The Diner Asks, Why?
The last time I cooked morel mushrooms was about a year ago in Chicago. It was a special meal, wrapped and tied prettily in my head as a gift to a weary traveler. I received a text message with flight info, an ETA upon grabbing a seat on the Blue Line, and nervous excitement inside my heart as I stirred the polenta. I made a morel cream sauce using yogurt instead of heavier dairy, and a salad, and perhaps asparagus? I listened to this song I was enamored with, which spoke of the inertia and unfolding of summer, which I knew was going to be amazing. I just knew. Just like I know now that it is hard to hear that song anymore, and that new songs have replaced it which are equally relevant. That’s life.
I have always been a curious monkey. My family will tell you how exhausting it was to answer all of my questions, in the days before wikipedia and smartphones, readily available information. I remember walking back up Dobbin toward home with my mom, and how tired she sounded when I inquired about where the neighbor may have purchased her shoes, because I liked them. I still ask a lot of questions, maybe too many (another question in and of itself). I often feel like my curiosity is something that must be tamed, bushwhacked. Other times, though, I feel like this is what people are supposed to be like, and that asking things is a catalyst for innovation, poetry, love, satisfaction, and problem solving. That I have the luxury of time to ask so many, compared to other people in the world who don’t have Macbooks to reach out to a large audience with their smallest blips of thought – instead they must sit with these questions, and maybe die with them, words never spoken; questions never asked with real hope for answers or directed towards anyone in particular. Sometimes it is OK to just ask, and stop looking so hard for all the answers. Being able to just ask can be good enough.
Lately, though, questions are floating in my head all the time, and I wonder about when is Appropriate to Ask. When should I just Bite My Tongue? It’s hard, because I think asking good questions is often as good a mark of intelligence as knowledge and creativity . It may even be of higher order than those, because it seems to encompass the latter two things entirely. Smart questioning is a big deal to me, and so the internet poses challenges regarding what I consider to be smart questions, and how to ask them. In order to ask smart questions, or even have a conversation at all, one should know who they are asking, talking to, talking at, ranting about, and so on. The classic dilemma of audience and specificity, assumption, and prerogative. Here, I usually feel like the internet often reinforces a sort of desperation laden with my current line of questioning, because actually getting answers seems to matter a lot, yet the internet cannot help me. It is a quick fix way to potentially feel less alone with certain short quips and statements of sentiment or emotion. It is like eating doughnuts for breakfast; the quick fix that wears off and leaves you empty very quickly.
Today I made morels for my mom and I. To cook the morels without wanting, to cook the morels knowing this IS their time, and to focus on accepting that which is simply true is not difficult for me. This is the first question I will ask: why do I miss other things so much the and not these? Anyway, I listened to that song, and I tried to embrace some questions to the point of nurturing them, incubating them until I know when and who to ask. Or what and why I would like to say to them, and then decide about it eventually. I took the morels and sauteed them with a little onion, butter, salt and pepper. Basil chiffonnade tossed in over the top and mixed in over low heat at the end, just to wilt it. Timing is a large part of cooking, just like it is when you ask questions. Sometimes the most important, and most intelligent question of all is, Do I want to know the answer, and why? Or, do I ask because the answer is obvious and I do not like it, or choose not to see, or simply cannot?
I have begun the book The Help and that book is a tale full of people asking questions, inside and out. Questions that cannot be asked out loud for social reasons, questions that take time to formulate, and then mustering the courage to know how and when to ask. This, so far, is my favorite question. One of the women is assuring her two year old charge that she is a smart, kind girl, when her mother constantly barks at her and is not very smart. The nanny says,
“And that’s when I get to wondering, ‘What would happen if I told her she’s somethin’ good, everyday?'”