Natalie Zed: Defying Gravity

Friday, September 09, 2005

scrumptious or delectable?

Food words are the best words of all. I am smitten. I am enamoured. Forget the language of the heart. I want the language of the kitchen and the belly, granite and marble and steel; to braise, to scorch, to simmer, to emulsify; palm sugar and mirin sauce and cold-pressed grapeseed.

I felt giddy like this when I was ten and my parents bought me a 20-volume medical dictionary for Christmas. No, seriously. I was going to be a doctor then -- My dad would tell anyone who'd listen his daughter was going to be a brain surgeon, while my mother thought I was going into obstetrics. I remember reading it -- first piecemeal, as a referecne, finding connections; later I'd just sit and read a volume like a novel -- and being absolutely entranced by the words. sciatica, lesion, corpuscle, subdural hematoma; rotator cuff, radial nerve, coccyx, ventral and dorsal scapula. I would write down the words I was particularly attracted to in strange, spidery lists. I took notes whenever our family watched Rescue 911 and would look up the terms later -- Ah, the ziphoid process is the cartiligious tip of the sternum. What a beautiful term.

Now that I write poetry and will never cut people open for a living, I recognize what I was doing. Through the language of the body, those strange and defamiliarizing terms that make our own bodies feel like an alien landscape, I discovered that words are beautiful, musical, structures all on their own and are valuable just for the way they crackle or melt in the mouth. Suppurate is a lovely word. It means "to secrete pus." But it is balanced, with rich vowel texture, just a touch of sibilanmce balanced out by the earthy Ps, anchored by a hard vowel and a t. It's beautiful.

I left the Food Network on almost all day yesterday while I wrote and worked and cleaned and made dinner. I'd pause often to jot things down -- not recipes, but words and terms and techniques. Gorgeous things like score and butterfly and caramelize. Caramelize is my favourite right now. Watch the edges of things go all carbon and sugar is they begin to burn.

I wondered, a little, if my new kitchen obsession was a sign that I was going to quit writing and run away to culinary school. I think I am safe. Safe, or doomed, whichever you prefer. Of course I love to cook. The words I get to use are just too succulent to be resisited.
Natalie Zed updated @ 10:34 a.m.!!