I am fifty-years-old and I feel I have been reduced, but not in the way you might think.
I have simmered for five decades and I think, at last, I have achieved my desired concentration. I am thick (waist-wise, anyway), rich (in every way that matters) and, even if I do say it myself, really quite tasty (cringe).
In order to get to this appetising stage, I had to go through the following cooking process, and it wasn’t always easy:
Buying fresh produce: Not many people can say they came from the shops, but that was how I saw my adoption as a child. I imagined cribs lined up in a long row and my parents pointing at me, saying, ‘That one, please.’ I hope they are happy with their purchase. They didn’t take me back, but then I’m not sure I came with a receipt.
Peeling: Everyone sheds a skin or two throughout their lives. I’ve changed counties and careers, but I think that the basic raw material is still there. The rough outer-layers have been removed by several harsh scrapes, but I hope that means the good bit’s now closer to the surface.
Chopping: Parts of me have been cut away, literally. But I’ve also been sliced open in two caesareans, a bit like when you cut into a pepper and find a baby pepper inside (I always feel a bit murdery when that happens, do you?) The operations have either solved a problem or created something beautiful, so I’m glad I have seen the sharp edge of the knife.
Boiling: It would be unusual to get to this age without feeling like you’d sometimes been drowning in boiling water. My early forties were like this. That burning and suffocating only made me more determined to find a way out of the pan. Being boiled left me softer, more empathetic, less judgemental, so I’m grateful for my time on the hob.
Seasoning: Who doesn’t want a bit of spice in their life? I do, but whilst every dish needs some added flavour, I’ve learned to cut down on some of the things that might lead to an early heart attack. The adage, ‘you can add more in, but you can’t take it out,’ is true for cooking and life. Unfortunately.
Stirring: I see this phase as being pushed and pulled in different directions. As women in this age, at this age, we have many responsibilities. Relationships, parenting, work and friendships take time and effort to sustain and sometimes they’re difficult to fit into one simple dish. If you leave the pan too long, things start to stick, so it takes a lot of mixing to stop the sauce from spoiling.
Reduction: This is the part when things start to come together; when all the tasteless, watery stuff of life evaporates away and what you’re left with is the essence. Yes, it’s still warm (I am a middle-aged woman, what do you expect?) but the pan is no longer rolling with unmanageable bubbles and all the hard preparation is done.
At fifty I am reduced to a concentrate, made up of the same raw ingredients, but a little bit chopped, changed and hopefully improved by the process of living. Here I am, saucy old me.
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