Rachel Bennett

Archive for May, 2011|Monthly archive page

One More Pot of Honey

In Food on May 30, 2011 at 21:23

“Stands the church clock at ten to three?  And is there honey still for tea?”
– Rupert Brook

I heard a story once about an old woman, a very old woman with hands big and cracked from their craft. She spent her life as a sculptor and even after laying down her chisel and soapstone for the last time, she always appeared to be covered in a decorous layer of powder and clay. One day a friend came to visit her in the old people’s home. “There comes a point,” she said, cracking into wheezing chuckle, “when you wonder if its worth buying another tube of toothpaste.”

It is a disconcerting thought, and one that, I will admit, rarely crosses my mind at 25 years old. I was reminded of this story, however, and its evocation of tenuous brevity when I opened the cupboard yesterday in search of honey (to slather on a slice of my monumental sourdough bread). I fished out the jar, all but empty. As I scraped around the interior like a thwarted Winnie the Pooh, I wondered, a stew of emotion in the pit of my stomach: should I buy another jar of honey?

It was a familiar feeling, a bittersweet cocktail of anticipation tinged with sadness, and I have felt it too often in the past few years of restless uprootings. This time it hit me with a honey pot. With three weeks before I leave London, it is time to being the dismal process of eating down the larder.

It starts slowly, with things like tomato paste and mustard, but as you near departure the cupboards become increasingly barren. Then it spreads to your fridge, to the crusty lumps of parmesan and knobs of butter, until, by the day of departure there is nothing left but a forlorn pint of milk and a couple of shriveled carrots you have steadily avoided.

On the bright side, this process of eating down your provisions can include surprising bonuses: forgotten bottles of wine or the pound of dark chocolate bought in bulk one desperate day. This time, for instance, I am faced with a last half bottle of Laphroaig that I’ve been sipping in parsimonious rations for the past few months, and a measure of delicious if brain bogglingly potent truffle honey – this would not do for the morning toast.

Between indulgent whiskies and undressed pasta, it is a liminal phase—a tangible thinning of the web that binds you to a place and time. And yet, with three more weeks, gray skies and the elusive English summer nowhere in sight (I was warned of this), I need a little honey for my tea; just one more pot of honey for the road.

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Cathlamet and the Kernel

In Food on May 28, 2011 at 21:21

Dearest readers,

It is with disheveled demeanour, aching neck, and sore eyes that I beg your forgiveness for my absence from the blogosphere. It has been a long month since my last post and I have sorely missed my dear Dionysus. Exam season is upon us in the UK, and my fellow would be anthropologists of food and I have been scaling mountains of notes, suffocating under piles of books, and generally undergoing comprehensive mental anguish. Thankfully the worst is over and this week I sit one last exam.

I will spend this summer writing my dissertation and searching for gainful employment (Hi, my name is Rachel. I’m intelligent, hard-working, and fully qualified to expound on the incommensurability of sausages.) It is bewildering to look back over this year. Threadbare cliché it may be, but it seems like yesterday I dragged my bags, sweating and cursing through Heathrow airport, onto the Piccadilly line  and arrived in my adopted city.

I have not yet mastered the art of transitions; my departures and arrivals are profoundly ungraceful. Like the Cathlamet ferry (affectionately known to locals as the ‘crash-and-ram-it’) as it navigates into the Clinton dock on Whidbey Island, I find myself lurching unceremoniously from side to side as I aim for an all too narrow corridor and the promise of solid ground.

For a few weeks I swung between highs and lows: I remember skulking away after my first day of class in the anthropology of food, every ounce of my body convinced I was an imbecile amongst brilliant minds. Why did they let me in? And there was the underground – the heaving mass of humanity jostling for space, cold and sullen-eyed in the bowls of the city. But there were also those nights, ambling home, my blood warmed with cider and the beginnings of friendship – nights on which I could not imagine a better place to be.

Gradually, I steadied to a rhythm as the air drew thin and cold. The lows leveled and the highs broadened. By the time February rolled around with her determination to cast a shadow over the most buoyant spirit, I was immune, cheerfully teetering to Scottish Ceilidh dances and swing balls, sporting bright red lipstick and slinky dresses. I found myself happily surrounded by friends as devoted to food as I, a gaggle of lovely ladies always game to discover the best places for crispy duck in Chinatown or brave sub-zero temperatures and 10 am whiskies at an outdoor market in Bath.

In recent months, however, I have been vacillating over the future – to stay or not to stay? London with its endearing street names, pop-up cocktail bars, and smug self-assurance that if you are tired of her charms you might as well roll over and die? London who seduces you and then, smirking slyly, bleeds you of your money? In wistful moments I found myself listening to Bruce Springsteen and Lucinda Williams, and thinking of the crash-and-ram-it tugging me slowly, ingloriously home.

It was a beer that broke me. I was at the Queen’s Head, having a quiet drink with my classmates. Catherine, a friend of mine who is doing her dissertation on London breweries, recommended I try a beer from The Kernel Brewery. “You’ll love it,” she said. “They’ve got really good American style beers.” Never one to turn down advice from the official Beer Intellectual I bought a bottle of The Kernel’s IPA.

Absorbed in conversation, I took a distracted swig. The very English pub on that very English street blurred and my mind reeled, tipped backwards. Blue barbecue smoke outside our sinking, water-logged cottage in Eastlake, the one I shared with Aleah and Reilly; a booming cacophony of hungry diners at the Elysian on Capitol Hill; the curve of beer barrel tables and a silken stout round back of the old firehouse in Langley. . .

“There is more wisdom in your body than in your greatest philosophy,” said Nietzsche. With this in mind I tore up my lists of pros and cons, London versus Seattle in the battle of virtues. Mercifully, my decision was made. I fly home in June.

Photo by The Kernel Brewery