Let’s get the blood out of the way first. I’m fine with needles, but I can’t very well prick myself, so I got my friend Sarah to do it for me. She’s an RN, but it’s harder to steal medical equipment than the ER dramas might suggest so she just has me buy the bags and needles online. We double sterilize everything just in case, boil it all in peroxide, because she freaks out about infection now, with everything she’s seen.
Once I get out the bags she pulls a hair tie up around my arm to cut off the blood pressure. She presses in the needle, but I do have bad circulation these days and terribly small veins, so nothing happens. She tries again and again, and doesn’t apologize because we’re on my couch and she’s doing me a favor so she doesn’t have to. On the fourth try, she gets it and the blood eases into the bag because gravity is so much stronger than my shoddy heart. We fill up two just to be safe, and once the second bag is full she pulls out, miracle of miracles, a lollipop, and I smile. She leaves and I lock the door behind her and set the bags very gently on the kitchen counter.
I lick the lollipop—strawberry and cream, so it just tastes like a very sweet pink—but the rim around the middle where the flavors supposedly meet roughens my tongue so the taste buds in the back are pulled up like little tents. I don’t worry anymore about tongue infections, as yeast ones are so much more pressing, but I do know that if I lose my tongue I’ll have a lot of problems. No zip of ginger, no slick oysters. When I got Lyme disease as a child, I couldn’t move half of my face and also lost all sense of taste or food temperature so everything became mild plastic. It took my pediatrician a week to figure out what it was, and in the meantime I lost five pounds, long before I needed or cared to. So really, anything can happen without a tongue.
The duck is already in the oven and I got extra-long matches for the candles and a new lipstick that I will will will remember to put on before the gang arrives. Our supper club, Lazarus, has a reputation as the most exclusive in Concord. I don’t know why people think it’s prestigious, we just happen to be friends who like each others’ cooking. We’re all excellent cooks, but not anywhere near Michelin level or anything. Charlotte and Miriam show off and are always offering elusive treats from their business travels: smoked tuna from Rome or nigella seed wafers from Cairo. Brigette gets unpasteurized milk from a secret supplier, and really I don’t understand the fuss. I know it was important historically to pasteurize milk, but everyone can tell if milk goes bad so long as you taste it and food is food, I mean it all ends up in the same place (my hips) so I think we need to calm down a bit. Fresh milk is so cloyingly rich, but with a little nutmeg there’s nothing better. I can remember weeding the garden with my grandfather and him saying that if I’d been his child he wouldn’t have left Ireland, so farms and cows are in my blood and taste sparks hereditary memories.
The eggs and butter are already warming on the counter next to the blood bags, so I take the chef’s knife from the block and lay out the cutting board, the shallots, and the apples. I wonder if music really can change the intention and the taste of a recipe, I mean, microwaves change food every day, why can’t sound waves? How would I ever learn their preferences: does garlic prefer Debussy or Billie Holiday? No, that’s foolish, but they might prefer certain frequencies to others. Maybe we should keep eggs in a tanning bed instead of a fridge. Or even just the UV light like at the nail salon with the little fan, that doesn’t get hot at all; I’ll have to try it some other day.
I haven’t used a tanning bed in years; they’re not healthy. Acupuncture has helped inure me to needles, but my acupuncturist just up and moved to New York with her daughter. There’s always a new way to live better, but the only real path might just be to drop everything and fake your death and get to Berlin or maybe even Havana. I’m a sucker for the miniature balconies that hold half a chair and an ashtray, the scented baths. Freshly bathed skin is always so extraterrestrially warm and overhydrated so there are no wrinkles except on fingers and those don’t matter. Havana would probably be conducive to better living, for a little while at least.
I slit the shallot’s newspapery skin and this is the one part of mise en place I always forget: the trash. Setting aside a bowl for it feels wasteful, but hovering over the garbage is foolish. I push the skins off the cutting board and onto the counter. My knife skills have improved a lot after my nephew showed me the YouTube videos, but for precision and care I still work v e r y slowly to avoid nicking a finger. The knife makes a soothing sound through the shallot, but the apples are next and cutting apples is such a chore. I always get a little bit of the core, not the core proper, just the hard curves where the seeds used to hide. I ought to get an apple corer, but my main concern now is that the apple chunks aren’t small enough and I don’t want to take out the food processor. I know that none of the ladies would comment if the crepes were too chunky, they’re too polite for that, but I would think that they were thinking it. I’m certain the recipe doesn’t really need them, it’s just for a bit more sweetness, (there is so much we can do without if we must) so I abandon the apples and barrel full speed ahead with the shallots.
