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My Cooking Muse

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Sitting in the kitchen, listening to the dishwasher thump and purr; forearms, elbows, and chin resting on the kitchen counter—reading Anne Lamott, and laughing like a lunatic let loose by accident, I glance at the kettle with longing; wishing I’d already boiled water for tea.

What a comely sight: The label on the gallon of Heinz vinegar setting on the counter top to the left of the white stove sports eye-popping colors. Most noticeably, a red orange carrot, a red onion, and a juicy red tomato stand out in bas-relief against a white background. Those three splashes of color bump my eye to the red enamel Dutch oven resting on the front left burner and to the right.

That mini “oven” was last year’s pride and joy. After months of waffling between longing and worry over what my family would think, I finally broke down and bought it. I’d been craving an infusion of color since the day we moved into our new home seven years ago. I’m glad I gave in because that one pot brought life to my Calphalon-gray kitchen. It made itself right at home and became my Cooking Muse.

Every time I cook in my new pot, I’m more aware of the painting my daughter, Erin, gave me back when we still lived in the old house. It was her pre-housewarming gift. It’s a painting of a black rooster with a blood red cockscomb. My gift lay propped against the new sideboard for years, waiting for John to keep his promise and hang it. It leaned in reproach until I threatened to stop cooking unless he kept his word. It’s been hanging for over a month now.

Two small prints of roosters, chicks, and chickens hang above the counter top next to the white refrigerator. The space immediately below is home to three ceramic fowl with oxblood red combs, cozily clustered on their mock-barnyard counter top. Such tiny splashes of color energize me most days, and the balance is perfect.

Everything is balanced as if by design, embraced by warm cherry cabinets, the well-oiled glowing wood of the table top in the breakfast nook, and the beige, red and brown clay colors in the ceramic floor tiles. 

The red kettle with silver trim came home as a companion and foil against boredom of neutral earth tones, soft olive greens, creams, and whites of a kitchen where cooking meals for two verged on boring. Its cheery whistling never grates on my nerves. Constant Comment (I love it with Pet milk), Rooibos Red, Tazo Green, matcha … All tea tastes better now. 

I think the food I cook complements my colorful pot and kettle. Fettuccine Alfredo looks more appetizing in a red, cast-iron enamel Dutch oven with its faintly stained, off-white interior. The red and cream brings out the rose and pink in the crabmeat and shrimp that I cook. I’ve begun serving salmon Alfredo more often with color-coordinated sides like golden brown bread, cool, crisp, green, and white Romaine lettuce tossed in a Caesar salad, and lime iced tea.

Spinach, collards, turnips, mustards … Greens pop, enhanced by fine beads of olive oil, making saliva glands run like faucets. Yum!

My okra, tomatoes, onion, and shrimp dish, cooked with fire-roasted tomatoes and sauce, never looked so tempting. Brown and wild rice blush. New potatoes, onions, orange carrots, whole white onions, garlic cloves, and ruby beets glistening with olive oil, speckled with sea salt, and fresh ground black pepper really are pretty enough to eat when they’re roasted in a red Dutch oven.

Absolutely everything tastes better cooked in Annie. That’s her name: Annie. (Both of my grandmothers were named Annie.) Everything is photo-shoot perfect, too! 

I think we eat less now, because we savor every love-filled bite, chewing slowly; tongues wallowing in pleasure, sometimes moaning before we swallow. I know that our meals are longer now, more drawn out …

Yes, my cooking muse is red, and her name is Annie.

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