Saturday, September 25, 2010

Cooking With Music

I love music. I love listening to virtually anything, and I love dancing. I am learning to salsa and merengue, but have always been awed by any form of dance: ballet, tango, belly dancing. I grew up watching musicals and reenacting my favorite scenes dressed in a homemade costume with random props. Seriously.

I can't play music, I've tried an eclectic mix of instruments (piano, guitar, harmonica, ukulele, hand drums), and just never seem to pick it up. No heartbreak, though, I'd rather be groovin'.

I also love to cook. I insist on making a spectacle of weekend breakfasts. I always took study breaks to try a new recipe as a way to relax. I spent rainy, cold afternoons next to a hot oven, doling out dishes that were reminiscent of what my grandmothers or mom made. Good old-fashioned comfort food. From hearty breads and bagels and biscuits, to jam and apple butter, chili or soup, casseroles, pasta or dumplings, ribs to roasted chickens, you name it. I also love borrowing ethnic cookbooks from the public library, or getting a recipe as a gift from someone. Of course, I can never stick completely to a recipe, I must make alterations, corrections, impromtu substitutions.

These two facts stated, it should come as no surprise that while I am cooking/baking/inventing in the cocina, I must also be listening to music. It has a serious and direct effect on the flavor of the food.

While living in San Cristobal, this has not changed. When I am preparing almuerzo at home, I must be listening to salsa. Otherwise the soup and rice just don't taste right. They are bland and Jose asks for more salt and a fried egg to drape over the top of the plate.

Today, after visiting the market, I decided to make some apple butter. I bought a few red crisp apples (unfortunately imported to the island), and cinnamon and brown sugar. I made a quick playlist of folk music, some of my favorite songs from what seems like so long ago (?) and began peeling apples.

I immediately was transported to my youth, collecting Golden Delicious apples from the trees in the backyard of my childhood home. And of my Grandpa Fritz and Grandma Isa peeling apples at the picnic table. We would try and peel the whole apple in one, springy spiral.

Sometime around the time Bob Dylan handed the mic to Neil Young, I had boiled the apples and mashed them down as they oughta be. Pouring in the cinnamon and pinching in the sugar, I realized that the music that I demand during these savory sessions has always acted as a main ingredient, if not only secretly.