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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Domesticity: A Reason to Organize

I am not an organized being. Anyone who has been listening will recognize this as the truth. In some of my long-ago jobs, I used to be responsible for filing. Like my bosses, I thought I was good at it. It wasn't until my memory became less reliable that I realized that I wasn't a good filer at all. I simply had a good memory for where I had put things. My filing was not logical (well, it was alphabetical, but that was the given). I could relocate any needed item simply because my mind made connections—I just remembered where I'd filed it.

The same principles applied outside office work. I knew what was what because I remembered, not because I was naturally organized. Then I married a highly organized ex-librarian (opposites attract). Well, you can take the boy out of the library, but you can't take the library out of the boy. My husband makes notes of everything. He keeps a day-book that never fails him. His calendar of coming events is a model of foresight. He never mislays our subscription tickets. He never forgets to do anything because he always makes to-do lists and then acts on them.

Imagine his surprise when he discovered that his charming bride—old enough to know better when they married—was as slap-dash as a rebellious teenager.

Oh, it was hard. The first couple of years took considerable compromise. But gradually I acquired a few of his organizing skills. Not too many, of course, since it was important to preserve the unique charm of my spatterdash approach.

We have a lot of things in our kitchen. I have ceiling-high shelves lined with 2-quart jars, 1-quart jars, pint jars—all filled with grains, dried fruits, oils, and ingredients both exotic (dried Kaffir lime) and prosaic (barley). My impulse was always not to label the jars but to rely on my memory. Why should I label them? Can I not tell brown rice from basmati from Arborio? Don't I know couscous when I see it through glass? Aren't black turtle beans significantly different from Great Northerns or from pintos? Really. What overkill, what a waste of energy, to label all those jars.

On a winter day several years ago I decided to make oatmeal cookies. I'm a cookie monster. It was a cold winter day. Some fresh-from-the-oven oatmeal cookies? What a good way to spend the afternoon! Cookies and milk while I sat on the sofa and read a novel.

So I made them, complete with currants and walnuts. Don't you love that occasional tart-sweet hit of a currant or raisin in your oatmeal cookie? I do, so I put in currants.

As soon as they were out of the oven, I grabbed a warm cookie and ate it. H'm-m. This one did not have a tart-sweet hit. Maybe the currants were unevenly distributed through the dough and this particular cookie was lacking currants. It had a slightly different flavor, which I couldn't identify. I tried another. Still no currant hit. H'm-m. I ate four more cookies and found no taste of currants at all--just that strange, unidentifiable flavor.

I stopped eating the cookies and began to think, staring at the glass jars on the shelves and trying to retrace my movements as I had made the cookies.

It didn't take too long before I found it. Instead of currants I had grabbed the jar of Chinese salted and fermented black beans. Hey, they do look alike, especially if you're trying to pretend that your eyes are still young and you don't need to wear your glasses. Fermented black beans are salty and, well, fermented. Their resemblance to currants is strictly visual.

So I didn't eat cookies and milk as I read my novel.

When my husband came home I had to admit my mistake. Luckily, he prefers savoury to sweet. Also, he hates waste, particularly the waste of food. So over the next few days he ate every one of those misbegotten cookies.

After that, I reluctantly started labeling the jars on my shelves. Not all of them, of course. I still insist I can tell a pinto bean from a split pea. But if there's any ambiguity at all, I slap on a label. And I've never since made cookies with fermented black beans.

Copyright 2007 Ann Tudor

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