PUTTING MY FOOT IN IT

First published for the Real Witches of Halloween Blog (Lyn Thurman presiding), October 11, 2011
*adapted October 11, 2019

Love the symmetry.

firepit.jpg

 

Tita knew through her own flesh how fire transforms a tortilla, how a soul that hasn't been warmed by the fire of love is lifeless, like a useless ball of corn flour. 

Laura Esquirel, Like Water for Chocolate[1]

 

My name is Seba.  And I'm a kitchen witch. This should come as a surprise to no one. My grandma taught me that food could work as a love conduit—and I’ve never forgotten the lesson. She would stand over a skillet and hum, rocking from foot to foot, wholly lost in the art of weaving her love into beans, cornbread, stews and such. That space was like . . . church.

I have found that same communion in my own little kitchen.  There's an old adage that "if momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy," and laws if that isn't true in the craft.  When I am beaten down by bills, slighting words, or just an old-fashioned hard day, nothing that touches my spoon will be edible.  Makes perfect sense, especially in light of a common lesson in Witchcraft 101 in which I teach my students to charge candles.  If you touch them with negative energy, negative they shall be.  (Of course, these candles have their place in the Craft.)  In day-to-day living, even the most schooled craftswoman/man knows that food cooked in a funk will be, well, funky.  These are the evenings we should order pizza and drink wine, or possibly cuss a bit out loud.  These are much better decisions than forging Chaos Meatballs or Spitting Nails Soup, I have determined. 

What I have also unearthed is a profoundly simply spell for crafting the sustenance and love experience that we all crave and need as humans.  Simply explained, I put my foot in it.  Now, in British lingo, this is not a good move in the kitchen.  More, it refers to a moment in time that denotes failure.  For example:

 "Many times afterwards the Baggins part regretted what he did now, and he said to himself: 'Bilbo, you were a fool; you walked right up and put your foot in it.'"  J.R.R.Tolkien, The Hobbit [2] 

I believe that Americans akin this to more of the "put your foot in your mouth" adaptation, but you get the flavor.  Regardless, here in the American South, the phrase has an earthy, deliberative connotation.  We mash the muscadines with our feet, smoothing their fibrous skins with the salt of our toes, thereby "putting our foot in it" and making, well, magic.  We also tend to run amuck barefooted (see the Farmer's Almanac for our weather patterns) and have been historically noted to cook in this manner.  Our bad.  But have you tasted our cornbread?

You may not be able to get blood out of a turnip, but I am willing to push this analogy until it bleeds.  I touch my food.  A lot.  Knead it and pull it, taste with my fingers, sway my hips as I stir, and basically throw my whole soul into the experience as if there will not be a dawn.  When I am feeling mischievous, my cobbler tickles the back of the tongue, the butter loosens it, and all around the flavor dances down in blackberry rhythm until the only thing left to do is pour another round.  When my body ripens and surges, I pound out pork roast like a tribal drum, tenderize it with the heat of my palms, and sing to its briny bone until it falls, defenseless, into its own silky fat.  Nina Simone works best as background for this kind of magical meat; she and I have done some naughty culinary work together in the past.

Have you tasted this kind of sustenance?  One that has had a foot pressed hard into it?  Home-baked bread smeared with two-day drained ricotta, Pernil simmered in garlic and citrus and dressed in rum, ice cream spun with the chocolate mint growing two feet from the table, all washed down with siphoned, closet-brewed peach wine?  Well then, better get down here.  You've got some livin' to do.  I know I'm grounded when my kin moan, fork in hand.  But--it would never have manifested that sweet if I hadn't flown too close to the sun.

In the spirit of sharing, which I am usually hard-pressed to do about my recipes, try this on for size:

Take everything from your garden.  Banana peppers, two ripe tomatoes (seeds out), an eggplant, a few jalapenos, an onion, a red pepper, three or four cloves of garlic, and whatever else strikes your fancy.  Chop them rough, dress in olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast.  Scrape the whole mess into the food processor; add about a quarter to a half-cup of olive oil.  Spin.  Add two tablespoons of tomato paste, the juice of half to a whole lemon (to taste), a half-teaspoon of sugar and a tablespoon of good vinegar.  Spin a lot.  Smear on toasted bread.  Breathe.  Give thanks.

 And that is just an appetizer.  My favorite book to teach, Like Water for Chocolate, begins every chapter with a recipe—usually one that denotes the emotion to come—and aligns the production, gathering, preparing and cooking of food as pure magic. [3] I agree with such a mantra, as it may be one of the last true acts of human divination left in our daily lives that has little to do with modern technology.  Those of us who have cooked over an open flame, wooden spoon in hand, know the connection.  There is a reverberation of spirit, flesh and fire in creating that which sustains us as a people.   The process of magical cooking has already communed with the Divine, has already forged a balance on this plain of existence.  After all, food is a daily ritual.  Why not get groovy with it?  Morning tea can become meditation, if you listen hard enough, and we all know the power of chocolate to heal a broken heart.  Whip up that tea from something green from your herb garden and you have taken sacrament, folks.  That’s my kind of church.

But once a year, we have a no-holds-barred feast that puts the rest of it all to shame.  In my house, Samhain is a biggie.  Okay, the biggest.  We have a whole schedule of food celebration around here: roasted squash soup in toasted pumpkin bowls, hot buttered rum, cider, pear tarts shined with butter and crystal sugars, smoked cheeses and buttermilk biscuits . . . and all of it is saved, special-like, for Samhain.  I have so many requests for the hot buttered rum during the year, but the answer is always the same.  Some things are sacred, like kitchen witchery.  I refuse to "put my foot" in something untoward, unsanctioned, or just downright uncool.  Although, it's almost time . . .

This Samhain, I have decided to separate my High Holy Day from Halloween for the first time in all of my forty-five years.  Now, I'm not suggesting that this is more right or sanctimonious.  For me, this is the kind of year I'm having: turning, spinning, becoming and shedding skin as fast as it's growing.  This year, I plan to delight in the frolic of candy corn and zombie costumes, plastic bags of webbing and styrofoam skeletons, and all will be washed down with Oktoberfest dark beer and WAY too much sugar.  Mayhem and Saturnalia will commence the Saturday before my beloved day and I plan to give Halloween its full due.  Someone's gonna' have a headache on Sunday morning.  But come Monday . . .


Pear Honey Simmering Down . . .

Pear Honey Simmering Down . . .

I will get my witchy bum to the kitchen, pick up a wooden spoon, and commune like it's 1999.  Samhain this year will be realized with Ritual that smells of dirt and wood, dreams and acceptance, cider and song.  This year, I intend to put my foot in it, hard enough to bruise, conviction enough to heal.  That’s going to be one sore, but bodacious, tootsie.

Good thing I ride a broom. 

Blessed Be,

Seba


[1] Laura Esquirel, Like Water for Chocolate, New York: First Anchor Books (Doubleday), 1995.  (I have taught literature for twelve years.  This particular edition is a translation from Spanish and is delicious, pun intended.)

[2] J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, London:  George Allen and Unwin, 1937: 16.

 

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