faster. Soon Oil, who had remained chastely in her measuring cup, joined the frenzy, drop by drop, and then, in a miracle, or, as others would have it, an emulsion, Oil and Vinegars joined.

Hemingway Hash

When the Old Man thought of hash, he recalled rum-fogged nights that seemed as if they were just last week. And so they were. Had there been corned beef? he tried to remember as he opened the refrigerator. There it was, cold, hard, and dead. Corned beef, just as there always must be for hash to be good and true. There were also cooked potatoes, cold and dead, too. What had he done with the onions in those hazy moments before the silence came? They were, as they should be, on the counter. He chopped them, and the corned beef, and the potatoes, in a fine true dice. He used his long, sharp knife, for this was a man's kitchen. Sharp knives are not of women. He did not measure. Men do not measure or ask for directions. Into the heavy cast iron pan he poured oil. It was not canola. He had never seen or hunted canola and did not trust it. He trusted nothing he had not killed or eaten. The oil was peanut, lowly and earthy. When it was hot enough to smoke, in went the onions. Soon after came the potatoes and corned beef. He added salt and pepper. It was good.

Chicken Spillane

The redhead had a husky voice that told of whiskey and cigarettes. "Would you like," she asked, "the house special?" So there I was, walking down those mean aisles, past men and women with blank eyes. Their bodies were ravaged by health clubs and granola, and they were looking to score a hit of soy protein. I was looking for something else, things she wanted, broccoli and chicken breast. One was organic and the other free-range. I don't remember which was which. Past open baskets of arugula and naked Belgian endive, I found broccoli. Chicken breast was a tougher case to crack; but there it was, past things I couldn't pronounce, laying there skinless and boneless.

I've seen a lot, but nothing like what happened when I got back to her apartment. She sliced, she diced, she tossed the chicken in "cornstarch." "It won't kill you," she cooed. She got out a couple of glasses. Into one she poured "chicken broth" and more "cornstarch." The other I couldn't figure. It had alcohol all right, some Japanese stuff called sake, and salt. Never trust a drink with salt. What she did next told me she was a freak. She got this pan that looked like a big hubcap, put it on the stove, and poured in some oil (2 cups), got it real hot and tossed in the chicken. Almost as soon as she did, she scooped it out and drained it over a large bowl. Then she tossed in the broccoli and did the same thing. Redheads never make up their minds. That's why I always fall for them. She poured out most of the oil, put the chicken and broccoli back in like they really belonged together, then the sake stuff, then the chicken broth. All the while she was stirring like she was mixing cement. In no time she whispered, "Are you ready?"

The house special was pretty special.

"Guido Veloce" is a Johns Hopkins University professor.

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