mardi 1 décembre 2009

Un festin pour l'odorat

Chocolate spice bread mess


"Mom, wait, save some of that for me." I was licking the beaters when he came in from school. And the bowl, and the spoon, and the rubber scraper. "Oh, but there's almost nothing left."

"I have two more to make. I'll leave more in the bowl next time and save it for you." I was making chocolate spice breads for the hospital staff, holiday offerings for their kindness and attentiveness, for my first melanoma follow-up exam. They get chocolate spice bread, and I get to take off all my clothes and have every centimeter of my body inspected for suspicious beauty marks. I have been looking forward to this day with great anticipation since I had more flesh removed for my between-the-toes-melanoma June 30.

For months, my husband has been able to delight in referring to this upcoming trial, placing one finger above his upper lip in reference to the dermatologist's luxuriant mustache and grinning like an idiot in another kind of anticipation. The other day, he came home from the hospital and handed me another box of chocolates. Lindt.

"Divine de la part de qui c'est?" I didn't have to guess. If he asked at all, it was from his not at all secret admirer, the warmest, kindest, most considerate and appreciative of the administrative staff, his champion at arms, whose name I will withhold to protect her privacy. I raised my eyes to meet his and said her name.

"Elle a ta fiche prète depuis une semaine." She always has my paperwork ready for any appointment I have at the hospital at least a week before. Does she, we wonder, scan the system periodically for my name? No matter. Whenever I have an appointment and arrive at the admissions counter to take care of my paperwork, I take the customary number, knowing it is only for appearances. She is watching for me. She will catch my eye, smile and beckon me to the counter.

"J'ai votre fiche prète pour vous." All the eyes of the young women turn to greet me and smile. I am his wife. They all go to him now. She would have it no other way. There are doctors, and then there are those she admires. It is always for their humanity, beyond their skill, and my husband is her standard, the stick by which all others are measured. If he has married me, then I benefit automatically from her tremendous regard. Now that I need to see the doctors, I can bring her presents to match those she has offered for years to my husband, presents he can't offer himself. Last time I brought chocolates.

"Qu'est-ce tu lui donnes cette fois-ci?" he asked me. I had thought about it and had my answer ready.

"Je vais préparer des pains d'épices au chocolat pour elle à partager avec ses collègues, pour le docteur et pour son infirmière." This year, I am in the holiday mood, ready to bake up a storm.

Baking is another way to take pleasure from dessert without consuming it, by, as my husband said, experiencing an olfactory feast.

Today, in anticipation of my long-awaited exam, I made my shopping list, headed to the grocery store and hunted down the ingredients, dragging my rolling basket along behind me: honey, flour, anise, bittersweet chocolate, cocoa powder, unsalted butter, and loaf pans. They didn't have pretty ones, but I couldn't be so nice as that. Then, I went off in search of wrapping paper and bows. I had some at home, but I felt like buying new ones, just for my chocolate spice breads.

"C'est quoi," asked my husband when he returned from the hospital, passing behind the two sitting cooling on the rack, while the other two finished baking, "ce festin pour l'odorat?" The house smelled of ginger, cinnamon, cloves, honey, anise and chocolate.

"Ces les cadeaux pour le staff demain." He inhaled deeply and nodded. He doesn't really like desserts and sweets. I retrieved the two from the oven and set them to cool, slightly burned at the edges, while the first two had been slightly undercooked, and I began to wash the mountain of bowls, measuring cups, spoons, beaters, and more bowls, put away flour, the bag of sugar, the cocoa and honey, the spices and waited for the bread to set. 15 minutes.

I wrapped each in plastic film, in two directions, and then in aluminum foil. I was just folding in the ends of the foil on the last chocolate spice bread when it hit me.

"Audouin?"

"Hm?"

"Mon rendez-vous," I said, "ce n'est pas demain mais mardi prochain." I had made three spice breads to give away, spent my afternoon and evening preparing it with great attention and pleasure, and my appointment was not tomorrow at all; it is next week.

"Ils seront toujours bons la semaine prochaine?" asked Audouin.

"On peut les manger tous?" asked Sam.

"Je les ai fait une semaine trop tôt," I repeated, to myself, dropping onto the sofa next to Audouin, where he was buried in his Asus. "J'aurais pu faire autre chose avec mon après-midi."

"Uhn," he said, making that sound of agreement that happens in the throat somewhere, like a positive grunt.

Never, ever do I do anything too early. Ever. Except this year, I am in the giving mood.

I'm ready to make presents and enjoy the season.
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