Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Sixth Day of Kwanzaa: Kuumba

today's principle: to do always as much as we can, in the way that we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

making our world a better place doesn't necessarily require gobs of cash or anything that money can buy.  sometimes its the little things that matter the most.

i'm a creative thinker and i believe that creativity is an important force in the universe, so this is usually the day that i give Kwanzaa presents. i got caught out there early on, making greens for our extra-special watch night eve dinner but thankfully i managed to pull it off anyway.

i make the best pound cake in the world.  don't believe me? just ask anyone that's ever had a slice. some folks call it scratch cake because you make it from scratch and it's so basic and simple -- eggs, cream, salt, etc -- but it's really remarkably light and delicious.  the recipe is a family secret that has been a part of us for years and is passed down to each female child that is a direct descendant, which kind of makes sense. your daughter in law may not know how to cook but the girl child you raise definitely will.

if you are black, if you know what pound cake is and why it matters and what its supposed to taste like -- and yes, if you are from the south (because we maintain black folk traditions that other regions don't know of or discard for the sake of "progress") -- a slice of this cake instantly transports you to your grandmother's kitchen, your mother's dinner table, your neighbor's house for thanksgiving.  and everyone's pound cake is different. it's like a signature. they are all the same, with those same basic ingredients and somehow, they are radically different, and who knows what that's about.

this is a snapshot of jimmy carbone of jimmy's no. 43 on e. 7th street in new york city and myself, with his kwanzaa present. he's the dopest chef ever. he brought all that ridiculously delicious food to the jazz age lawn party last summer but he's been holding it down in the lower east side since, like, forever.  i became an instant fan when he had a little place called mugsy's chow chow. but that was a long time ago. that was the 90s. (!!!)

i think jimmy likes his kwanzaa present...!

i always feel bad about making scratch cake for kwanzaa because once you eat it its gone.  i wanted to make things that would last. i wanted to knit sweaters. a scarf! something that you could hold onto later. cake doesn't work that way. when i told that to jimmy, he laughed and said, it's not gone yet!

and then he said something interesting.

jimmy said that it's the memory of the cake that's lasting. the memory and how that memory is created. that's what really matters: the conversation, the coming together of so many different folks that you wouldn't think had anything in common, the socializing, the connectedness. it's the moments that happen around the cake, not necessarily the cake itself. and yet, yes -- it's the cake. 

then he waxed poetic for a moment, about how as a kid in massachusetts, his italian parents would bundle him and his siblings up during the holiday season and they'd go visit family and friends and bring lots of food, and what a bonding experience that was, how important that was for all of them.

and then he very sweetly offered a slice of cake to everyone at the bar -- the happy couple next to me, on their way to a phish concert; the guy reading a book and eating alone; the beautiful skinny bespectacled bartender who inhaled hers in one bite and, laughing, dove in for another. and then he gave some to other customers. and we all had that beautiful moment. 

of course, i had to tell jimmy about watch night and freedom eve. he'd never heard of it. not surprisingly, he hadn't heard of the traditional meal that happens afterwards, either.

the next time i see jimmy, i'll bring him some gullah rice. (he's never heard of that, too.)

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