Alchemy

I am an alchemist.

I am a writer.

I am a stay-at-home dad.

Every morning, I fill the kettle to about a finger above the MAX-Liquid line. While the water heats, I grab scissors and a tea bag, dangle it from its little cardboard tag, clip the string, and watch it drop an old french press.  The chai spice is in an old baby food jar that sits next to a stainless steel cylinder that holds spatulas, scrapers, and whisks.  Does the thing have a name? The cylinder I mean. It’s designed to hold kitchen utensils and I’m not sure what to call it. I used to use an old metal coffee can to hold the tools. I miss the coffee can and, to honor its memory, I never wash the cylinder thing.

When I was a younger man, traveling and on my own, I would sometimes call my mother or grandmother for a recipe.  Comfort food would take the sharp edges from the depression and loneliness. But the food I made on a hotplate or toaster oven in a rural Tennessee motel was never quite right.  I blamed it on the hotplate. 

Two pinches of the chai spice go into the french press.  The low rumble of the electric kettle fills the kitchen and I hope it won’t wake up my son. While the water heats, I line a black plastic pour-over cone with a coffee filter. The measuring scoop I keep with the coffee is exactly 0.75 grams. I dig the scoop deep into the grounds and dump the heaping mound in the filter. I dig in again for just a touch more, shake a few more grounds in the filter, and dump the rest back in the can.

When we had our own house, Mrs. Blackwelder and I that is, I pulled out some of the old recipes written on motel stationary and scraps of paper.  With a GE Monogram gas stove and shiny new measuring spoons, I was determined to add those old comforts to my new, settled life. After many attempts, they still didn’t taste like I remembered.

With Mrs. Blackwelder’s chai and my coffee finished, I open the refrigerator and rub my whiskery chin.  I shout in the approximate direction of the children. “Do you two want french toast this morning?” Bedroom muffled voices mumble back what sounds like an affirmation. I grab bread, an egg, and a mostly full half gallon of coconut milk. The coconut milk tastes like shit by itself, but it could make an amazing addition to french toast.  Plus I need to use it up because I don’t want to waste it. I whisk the egg and the milk together with a dash of cinnamon and grab the six stalest pieces of bread from the bag.

When the kids were little, we experimented with new recipes on the weekends. Their diapered bottoms bouncing on the counter while they helped by adding tiny fistfuls of flour and shaking spices out of jars. The new recipes were usually good, sometimes amazing and occasionally awful.  We used what was on hand. When we didn’t have cream of tartar we would shrug and say, “don’t know what it is so it must not be important.” The kids would clap their hands with little puffs of flour.

I shovel two pieces of french toast from the cast iron griddle and flip them into the air toward my son’s plate.  One lands dead center and the other skids on the island but doesn’t fall off onto the floor that needs to be mopped. Score! I taste my own french toast. The coconut milk didn’t make it amazing.  As the kids start their own morning ritual of getting ready for school, I sip my coffee and think about what I’m going to write this morning.

Our weekly meals these days usually contain foods that have risen out of our experiments. The kids routinely request chicken vegetable soup and whole wheat waffles. They joke about our failures–cucumber granita and coconut concrete.  They make meals on the weekends for Mrs. Blackwelder and me, sometimes measuring and sometimes not.

I looked up the word alchemy this morning.  I had images of bearded men, protoscientists, from the 15th Century trying to turn lead into gold.  Old dudes mixing bird poop and charcoal together and sometimes making gunpowder and sometimes just gray paste. I liked how the thought of making chai for my wife was like alchemy but I wanted to make sure I didn’t screw up the meaning.  The real definition gave me pause.

“The aim of alchemy was to purify, mature and perfect certain objects.”

I kiss Mrs. Blackwelder as she leaves for work. “Thank you for the chai.” She smiles. I tell the kids to remember to floss and my daughter says, “Thanks for the french toast. It was good.” I go back into the kitchen to make myself another cup of coffee and notice both kids had put their plates in the dishwasher without me asking.

I am an alchemist.

I am a writer.

I am a stay-at-home dad.

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