I hate to say it, but I guess I am a Foodie. I mean, we all have to eat, it’s just that some of us eat to live, and some of us live to eat, and I, most definitely, live to eat. I grew up in the 60’s, with a Hippie mom. Long hair, bell bottoms, puka beads, but healthy food? Cooking just wasn’t her thing. TV dinners and Kool Aid were staples in our house, as were soggy canned vegetables and Wonder Bread. Every once in a while, if my mom was feeling creative, she’d buy a styrofoam carton of eggs, pearly white with pale yellow yolks, and cook them to death in her dented aluminum frying pan. They tasted vaguely eggy, if you added enough salt. I didn’t know food could be any more interesting than that. Organic, pasture raised, farm to table, these were all still decades away, at least in my scope of experience.
Thankfully, as an adult, I came to appreciate that there was more to eating than opening cans or popping foil wrapped trays in the oven. I embraced exciting new flavors from other cultures, experimented with mysterious ingredients and cooking techniques. I collected cookbooks from around the globe, and jars of exotic spices. I even imagined I was cutting edge buying cardboard cartons of brown, free range eggs. And then, one day my daughter Zoe came home with a wooden crate full of gifts from the farm where she’d been volunteering. There were several dozen pastured eggs in a rainbow of colors, pale green, teal and burnt umber, as well as jars of home canned tomatoes and pickled vegetables. There was also one small, unlabeled jar of a deep dark golden liquid. I questioningly held the jar up to the light. “Maple syrup,” Zoe said, “from their own trees.”
Homemade maple syrup? Be still my heart! I opened the jar and dipped my finger in. This was not the plastic bottle of Aunt Jemima’s I grew up with, no sir. This was exquisite, complex. My mind went wild with possibilities. Salmon bulgogi with a maple marinade! Red wine maple demi glaze over lamb chops! Roasted brussels sprouts and bacon, drenched in maple and sherry vinegar! Zoe broke me out of my reverie with a simple request:
“Let’s have pancakes for dinner!”
I clutched the jar to my bosom, like it was an only child in danger of being spirited away.
“Absolutely not,” I said, and I hid the jar in the back of the refrigerator, behind the box of baking soda and bottles of horseradish and green chili paste. And there it languished for two whole years, as I endlessly fantasized ways to utilize this most precious gift. We even brought it with us on vacation, where we rented a tiny oceanside cottage and made huge, extravagant breakfasts every morning. Zoe repeatedly suggested pancakes, but I found ways to not make them, getting up extra early just to have biscuits rolled out and already in the oven. “Maybe tomorrow!” I’d say, cleverly avoiding the subject.
Eventually, the syrup was forgotten about, until one morning, as I prepared my usual boring bowl of oatmeal, I happened to spot it behind a bottle of sriracha in the refrigerator door. I checked to make sure I was alone, then opened the jar and carefully drizzled a spoon of the amber liquid on my oatmeal. It was a revelation, beyond any bowl of oatmeal I’d ever eaten before. My simple breakfast was now a completely different experience, one that told a tale of care, diligence, patience and love. I felt connected to the people who had worked so hard to make it, and wondered at the amount of time and effort they had devoted to it. I savored each mouthful, sad to have it come to an end. I put the syrup back in the fridge, and promised myself I’d find a recipe to use it in, so my family could enjoy it too. Why had I waited so long?
The next morning, recipe in hand, I allowed myself one last fling and drizzled a spoonful of the magical elixir on my oatmeal, and went to my happy place, imagining dinner that night. How my family would love roasted root vegetables finished with a maple dijon marinade! But that dinner never happened, not that night, nor in the weeks to come, and by the end of the summer, the syrup was all but gone except for a few crystalized granules in the bottom of the jar. I carefully washed the jar out, and placed it in the cupboard. Zoe and Max never questioned what happened to that little jar of syrup. Do I feel a little guilty? Sure. Would I do it again? Absolutely. I mean, what price enlightenment, right?