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So I’m taking a story-telling class, on Saturdays. Well, more of a presentation class. It’s called “Talking to People in Public, a Storytelling Approach.” So you can see why my work was willing to fit the bill, and if you know me, you can see why this is a big hurdle for me.
To tell a great story, the teacher said last Saturday, you have to be ready to say “I am here, look at me!” Yeah, well there are three more classes, so maybe I’ll get there?
It’s a very cool thing for many reasons nonetheless. First of, stories are of course interesting and so is studying them—their structures, what makes them work, what compels us or engages us or incites our curiosity about a storyteller. And then there’s the very idea of attending such an event, so entirely about my own adult, professional development. On a weekend.
To my astonishment, I have homework. Three assignments, the first of which is to tell a brief “un-story” using the universal story structure we learned in our class:
Once upon a time, I decided to try the split pea soup recipe from a cookbook I love. I stirred up dried split peas with veggies and my good homemade smoked turkey stock, and then simmered for 20-30 minutes as directed. The peas remained hard as tiny stones, so I simmered some more. And then I simmered and simmered until it was time to go to sleep. No change. So I turned off the heat, left the pot on the stove and went to sleep.
The next day, when I got home from work, I simmered the soup some more. No change. Just pebbles bouncing around in the last of my very best stock. And so, every evening, I simmered that damn soup. The carrots turned to mush. The liquid evaporated and I added water. But those peas remained hard enough to crack a tooth.
Until one day—it was Saturday—I went out. While I was out, my husband called. Our son had fallen down the stairs. He was badly banged and bruised and very shaken. Almost as shaken as my husband. I rushed home. I tucked my bandaged little boy into bed, and then we checked on him over and over again while he slept.
Because of that, I put my foot down. I wanted things to go as planned. I do not want calamity. I do not want a worst case scenario. “This damn soup,” I declared, will be eaten.”
Because of that I put the whole thing in the blender. Because of that, it turned a dark, disturbing brownish-green. Because of that, I was all the more determined and served it up in low lamp light, topped with dollops of Greek yogurt.
Because of that, we ate a cheerless meal. Then we cried all night. Our child, our perfect, impossible child, turns out to be vulnerable to gravity.
Until finally, the sun rose, and that little boy came dancing out of his room, his brown hair hanging over the scab on his forehead, all woes forgotten, wanting to know what’s for breakfast.
Ever since then, I’ve been grumbling about what could possibly have gone wrong with that stupid soup. And knowing how lucky we are.
There you have the un-story of the one thing I cooked right up until last night when I decided that scones would be for breakfast. Delightful, wholegrain scones, to eat with jam or marmalade or cheese, or just plain.
Zoe Singer is a freelance food writer and cookbook editor and co-author of The Flexitarian Table. Food Editor and blogger for The Faster Times, she tries not to eat for two now that her son is a toddler.