Metaphors are handy little linguistic gadgets, like Swiss Army Knives for Life.
Speaking of which, when my beloved Swiss Army Knife, which I’d had with me during my two-year Peace Corps service in the rainforest of Gabon, Central Africa, was subsequently confiscated by the TSA on a domestic flight (discovered at the bottom of my backpack, where I’d long forgotten I’d left it), I was devastated.
That Swiss Army Knife was not just a handy, all-purpose gadget, it had become a symbol of survival for me. When asked once on a questionnaire put out by the Peace Corps to name the one thing I, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, felt each new recruit should pack, I didn’t hesitate: Swiss Army Knife! Don’t leave home without one.
And when I titled my memoir about my Peace Corps experience, How to Cook a Crocodile, the title was meant metaphorically (even though there is, in fact, a recipe for crocodile stew in it). My title was a direct take-off on M.F.K. Fisher’s classic memoir-with-recipes, How to Cook a Wolf, written during the deprivations and shortages of World War II. What does one do when the wolf’s at the door? Fisher asks, then answers: Invite him in and cook him. Her title and mine are not meant to be taken literally. They too are metaphors for survival.
For millions of Americans, the result of our recent presidential election has felt like a knock-out punch – and for good reason, in my view. But there’s no point in reviewing all the reasons here. Every caring, thoughtful, literate person I know already knows them too well. The question to ask now, I believe, is: How will we – and the world – survive this K.O, this setback, this looming horror?
I wish I had The Answer.
All I can do, I feel, is grope for a suitable metaphor for my own survival from my favorite metaphor-source: Food. And then share it, for what it’s worth.
The metaphor that has come to my mind in the past week, oddly enough, is pound cake. Not just because it’s homey and comforting and the thought of it reminds me of my mother, who was a wonderful baker and whom I still miss terribly (even though she was a staunch Republican who would likely have voted for “successful businessman” Donald Trump); but because it’s how pound cake is made, what it’s made of, and what these symbolize for me.
Traditionally, pound cake consists of just four ingredients – flour, sugar, eggs, and butter – in equal measure (one pound each) by weight. It’s as simple, yet as magical, as that. Pound cake is all about Balance. And isn’t balance one of the biggest keys to survival?
There seems to be a universality to this particular cake recipe as well, as if its simplicity – only four ingredients to make a heavenly cake! — appeals to all people everywhere. Supposedly originating in northern Europe in the early 1700s, the same cake is made in France and known as quatre-quarts (four quarters), in Germany as Rührkuchen, and here in Mexico as panqué.
I think of those four ingredients as the four aspects of who I am – who we all are, really: body, mind, heart, and soul. Keeping these four parts in balance is what I’m striving for more than ever right now:
- BODY – getting lots of sleep, drinking plenty of water, eating healthy meals, drinking herbal teas, walking miles each day…
- MIND – reading reliable news sources and worthwhile books by outstanding authors, discussing current events with reasonable people, writing (venting) in my journal…
- HEART – making love-note-like lists of my blessings and adding to those lists every day, embracing the people I love and striving to love the ones I don’t…
- SOUL – reading something inspirational (especially from King David’s Psalms) and praying to my conception of God (the Great Spirit – NOT a big white guy in the sky) every morning, asking for just enough strength and guidance for that day….
It’s not easy. Sometimes it feels like a tightrope walk (yes, that’s a tired metaphor). But what else can we do? Oh, well, we could always crank up the oven on one of these cold nights and bake an old-fashioned pound cake. The look of it, fragrance of it, taste of it, nostalgia of it – the balance of it — are sure to make us feel better. Here is Martha Stewart’s foolproof recipe, which adds two extra ingredients – salt and vanilla. Let me know how it turns out for you.
Martha Stewart’s Classic Pound Cake
1 pound (3 1/4 cups) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon coarse salt
4 sticks softened unsalted butter, plus more for pans
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
9 large, room-temperature eggs
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter two 5-by-9-inch loaf pans. Combine all-purpose flour and salt in a bowl.
- Cream butter and sugar with a mixer on high speed until pale and fluffy, for 8 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl. Reduce speed to medium, and add vanilla extract.
- Lightly beat eggs, and add to mixer bowl in 4 additions, mixing thoroughly after each and scraping down sides. Reduce speed to low, and add flour mixture in 4 additions, mixing until just incorporated. Divide batter between pans. Tap on counter to distribute; smooth tops.
- Bake until a tester inserted into center of each cake comes out clean, about 65 minutes. Let cool in pans on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Remove from pans, and let cool completely on wire rack.