chocolate is a verb

colors, flavors, whims and other growing things

Monthly Archives: January 2013

what Dorothy saw…

DAK self portrait 1964Our house was set partway up a narrow, curving, hillside street that was just a block long and my mother said she fell in love with it the first time she stood at the kitchen sink and looked out the window. The view was mainly north, down the street, across nearby rooftops to the foothills where, decades later, the Getty Museum would become a stark white presence. You couldn’t see the house across the street, just the steep slope it sat on, which was carpeted with ice plant.

Arcing high above the house in its journey over Southern California, the sun never reached into the window but glanced across the small front yard and the neighborhood and cast a light that Dorothy would paint a thousand times.

The kitchen was her domain and the window her throne. From her spot at the sink, she would call out bright hellos to passing neighbors and scream at anyone, friend or stranger or unaccompanied beast, who dared to set foot on the mounded ivy in the front yard. Hearing the first note of her rising ire, I would shuffle away in embarrassment, hoping not to be seen, not to be associated with her screeching from the window, which was a joke among the neighbors that would surely rub off on me, compounding my already awkward existence. There was no sidewalk on the other side of the street, so people would clutch their dogs’ collars as they made their way past the house or even walk them on the dangerous blind curve to prevent the chance sniff that might launch Dorothy’s operatic alarms.

But even as generations of children and dogs — and I — left the neighborhood, even as her vision diminished, her voice grew weak and her legs would no longer hold her upright at the sink, the view continued to captivate her. When at last, at 88, she moved from the house, willing to leave behind most of her worldly possessions and more than fifty years of history, it was not my father, or the neighborhood, or the trespassing dogs she talked about, but the view from the kitchen window.

to pop…

living with Dorothy…

Dorothy's toasterMy mother held so many small reins on chaos. The kitchen, which was always immaculate, must have seemed about to explode into anarchy; nearly every shelf and door and drawer had rules.

At the sink, there were special sponges and cloths and brushes for specific tasks. Knives, of course, had their own jobs, and also their assigned spot on the magnetic knife-holder that hung above the counter. The hand towel was for hands, never for dishes, and the dish towel was not for pots and pans or, heaven forbid, for hands. There was a cabinet of untouchable dishes, beautiful plates and cups that had graced my grandmother’s table, off-limits to all but gazing, but even in the cupboard that held ‘our’ dishes, there were some that were okay to set onto the table and others that, for reasons only Dorothy knew, were not.

The open package of paper napkins that was kept on top of the refrigerator was different from the open package of napkins in the pantry cupboard. There was a certain time we opened the curtains on the kitchen window, but not the same time as we cranked open, to a certain angle, the blinds over the pantry window.

The toaster was wiped off and its crumb-tray emptied after every use. The stove was a universe unto itself, spotless inside and out, the chrome showroom-brilliant right up to the day, 40-some years later, Dorothy moved out of the house.

There were other rules, and they populated other rooms as well, infractions met with sharp words, slaps and the not-always-unwelcome banishing from her presence.

There are good reasons for keeping things tidy and clean, but Dorothy wouldn’t explain what they were. More confusing, she criticized and accused me of being excessively neat, telling me that practically from the time I started walking I put things away and kept my room organized.

I fight the urge. Welcome a little chaos. But damn if that toaster isn’t still working.

finding words…

what's left overI love the accident in writing. That of all the words in one’s vocabulary a few should gravitate toward each other to make a new sense, a new music, that two or three words in a string will by some alchemy be greater than the sum of their parts, seems a kind of magic.

My found poems simply illustrate the accident of that alchemy, the search for words externalized, visual, the syntax celebrating the absurd, the wonder, the humor of the process.


cooking with Dorothy…

Dorothy's Revere wareMy mother was a very good cook. She could follow a recipe, but she could also use a recipe, or the ingredients on hand, as inspiration to create something entirely her own. Her cooking wasn’t fancy, but flavorful and varied, and usually pretty healthful as well. Every meal included a vegetable and many of my friends saw their first asparagus or artichoke on their dinner plate at our house.

But she never taught me to cook. She was not a good teacher because teaching needs to be about the student, and she could not yield that space or focus. Of course I was expected to be present for part of the time as she prepared dinner almost every single evening, so I also have myself to blame for not learning her tricks. But mine was a thankless job — a task in which I had fetch-and-carry roles but no active creativity or reward.

There was an illusion of coziness, of girlfriends, that she occasionally liked to promote, but that was far from our reality, in which I was to stay out of the way, listen, complete my assignments and be invisible. Like art, cooking was part of her personal expression; whether she was making pot roast or a painting, my contributions were neither invited nor encouraged.

When I left home, my first forays into cooking were attempts to capture the taste of things she had made. Even now, though I’m drawn to flavors a little more spicy, a little more complex, I use some of her recipes and my palate has her food as a reference point. Though I can “taste” a recipe when I see it on the page, I don’t have Dorothy’s sensibility for random combinations of ingredients.

Yet, somehow, I absorbed more than I give either of us credit for. I love food. I love to cook. And each time I use one of her pans, I think of her, even as some part of me is back there, in that kitchen, her kitchen, waiting, silent, invisible.


the bank…