SUMMER 2011. YELLOW SQUASH. 07.01.11
When trying times hit, as they inevitably do, people turn to different coping mechanisms. I can’t say I have a go-to plan for crises, which is why I was dumbfounded last week when my husband whisked my lovey-clutching two-year-old son off to the emergency room while I stayed home with his five-year-old brother. It was the first time I’ve truly feared for the life of one of my children. As I kissed a chubby cheek, the words “be brave” were really more for me.
Just moments before, my older son, eager to report on the naughty behavior of his brother, told his father that his sibling had put a coin in his mouth. That “coin” was a coin battery that had been taken from a small remote control and left on the arm of the sofa by a well-intentioned, though fallible, set of parents. Ahem. Since our children never showed an interest in putting things in their mouths, we made the mistake of leaving a lithium battery in arm’s reach.
“Did you eat the battery?” my husband asked our boy. He nodded, huge eyes blinking. “Where is the battery now?” I pressed. “Here,” he said, pointing, “in my tummy.” So off they went to the emergency room. And I began an academy award-worthy performance for the benefit of my older child. Calm. Cool. Not at all worried about stories I’d heard of fatalities due to lithium battery corrosions in the bellies of small children.
So I offered my older son a popsicle in order to buy a few minutes to collect myself. As mango juice dripped down his arms and onto his khaki shorts, I had an idea, “Why don’t we make some cheese?” He looked at me quizzically. Cheese? We’d made all sorts of things together in the kitchen, but never cheese. This project would offer a distraction from the anxiety I struggled to mask. I had a recipe for homemade ricotta and I had just purchased the ingredients needed to make it. Pouring, measuring, watching and waiting (and photographing our project) would provide a much needed diversion.
Just as we were about to scrape the curds from the cheesecloth, the phone rang and we both jumped. My tension released instantly as I heard the words, “Good news. No battery.” I could finally exhale. I was too relieved to be annoyed by the tall tale created by one son, corroborated by the other and resulting in an afternoon of horrific imaginings.
And then there was that cheese. Creamy, slightly salty and just perfect for this simple, yet stunning dish. I think it tasted better knowing it had filled more than just our bellies. It fed my soul during a time of need. In times of crisis, I cook. Not such a surprising coping mechanism for me, I suppose. From cooking comes food, meals, togetherness and time spent with those we love. But on this day, cooking provided a needed lifeline. I hope cooking can reward you with a higher purpose from time to time, too (without having to endure a crisis). In the meantime, give your loved ones a good squeeze and keep your old batteries well out of reach of little ones (and pets, too, for that matter).