the cast iron lady

emma by name, my cast-iron lady of choice.

i found this cast iron pan in a thrift store, five bucks, nicely seasoned, black as a portland night. she is even tempered, mostly, and heavy as only a fry pan named emma can be. extra strength of the wrist will be needed to lift her jammed to the brim from oven to stove. she can get as hot as seven hundred degrees, to sear a steak to perfection. or a mild three hundred, to set eggs in that frittata. a weapon of choice for a midnight intruder, or to grind pepper corns to perfection. say, you need crushed ice for a smoothie? say no more, 'wham' goes my emma, pounding my ice cubes to a snowy powder. 
a nail in the wall will securely suspend the thing, well oiled and sensibly cared for, it might last generations, if only there were still such things.

now, in a melancholy way, wistfully, i've often in past lives engaged to become a father, by now even a likely great-grandfather (what a dreadful thought), but things just didn't work out that way, unless of course, and obviously utterly unbeknownst to me, well, let's just say, it hadn't been for lack of exerted attempt.

this morning there was talk about recipes and how you never can tell till you've done a dish at least twice. oh, i don't mean boiling water, though i have seen it myself that water once on the stove would not ever come to a boil, and i don't mean for the watched pot syndrome, but that i simply forgot to light the gas. smells funny in here, like gas, wonder why, etc. i believe every cook, chef, apprentice even that  lowly, non existing housewife has had that experience. from recipes we went on to chitter-chatter about these lifes, those in the not so distant past and the way things were done then. i did the sunday times magazine, shopping, cooking, plating, photographing and when all was done, eating, claiborne's food at least for fifteen years - virtually every sunday. craig would fax up (on this hideous fax-paper, smearing on the kitchen table, readability be damned) his version of a recipe. i, then the novice, would do everything to make his beef stew approach reality. often with peculiar results. take paprika. in my early days i could just walk down five flights and to the corner of 82nd street and first avenue. there was paprika weiss, which had everything hungarian. spices, pork stuff, lekvar, cookware and dishes, and linen embroidered with the red and the green of the Magyar flag. they had open sacks sitting on the saw dust floor, each containing a variant of paprika. at least five different paprikas. no one was looking, so you dipped your finger into the red and tasted. you got a paper sack and a toy shovel and filled your bag with as much as you thought you might need. paprika is of course still available, the spice rack in any even semi-decent market will feature the stuff, likely sealed against misuse in some mickey mouse tin, or worse, in those ridiculously tiny puppet house jars, at least three of which you would need to do even a semi decent goulash. if in fact you knew in advance, was it fine, colored saw dust or potent habanero, or any variation between.
it is the wise cook has the extra box of salt in his larder. when a recipe asks for salt-to-taste, you better taste whatever you do several times during the process. fine tuning be damned, a head of cauliflower consumes much salt, first in the cooking and certainly then in the provision you eventually end up with. is it too salty? well, you can always say you're in love. (such claim might ransom an otherwise fair soup) i'll say, i'd rather be in love, than serve a unimaginably dull, if tunesian 'style' cauliflower frittata.