Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Oh hi I moved to Virginia

What are the moral implications of running a dishwasher when one lives alone? You can only dirty so many dishes per day, and it is an economical and environmental waste to run the machine three-quarters empty (isn't it?) but at the same time the dishes you most want washed are the ones you use every day like the coffeepot.

Having a dishwasher is fantastic.

Although sometimes, when I am using clean-up time as a break from reading, washing pots and sweeping floors with a TV show or NPR story playing in the background, I regret that the dishwasher makes it go quicker.

I can hear when my downstairs neighbor is running his dishwasher. The sound doesn't bother me; the reminder that he could, at any moment, turn up his speakers loud enough to make my floors vibrate does. The more quiet I have, the more I want. There is always the library, of course -- but here is my couch, here are my things; here are the walls, angles and odors carving comfortable grooves into my brain.

I haven't been here (in Charlottesville/Virginia/the South/graduate school) long enough to be able to say "what it's like." Freshman year of college, my life was essentially confined to three quads. I still remember my amazement, at the beginning of sophomore year, when I turned a corner and found myself in a part of campus I'd never before seen. Here, now, I'm more or less back to those three quads.

My classes meet Tuesday and Thursday. Does that mean I have five days of weekend? No, of course -- there are hundreds of pages of reading to absorb, and soon there will be papers to write. But also yes. Today was a no-class day. I woke when I wanted, which was at 8am. I had breakfast and read until 10:30am. I went to the gym, where I did more reading while working out. Back home, I showered and dressed, then drove to the grocery store. Originally I'd hoped to have all of my reading for tomorrow done by 6pm, but a project intervened -- because I wanted it to. Because I get to choose when to do things.

The project was peach butter. Dave visited this weekend, and despite the heat and intense humidity (which thankfully seems to have passed), we visited a nearby orchard to pick apples and peaches. Apple picking is one of my favorite things to do; peach picking is something I had never done. It was interesting. Much quieter. With apples, you've got to yank the fruits from their trees, sending the tough branches flying back in a great indignant shivering of leaves. Then there's the incredible crunch when you bite into your prize, the surge of tart to your tongue, crisp flesh caged in your teeth, Autumn.

Peaches -- you barely have to touch them to take them. A gentle twist near the stem, and the soft luscious orbs all but swoon into your hand. Biting into a peach is slow, silent, seductive. Your lips do more work than your teeth. You cradle and coddle them, you smooth their silky skin -- because you must. The peaches you want to take home would bruise or break if you treated them roughly.

...And if you're me, they bruise despite all cautions because I don't know how to handle them. A quick inventory of my remaining stock today proved depressing: all peaches were downgraded from eating to cooking quality. But I had wanted to try the Smitten Kitchen peach butter recipe anyway and was not unhappy to have an excuse. So I set about pureeing peaches and cooking them for a while with some sugar and lemon juice. I stood by the stove while the mixture bubbled away, stirring occasionally, burning my tongue on stolen tastes and reading an article about conceptions of marriage in the early 20th century.

Thought stream: before 20th century, many great works of literature culminate with a marriage. One obvious reason why: the story of an engagement makes for an extremely convenient arc. And why now, in the 21st century, do so many people like to write/blog about the dishes they cook (I pondered while checking the SK directions and considering writing about my own peach-butter-making experience)?* It must be for the same reason: the arc. The initial confusion and worry of collecting ingredients, the plot (or sauce!) heating up, transforming and mingling everything in it -- and, finally, the result. Aromatic, edible, a triumph or comedic failure that might serve as a Learning Moment. Usually with photographic evidence. Here is mine:

The goopy brown stuff on the left is the peach butter. It is delicious, with all the tangy purity the recipe promised. The bread is also homemade (and yummy) but that's another story.

I suppose cleaning up is the denouement? I cleaned up with the new episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm playing on my computer. I loaded the dishwasher. Even with all the kitchen activity, it was only a third full.

*It was at this moment that I realized I am an English graduate student.