It was my one morning to sleep in, when the The Ranger, standing in the bedroom doorway announced, “I kind of had a major mishap in the kitchen. So I left the pot and burner outside on the porch, just so you know. Go back to sleep.” Naturally, I shot out of bed and immediately smelled the acrid smoke. Intending to heat the kettle, he’d turned on the wrong burner and a dirty Le Creuset pot (bad wife!) was now scorched and melted to the burner.
One of the things I love about The Ranger is that he’s never cared about Things, except maybe his surfboard. So a scorched pot is not that big a deal to him. I, on the other hand, have more attachments. Some of that is just my wiring…I come from a long line of material girls. A lot of that is because I’m older, I’ve accumulated more “stuff,” snapshots and memories, over the years. When I was his age, I owned a futon, a Ford hatchback and ten boxes of books.
That Le Creuset pot was 20-years-old, a birthday gift from my first husband, Tim, when we were newly married, deeply broke and using a found picnic table as our one place to sit and eat a meal. His father, a Bolivian immigrant, had recently showed me how to make braised oxtails, a dish he grew up eating, but also assiduously fed his three boys when they were growing up, bragging at the pile of bones each plate boasted at the end of a meal. The pot was meant to link the past to the present and of course, the future, so even though we couldn’t really afford such an extravagance, I understood the gesture and got busy cooking. Let me just say…my oxtails kicked ass! No pun intended.
I altered the family recipe, adding two cinnamon sticks to the thyme, garlic and bay leaves. Also, three dried ancho chiles to the onions, celery and carrots. I splurged on the wine, pouring an entire bottle of cheap Merlot, which made the gravy unbelievably deep and robust. Then lowered the heat and increased the cooking time to five hours from three to make sure the meat fell off the bone. The prep of coating and searing each oxtail made the dish a real effort, so it was saved for holidays like Easter and every one of Tim’s birthdays.
The big pot was always busy. Introducing my parents to bouillabaisse and teaching them how to slurp the nectar using mussel shells. I showed my brother, Edward, how to make paella with handmade chorizo and it soon became his obsession to master the dish in his own Dutch oven buried in hot coals under a starry sky. Friends came with bottles of wine to bask in rich mushroom risotto, an oven baked beef stew that took all afternoon but melted in your mouth and Bolivian chicken, slathered in a sofrito passed down from generation to generation. When one of us was sick, a Chinese chicken noodle soup would simmer away absolutely every bug and then years of dahl followed, plus other Indian dishes concocted weekly after I discovered Madhur Jaffrey and the spice trail.
On the morning Tim and I stood in the kitchen dividing up our belongings, after he asked for the jewelry he’d given me, but before the movers came with their downcast eyes and quiet shuffle, I pulled that pot out of the cabinet and without a word he threw up his hands in surrender. He knew not to argue. I was out of a job, a home and a husband, but at least I had a pot to feed myself. Before I left the house, however, I threw a bacchanal of a party, where the 7.5 quart pot was filled with ice and used to chill dessert wine while friends and strangers alike feasted and drank through the entire wine cellar.
When I unpacked the pot in Newport, I made bouillabaisse once again. This time, with fish and crab that The Ranger caught, plus herbs and leeks we grew in our tiny garden. We ladled it out around the butcher block to our newfound friends, Bruce, before Linda and Rocky, Jesse before match.com, Monica before she moved to the Cape, Mike and Jennifer when they were still Mike and Jennifer, and of course Cameron, who probably added clams, thus his nickname, Clameron.
While it might seem silly to write an obituary for a pot…well, here it is. It’s how I mourn, how I move on. It was given out of hopefulness, it fed family and friends, it sustained me alone and me with the Ranger. It died in a house filled with light, love, cookbooks and perfectly sharpened Japanese chef knives…in other words, it always kept good company. And isn’t that the most we can ever ask for in a life, no matter how short, no matter what the upheaval. To simply keep good company.
So who wants supper?