Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Spot Of (Batter) Bother

If you start trying to come up with definitions for the word “spot,” you’ll be here all day. That’s what happens when ambitious words want to be good at everything — like that obnoxious kid at school who’s on all the teams, plus the chess club, plus band, plus yearbook, and then decides in his (or her) spare time to run for student government. Spot excels at being a noun; a verb; an adjective; can be found cozied up to anything as a modifier; straddles all classes on the social ladder; and can also boast being an excellent example of onomatopoeia.

Spots even cross existential lines. They can appear as words, in speech, in actions, and as actual stains. While a book which has been spotted is usually considered ruined, like a maid whose reputation has been sullied by a feckless youth, a cookbook is usually considered improved, if not validated, by such attention. It means it has been used — like the maid — but in a good, socially responsible way. The book has served its purpose.

Such is the case with old cookbooks in particular, especially ones which have been used so often over many years that they have become — like a woman — soft, wrinkled, supple, and forgiving. If you can find a pristine first edition of Julia Child’s The Art of French Cooking, that’s great, but not nearly as valuable as a well-loved, well-thumbed, stained and spattered one, its pages a palimpsest of print and dried organic matter identifiable only by the recipe upon which it rests. Those brown spots next to roasted meats are gravy. The ones adjacent to pancakes are batter.

All of them are spots of bother — trouble and love (something akin to what the maid has gotten herself into).

Mastering The Art Of French Cooking, Julia Child, 1961

Also from this book: Breaking Eggs
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