I'm no fool about my own attempts at happiness. Some days I pause by the sink, white coffee mug well-soaped between steady hands, and think, Huh. Is this the whole event? Is this the very moment wherein another person, young or old, might hum a strange melody of her own mind's making and pull open the curtain with a damp finger to gaze upon her blooming hydrangeas?
Before she died, my mother asked me, "Exactly what war are you busy getting over?"
To this I said, "I think that for a time I wanted to be a surgeon, but instead I found myself fiddling with the stationary."
My mother said, "Hm."
"I wouldn't call this a war," I added. "It's just that you often catch me with a furrowed brow."
These mornings I correct an undone posture, turn on the tap, rinse the mug, and place it in the drainer next to the other dishes, all now ringingly clean. Perhaps I prefer a kitchen's silence or, at times, a softly talking radio.
I march through other mornings like a grand marshal, ordering the kitchen instruments around. Michael, a stellar man, looks on in admiration. The eggs do not protest their flip in the skillet. The cheese, a crumbling parm, is ambrosial. Breakfast ready, I press a napkin upon my knee, glance across the table at dear Michael with my kindest eyes, and think, Wow. These beautiful forks pierce cleanly! Michael, that handsome canine brow! My coffee is delicious! I love the skirt I'm wearing! These juice glasses are gifts, and I never tire of them!
It's these mornings of rapture that inspire my elaborations in the kitchen. Thus in a few hours, I will return home from the market, disembowel and clean fat squabs, dust their little body cavities with salt and pepper, baste them in clarified butter, and then roast them with salt pork and morels and Madeira and the blood of the pigeons themselves.
Michael, having resumed his post at the kitchen table, will say, "Wow," much as I have. He will say, "I'm chomping at the bit."
But again, my mother. She once told me about anointing a prized lamb with walnut oil, coriander, mustard powder, garlic—lamb's flesh still aquiver. She insisted the beast was so heavy that she hired young boys to carry the body to the stove while she scraped tripe skin of its fat with a pumice stone.
"After the roast is done," my mother said, "splash champagne into the bottom of the casserole with the rendered fat, attend—with vigilance—to the poaching liquid, and don't neglect the mutton marrow, which is a gift. The animal—she is the main event."
Now here: the flayed pigeons soldier, shoulder to shoulder, in their braising pan.
When he comes home, Michael, never a rotten temperament, says, "Shh! Listen to the birds outside!" What unmeaning cruelty we endure.
These afternoons I can't remember what to do first or what I have done already. Have I salted and peppered the bodies? Have I finished the roux? Have I repurposed the bones? Has the fat over-rendered during my pause by the stove? I think it has, and so it has.
This piece draws culinary inspiration from (and is indebted to) Harry Mathews's "Country Cooking from Central France: Roast Boned Rolled Stuffed Shoulder of Lamb (Farce Double)" and The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook.