Thursday, August 21, 2014

Sweet Corn Oatmeal with Strawberry Compote

The following ‘essay’ is structured on several accounts I have seen/heard in the past week or so. I speak from a completely unbiased standpoint. This is the stance of a 16 year finding a place in the struggling world. The word ‘we’ is used as a general literary term and in no way do I mean subjugate the whole of humanity into those two letters. Thank you for reading, as well as your understanding.

I have never tasted a corn field so bitter as this one tasted, as we tramped past hollow corn husks and stalks green like double-tongued snakes. The sky wasn’t the right color, despite its’ glorious hues of candy floss and bubblegum. It was not sweet as such. An abandoned silo festered the sky with domed shadows; an empty gesture to something of the heavens. Somewhere, the spokes of a windmill turned and, perhaps even, lighted a home. Cars flickered on the highway, echoing into the falling night. Here and gone, and gone again, they went. There were ravens (probably deeply brown sparrows, actually) flying in torrent circles about our heads, one too many for my liking. I held a finger against the air, and I think that, perhaps (one can never be too certain of these sort of things), the wind was blowing backwards, in the wrong direction. It was peaceful, but disturbingly so.

It felt wrong to be in this humble spot, where grains flourished and the stalks were widespread as weeds, where quiet is such a constant that it becomes a state of mind rather than lack of sound. I wanted to take my corn, and leave as if I had some elsewhere that was gravely important to attend to. I wanted to cop out. It’s only human nature to abandon that which scares us, which is usually what we (I) do when words like beauty and death come into play. They’re vague and indistinguishable. I use them too often. If I had though- copped out- you wouldn’t be reading this, and there would likely be a perfectly golden ear of corn lying in the depths of the refrigerator along with some spare heirloom tomatoes and a hefty container of spinach. We wouldn’t have this, this recipe here; which is beautiful, as vague as it sounds. (I'm 100% aware that the oatmeal itself isn't very pretty. But the recipe? To die for.)

There is no beauty in war or stagnation or subjugation. There is no beauty in damp rose blush cheeks, or torn cotton dresses. There is no beauty in land marked for war or war marked for land. These things are empty, full of reckless abandon. But you and I; we are human. Some would say it’s a blessing, some say it’s a curse. Others demand  both (I’m Switzerland). But either way you look at it, not one of us is any better or worse the next. It’s not a rosy picture, this gruesome state, but we are not always a rosy bunch of people. I am not a person of hate, or the slightest odium. This world, vaguely, is, at times, beautiful. Beautiful are the sunsets that burst into one thousand shades of Africa, beautiful are the ultraviolet moonrays that burn into the obsidian night, sweet is the honey off the lips of orange and frilling tiger lilies, sweet is corn shaved from the husk on a slow summer night; and how delicious it all tastes, when wrapped into a bundle tied in spiders’ silk and given to the day to serve as gratuitous host. But even the days are growing harder, longer. In that field I was greeted by the first ephemeral strokes of autumn; a season of both rejuvenation and crypt. All I found was the latter, as my skin was brazed by empty shells. The sky was the wrong color. The windmill spun. Lights flickered. The sparrows circled. I stood, and it was all I could do not to cry for being alive and witness to these things. August is a matchstick month that burns swiftly but does not flame. It rots and stinks like smoke; not the kind that clings to your favorite sweater after a night of campfires, but the kind that slithers like nicotine fingers up your neck in the middle of the night. The sky was the wrong color, and August the wrong shade of red.

I wanted to leave, or at the least, tear my eyes away from this forsaken field. I wanted to close them off to eternity, even though I knew the image would be burned into my eyelids like the blazing red sun on a summer day, even though this image is a reoccurring pattern in the patchwork of our world. It is, vaguely, everywhere. The news these days is a filled with toxic waste and poison, yet we drink it up like shimmering wine sucked from the high end of a cosmopolitan--sized cocktail straw. In this cataclysmic time, Picasso is Prometheus and Mozart is Hesiod. We are ripping through the catacombs of our own history books, thick and heavy with cataclysm and crypt. We are dripping in blood graffiti, slathered across walls, our mirrors, the limestone faces of guillotined kings, foreign countries; in corn fields so similar to the one in which I stood. So similar we all are; yet so different in our past. This was no corn field. This was Antietam, rising to the crux of combat. This was trenches dug from 2 feet under all the way to Andromeda and back. This was a city ravaged by the pregnant belly of a mushroom cloud, smoked out with cancerous toxins and blazed with rubber bullets, covered in alligator skin and crocodile tear gas.

I saw it all, and I saw none, just as we are all of these things, but we don't have to be, if we choose not to be. I scolded myself, thinking, "Bite your tongue child! The world is only bitter as you make it." And in all of that, I stood; just as quietly as the world stands on the cusp chaos. There is a very thin horizon between change and destruction. Our problem is, I think, that we become so focused on the horizon before us that we fail to acknowledge the land beneath our feet. And that is where we falter, in our constant state of revolution.  But now, I bite my tongue. I will let you decide for yourself.

This blog, this small space, somehow beyond my comprehension, reaches out to every country on this earth. You and I; we are no different. My existence is more of a mundane brown than the plume on a sparrows’ chest. But I am humble, and I am happy. And most importantly, I am thankful for what I have been given.

This week, I feel blessed to say that my creativity (I shot this dish three times and am still unhappy.) has been the only thing taken from me. By what hand, the worlds’ or my own, I can’t be sure. But, my friends; just because something falters, does not mean it is lost. There is hope and truth to be found in everything, and this recipe is a perfect example of just that- going back to what once was isn’t always a bad thing, as long as you make the proper adjustments. I posted a recipe for Sweet Corn and Blueberry Oatmeal almost exactly a year ago, and have waiting to recreate it ever since. 

When my ingenuity becomes, say, less genuine, I fell back on what I know to be true. The facts. The groundwork. As I said, there’s a thread of truth to be found in nearly everything we come across, and food is no exception. I often describe my cooking as just a hodgepodge of ingredients, a toss of this, a splash of that. But there is method behind (most) of my madness. There exists a holy trinity of flavors: sweet, savoury, acidic. They’re almost like knobs that demand to be fine-tuned as you go, and when tweaked just right, there you have it. Harmony. So when I set out to recreate this recipe, I decided to approach with a sort of scientific standpoint. First and foremost, frozen corn doesn’t do it justice, and I reckon that it’s worth the wait to get your hands on some fresh, sweet corn. Good ingredients pay it forward, especially when they’re gelled just right with a few select others.

Pureed, the sweet corn it as suave as they come; only pronounced by the compote that spreads like strawberry stained glass, harboring the acidic notes under their crimson coats, as well as the bright appeal of fresh berries. The salt and pepper add an unexpected, but gentle, crack of flavor. That being said, don’t go over the top, but by no means disregard it. Amidst soft fruits, the pepper almost tastes nutty and a bit spicy; a sharp, savoury bite to its’ sweet counterparts. Add a bit of mint, some basil if you prefer; we’re all friends here. Together, it’s astonishingly congenial, in a subtle sort of way; a way that has called me back to this recipe, today, a year after its’ creation. I hope that you, as well, find some sort of comfort in its’ making, or in the least, a small treat for your day.