I fry the shallots in a knob of Irish butter, unsalted, so I can add my own, better salt without destroying things. I have to dig around the back of my pantry to find the whole nutmeg, but it’s there, hiding behind the powdered mustard. As I grate it away, the leopard pattern on the inside of the nut appears and is simply beautiful. I grate a little pepper into the shallots too, but not so much that it looks burnt. My peppermill is ancient wood, steeped in years of turkey giblets and fish sauce and was my mother’s wedding present; she insists that all she asked for was the pepper mill and my father had to steal it from his mother’s kitchen because even though she loved my mother she’d never willingly give up that mill, she had six daughters to sift through and all of them wanted it too. The duck smell is intoxicating because really, cooking is the best way to make a body habitable again: full and happy.
The shallots have softened so I take the pan off the heat before they turn to mush and use a wooden spatula to steer them into a bowl to cool. I really do think things taste better when you make them with a wooden spoon. The diced apples are slowly browning, becoming unappetizing. I add a cup of cream into a mixing bowl and crack two eggs gently into the measuring cup. There’s nothing that makes me feel less effective than cracking eggs. I must have cracked at least four thousand eggs by now, and I still every single time manage to get a speck of shell in them. It’s good calcium, but it isn’t supposed to go in normal food. On the third try, I get the shard out and flick it into the sink.
I whip up the eggs with a fork and watch the yolks pop and smear into the white before tipping them into the cream. I should have taken it out of the fridge earlier so it would be room temperature. I can’t let anything clot so I pop the bowl into the microwave for fifteen, no, thirty seconds. I know you’re not supposed to stand outside the microwave while it’s running, but I’m impatient so I just turn away a little and roll my left ankle and flex my toes. My left big toe grew much faster than my right until it got so that the feet were almost a full size apart so the doctors went in and stopped the blood supply to the growth plate in the toe when I was maybe twelve, but you can’t see a scar and now my feet are only half a size apart so as long as I don’t attempt any fashionable heels I’m fine. I didn’t even know toes needed growth plates until they messed up, but I suppose that’s how most of the body works, right, I never notice that I can walk until I can’t.
I’m not quite behind schedule yet, but I still need to make the salad dressing. When the microwave timer gets to one second I open the door so I don’t have to hear the beep and take the mix out. I open the first blood bag with intense precision and tilt the spout into the measuring cup, squeezing gently. It squirts out like a fruit punch juice box with the same little hissing sound. Three quarters cup exactly and into the mix it goes. The cream turns bright bright red and I don’t even a little bit want to try it. I researched this in advance, cooking bloods like pork and lamb are often frozen for shipping, so the blood cells pop and the oxygenation results in a very dark color, but fresh blood retains its vibrancy and potency; one must really befriend a butcher or live on a farm. You can’t use blood bank blood either because even though they don’t freeze it, they add glycerol or glycerin and maybe some other preservatives to keep the cells from shrinking so it’s not as natural as you’d think it is, even though it still works for ferrying oxygen and waste through your veins.
I add flour to a separate bowl and it rises and dusts my counter and a little bit gets onto the cream, coating it like dandruff. In go baking powder and salt in minuscule proportions and then I can add the powder to the liquid mix and whisk it in. The shallots are next, and once they’re coated in the slimy batter they look like lobes of grey matter. Miriam would probably add some posh Turkish hazelnut oil for charisma, but I don’t want to modify the recipe any more than I already have.
I can’t fry all the pancakes yet, as they need to be served hot and fresh with a bit of butter and lingonberry syrup. But the shallot pan is still hot enough to make a tester. The moment the batter hits the pan it darkens and begins bubbling. It sizzles away all the cholesterol and tears a little when I try to flip it, smelling strongly of liver. It’s good that I’m practicing because they cook much faster than I expected, so I’ll need everything to be out and ready for the real batch. I fold the crepe onto a plate and forego the toppings because I really do need to make salad dressing and Lazarus will be here any minute. I cut off the point of the fold and taste the blodplättar.
Damn it all I should have known better the pancake is terrible. I can’t tell if the tingling on my tongue is from my new Szechuan peppercorns or limbic recognition, but it’s metallic and raw. I force myself to swallow the bite and shake a little as I add a pat of butter and a teaspoon of the lingonberry. I cut off another bite and it’s better, the fat and sugar mask the intensity, but it’s not really good. I wouldn’t order it off a menu, and that is just about the only real prerequisite for a dinner party. I scrape the crepe into the trash and try not to panic; I have some triple cream brie for dessert, I’ll just make that the appetizer instead, but then we don’t have any dessert unless I make something fake like affogato with the stale ice cream in the freezer, no thank you. The doorbell rings and I freeze. The duck reeks of rich fat and I take a breath; it will be okay, we will be okay, we have to be.
“Just a second!” I shout and pick up the lipstick.