Early one winter morning, weeks before the pandemic’s lockdown, my boyfriend and I strolled among the vendors’ stalls in search of treasures — or just useful items at great prices — at a sprawling flea market.
We found ourselves walking through passageways created by makeshift walls surrounding the rented spaces where sellers displayed their wares for curious onlookers. Depending on the height of the ceiling and its lighting, some walls managed to block some of the light, creating a creepy, dingy and even claustrophobic environment.
Not all vendors chose to haggle with customers indoors. Some displayed their wares outside in front of the market, braving the elements to avoid paying rental fees for indoor spaces. Before we left, we strolled among these sellers when we happened upon an individual who had rented an indoor space that could only be accessed from the front of the market.
Unlike most vendors, this man offered a selection of hardcover books that were standing at attention in a row. Among them was a book with a white, firm, thick spine and a title in bold red and blue lettering. As I walked closer, I saw that its title was the “Joy of Cooking.”
I may not enjoy preparing meals, but I knew I had stumbled upon a treasure in mint condition.
And the price? $2! I immediately purchased it!
Little did I know that this book would fulfill for my son and me the promise on its copyright page, a quote by William Shakespeare: “Joy’s soul lies in the doing.”
And for us, the doing and the joy we experienced occurred through the creation of a marinade.
Exploring my home kitchen
The contagion caused a cascade of lockdowns resulting in businesses closing their doors or reducing hours and positions. The majority of Americans were cinching their budgets in anticipation of months of financial uncertainty.
Eating out? That was a luxury if it was even an option.
My son and I joined the legions of people who were preparing meals at home, according to FoodDive.com.
We conducted regular inventories of our supplies and purchased those items that would support our culinary adventures and build our confidence in the kitchen.
Before I take you any further, though, dear reader, we did not go crazy.
Roasted duck? Seriously?
Rhubarb pie? Not a chance!
My son and I have always taken an unpretentious approach to cooking. We don’t take any real culinary risks; rather, we prepare meals of vegetables and meats we know: corn, peas, rice, potatoes, pasta, chicken, beef and pork, for example. We have devised a menu of comfort foods reminiscent of the meals of my mother, my grandmothers and my great aunts.
But the book, “Joy of Cooking,” opened our eyes to a culinary world of which we could never have conceived on our own. The recipes reminded me of those created on the fly on competitions like the popular television series Top Chef.
For a few weeks, we perused the table of contents and detailed index and flipped through the pages. Finally, my son and I paused at the marinades … and decided that we would begin our culinary journey there. Somehow, making a marinade made sense.
Building trust through a marinade
A marinade is essentially a “seasoned liquid” that offers flavoring to vegetables and meats, according to the “Joy of Cooking.”
The artistry behind a marinade involves the acids that tenderize the foods to help transfer the marinade’s flavors and the oils and fats that baste the food. (Some include spirits to enhance the food as it barbecues, but we passed on them.)
But these ingredients guarantee only half of a marinade’s success; the other half is trust, the trust we must have in ourselves and the trust we must have in the food.
As the marinade slowly takes shape, it should be tasted as you go, which means we must trust our taste buds. Our tongue’s receptors combined with the smell and texture of the marinade help us to react to the flavors and determine when the marinade is ready or needs just a bit more of that “something” to make it perfect.
For a marinade to be effective, the food needs time to marinate, which means we must trust the food. For vegetables, it’s minutes; for meats, it’s hours. During this time, the marinade breaks down the food so the liquid can enter and keep it moist and tender.
Once the ingredients, food and our trust coalesce, we have a beautifully marinated vegetable or meat ready to be cooked.
Creating our marinade
The idea of a marinade and the recipes in the “Joy of Cooking” inspired Joseph, but he found the ones in the book to be a bit advanced for him. So, he selected a simpler recipe with the promise of creating a tender, juicy steak.
Upon his own initiative, he reviewed the recipe, determined the ingredients we did not have in our pantry and selected them on our next trip to the grocery store.
He combined the various ingredients according to the required amounts, tasting occasionally as he went along.
Once the marinade was completed, he added it to the steaks and placed them in the refrigerator for a little more than 24 hours. Every now and then, he inspected the steaks and commented on how their textures seemed to change as they gradually observed the marinade.
Because the weather was warm, Joseph decided to grill the steaks outside, creating exquisite grill marks on each of them. He was so proud of those steaks and their marks. The steaks were heavenly!
The pandemic has strained many people and communities, some to the breaking point, testing their fortitude and flexibility. Unemployment, domestic violence, sexual abuse, food insecurity, financial uncertainty, remote learning, isolation and anxiety are just some of the forces tenderizing our resilience and moral fiber.
Some collapsed under the violence and despair, but others have survived, endured and, in some cases, flourished. I believe the key to persevering is to find joy in simply doing for ourselves and others.
If we can explore what is available to us, who we are.
If we can trust our instincts, listen to our heart and head.
If we can take a thoughtful risk, overcome these forces.
Maybe, just maybe, we can open up to ourselves and access our potential, our greatness.
This pandemic can be a period of self-discovery or a recognition spirit and strength of character. Such forces can elevate us to a great sense of our self-awareness and not defeat us.
Perhaps, we need to marinate.
On Thursdays, I share a blog about a day in the actual life of a single parent. Every other Thursday, instead of a personal post, I put together one where I assemble news on and about single parents nationally and globally.