I think this is when we are supposed to cook together. I'll try to impress upon you my love of this region's cuisine. You bring the ground venison and a bottle of wine.
Music? Well of course my kitchen will be filled with music. We'll start with some old and finish with some new.
You'll be here at seven? Be late, let me prepare for seven and enjoy what I have prepared for you until seven thirty. That thirty is crucial, it means that I am ready and now all I have to do is dance barefoot on a clean wood floor. In a span of thirty I'll look at the door fifty.
I better start chopping.
One half bell pepper.
One small onion.
Jalapenos to taste. Do you like spice?
One thick wood chopping block a friend gave me from the wood they had left over when they built the barn.
A knife. I secretly hope you can sharpen knives like my Dad. It is one of the most romantic things he does for my Mom. He keeps all her knives sharp, which not only means he notices the smallest of things but also can be translated to a certain amount of courage. He is a beautifully brave man.
This song comes on and a storm is brewing.
I hear the screen door open and shut, look at Billy Sue and she barks 'cause that is the one thing she is supposed to do. It is her duty. Don't worry, she'll fall in love with you. She falls in love with everyone. She is love.
You caught me chopping onions and my eyes are burning so I am crying and you begin laughing as soon as you walk in the back door and then I laugh and the music is playing and Billy Sue wants all the attention so you put the wine and pound of ground venison on the counter, bend down and pretend you have come just to see her. I tell her to stop, you have come for me but she doesn't listen.
I pull out the skillet Mom gave me one Christmas years back. It had this recipe in it. I don't know if it is one of my favorites because it is so good or because when I cook it I am reminded of her handwriting. She taught me to write. Yes, she is a teacher.
You get the wine glasses. I point to the cabinet across the kitchen above the microwave. At the top, I say as I begin browning the venison.
Yes ma'am, you say as you reach up and pull down two glasses. A southern woman enjoys how ma'am rolls off a man's tongue no matter what his age in relation to her. Maybe it means he loved his Mama or that he respects a woman or maybe something else. This is one of those times where reason has little value to me.
As the venison begins cooking I reach up and pull down one of my favorite bowls. It is yellow and was given to me as a wedding gift twenty years ago. It is a loyal bowl, we have a history. In it I mix about (about is a common southern recipe word, good recipes always allow for a certain amount of freedom) three cups of cornmeal, one to two eggs and some milk. This is about consistency and I explain this to you as you watch me stir. I haven't cooked in some time so your interest makes me nervous and excites me all the same. I take a sip of wine and so do you and we smile.
I ask you if you can grate cheese and you roll up your sleeves and wash your hands at the sink. I pull a block of sharp cheddar out of the fridge, reach down to get the grater and stand up to find we are close. You and me close like this, without touching, is sensual and intimate and I have to break the silence of this moment in order to cook. Once again, you smile so I put you to work telling you not to quit until three quarters of that block is gone. Another yes ma'am and I am draining the venison, placing the chopped peppers and onion in the skillet. This song comes on and we begin to dance while we work. Is this work?
I return the venison to the skillet with onions and peppers, adding a can of cream style corn. Here I just want to make sure that the onions and peppers are tender. You finish the grating and present your masterpiece to me, a mound of fresh sharp cheddar cheese impersonating a pyramid. You dance a cute little jig and I laugh in appreciation. That you dance is one of my favorite things about you. Never stop dancing please.
I pour the skillet ingredients into another bowl you have so kindly placed in the only space we have left on the counter and tell you in front of you is our meal, everything we will need. I wash the skillet, dry it off, place some butter in it and put it in the oven which was set earlier at three seventy five.
You tell me about your day as I clean the dishes for which we have no more use. There was this moment you were caught in traffic but you had a book so you sat on a long interstate next to behind and in front on the rest of the world. And there was this one passage, I've got to hear it, it just struck you as the truest most beautiful thing you had ever seen written and then you looked to the side and a beautiful lady looked back at you and smiled and you smiled and waved and that moment felt precious.
I love it when you tell stories and I don't dare touch you now but I want to kiss you, a kiss for a story.
I almost forget we are cooking and quickly pull the skillet from the oven, pour the melted butter into the cornbread mixture, tell you to stir one last time and set the skillet on the stove. I pour half of the cornbread mixture into the skillet and instruct you to sprinkle half of your cheese masterpiece on top. I then place the venison, pepper, onion and corn blend in the dish. The other half of your cheese is sprinkled evenly about and we top it off with the remaining cornbread mix.
I stick it in the oven, set the timer for about thirty five minutes, turn around to high five you and find myself pulled into a slow dance to this song.
Some girls can't help but be dreamers. It was all they ever were.