Led By the Nose


Others may thumb through recipes, others may count the minutes and the level spoonfuls, but Vernon has no time for fussy kitchens.  He watches till the blood of chickens turns to clear, herb-flecked juices, he listens for the steady bumpling of the soup; as he nurses the warming oil  from hazelnut to Anjou pear to bay-leaf, his nostrils twitch.
      He loves the freedom of it:  freedom, simplicity, generosity—kasha, blackberry vinegar, pigs' ears, camembert, caraway, acacia honey, ghee, green tomatoes, trout, celeriac.  No supercilious boss grabs Vernon by the collar, legislating what must go with what.
      Bright even in the basement kitchen, this is a day for turkey broth.  How do you know the grit's all sluiced from the leeks?  Lightly run your thumb along the white and green.  How can you tell the prunes are plumped?  You squeeze 'em.  How do you choose among the backs and necks and hearts and gizzards?  Don't—you use the lot.  But, as after-lunchtime melts to dinner's-on-the-way and shadows curdle on the wooden floor, the skimmer wobbles in his hand.  Bone-sockets squeal, the stockpot thunders.  This mist yellow as split peas, this stink of frizzling hair, this impatient clink of knife on drinking-glass, where do they come from?  Who is the chef, who are the diners, what is on the menu? He has no books to say, no promises to see him through.  Vernon has been thrust inside this recipe like an apple into a goose.  
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