Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Wok

It is often the case that I say too much. This can be to the embarrassment of others or myself, and I am one who needs to work on such habits. But it is also the case that at times I say too little and deprive the people I love of what they deserve to know.

Such a thing came up when Christina and Jane visited. To be forward, I was hiding nothing, I just thought better of sharing what first came to mind. But I realized afterward that I should have been more forthcoming.

It started with an innocuous enough comment.

Christina wandered in as I prepared the rice and started the stir-fry. She saw the wok before I loaded it with food and began to cook,

"Look at that wok," she said. "That is a well-seasoned wok."

Instead of responding directly, I took a second and asked, "Hmm?"

"That's a well-seasoned wok," she reiterated.

I nodded to buy myself more time, and then chose a simple, "We've had it a long time." I looked into her eyes and smiled, then began to cook.

There was a reason I had to pause. It's how I buy myself time to not blurt out whatever is on my mind and sometimes save myself embarrassment or pain. I have a tendency to do that, In this case, I should have just shared.

Food was central to Marcie and my life. The taste of food was important, but the ritual of it, preparing, serving and pleasing each other from creation to ingestion was ritual akin to the high mass of our own little uniquely culinary religion.

Our tools and spice rack and utensils and pots and pans all have innumerable meals under their belts. But the wok is the oldest of them that is also unique to us. No other cooks used it, just the two of us. And until recently, only we had eaten from it.

I should have sit Christina down on the kitchen step with me and told her that I bought the wok with her and cooked her a stir-fry meal in it as the second thing I had ever made, the first being chicken fettuccine Alfredo. She loved it, and we fell in love a little deeper.

I should have told her that, for 14 years, Marcie and I cooked for each other, sometimes together, with the wok the central focus more often than not. Countless dim sum, sauces, vegetables, meats, spices and oils have burned in it and burnished it. All of them have left a mark.

It is a deeply layered wok. Every mistake, every experiment and every success in our relationship is preserved between layers of flavors and heat and colors that themselves are changed by those that came later.

Here is our Szechuan fascination from our early dating days. Here is our first dim sum night, where the blackening is as much from an oil fire as the cooking, because we forgot to turn off the stove as we pigged out while watching the X-files. Here is the big brown ring that never came out after I left her sweet and sour, pineapple and pork stir-fry in it overnight. Other interests left dishes for the morning.

So many others, and some I can still discern in the ringed metal of our wok.

The food we cooked each other was intended to nourish our bodies, hearts and love, and it did. The wok is the record of all that, and a reward for our love, our gentle creativity, and our very joyous collaboration. Every tryst is marked by a taste in its darkened metal.

I could have shared it at the table. I could have told Christina and Jane that they were eating a meal fourteen years in the making, then explained the wok, and the bamboo spatula and the day I bought them, and all of what I have written.

I didn't, even though I was thinking about it as I arranged the Thai tomato ladybug sculptures I had first carved for Marcie and served them both.

But that pang of guilt and moment of hesitation when Christina mentioned the wok, which passed and left me with regret, was replaced by the warm glow of their company, and the explanation slipped my mind again as we lay later, languishing on the couch.

I was too content.

I should have made it a conversation then. However, I have no regrets. I am opening that conversation now, for everyone to share.

To my two San Francisco angels specifically, though, I must say that I was honored to have you eat with me, to taste a little of what fourteen years of my wife and lover forged in iron.

It was wonderful to share that with you two, Jane and Christina, and to add a little layer to the wok with a flavor all our own. I look forward to many layers with your flavor in them. And I hope our wok fed your soul as well as your company fed my heart.

As for the rest of you, let me know when you would like a taste, too.

Good night, folks.



Rick Eaton said...

My wife and I recently enjoyed a wok cooked dinner. Our friend's wok was well seasoned with life as you have beautifully described. Perhaps, as Solzhenitsyn said, "Things remember better than people." You continue to touch many live with your mission of love.
Rick Eaton

Francis Stanley Pruett said...

Hey, Rick. If you read this, send me an email so I can reply. Responding to the blog does not send your email to me. Thanks, man.