Sweet memories of people and places are the soul food of the emotional-spiritual self

Sometimes friendships must end for circumstances beyond our control.  In such moments, while the feeling may be bittersweet, it is time to gather the memories and to place them in aspic.  What. do I mean?

Well, aspic is clear, but usually sepia-toned, perfect for a trip down memory lane.  Aspic is also a preservative, shielding the contents from the radicalisation of oxygen exposure.  It is like a safekeep box.  Safekeep for keepsakes.  

Plus, aspic has a character of its own.  It is very nourishing, made of collagen.  The ties that bind.

As we beat this metaphor to death, it strikes me that memories, the storage of them, their pleasant, gentle recall, can be a kind of caress.  A warm breeze from the past, a gentle reminder of who we are, where we have been, what we come from.  These things become foundations for the sense of self.

I love to give flowers.  Flowers are a fleeting flash of beauty.  I love giving flowers so much that one woman I dated received a bouquet from me nearly every day during our courtship.  I was living in Paris, she was living in LA…to think how impractical that was.  Not nearly as impractical as it was to fly and see her for the weekend, which I often did.  I loved the discombobulated dream state that put me in.  Her bed was like a white cloud, the smoothest of white cotton sheets, a fluffy duvet, and it was bathed in sunlight…floor to ceiling sliding glass doors out into her garden and pool.  Funnily enough, in a year of making the commute, I never once swam.

We kissed as if in a dream.  And in the morning, I would feel the sun tease me awake.  She had been up for hours, working, doing her thing.  And she would join the sun in rousing me.  After, we would barrel around the canyons in her big vintage 4×4.

She was an interior designer, impeccable taste that had a way of picking things you would have never thought of, both as individual objects, or in harmony.  I learned from her in antiquing to look for how well something is made, as refinishing can make something solid completely new again.

Her aesthetic sense extended to me too.  She liked to call me the “perfect accessory” and you can well imagine just how this budding young slave responded to an empowered and emboldened woman who regarded her “man” as arm candy.  She liked to dress me.  To choose my clothes.  And this started with what I had on underneath.  She taught me how to shop for lingerie, not in a kinky or self-conscious way, but simply as a part of who I am.

And once, she really lost her cool with a company called Trashy Lingerie in LA where they refused to sell me something because their lingerie “wasn’t for men.”  This was before the time of social media, but she would have been a major influencer and her wrath would have been out for all to see.  I appreciated her protective air.

She had also paid her way through a very fancy North Eastern US University by being an SW.  And I remember the night she told me was also the day that she learned I was trans.  We bumped into a saleswoman who had sold me a wig (yes, I had a few and used to model them in drag) and who said hi to me, and when my then GF asked me who that was, I froze.  And my freezing freaked her out, and she demanded I tell her, so I did.

And that night she asked me to bathe her, the beginning of a beautiful “tradition”.  It was a kind of ritual: candles, oils, scents, and me on my knees beside the tub with one of many large sponges.  We were living in London in a house that I had bought for her and left as a blank canvas for her to decorate—it was her portfolio, a place to which she could bring prospective clients.

And as I bathed and massaged her shoulders, she confessed her secret.   She was afraid I would judge her, as others had.  She was afraid that I would walk away or fetishize her.  That night was a night of the most tender lovemaking and surrender that I can ever recall having.  A gentle exploration of each other’s bodies.  Our bedroom was at the top of the house, under the eaves, a small room barely bigger than the king-sized bed that occupied its centre.  And above us were enormous skylights that opened up…and though we were in the heart of London, silence reined, light pollution was non-existent, and you could see the stars on those clear nights.

And on rainy days, you could be in bed and watch the rain splash above you.   It was dreamy and beautiful.

Also upstairs was our closet, though I prefer to think of it as hers.  The closet was 3x the size of our bedroom, and you had to pass through it to go from the bedroom to the upstairs bathroom—which was hers.  Already then, allowing the privileged spaces for her to be, to exist in femininity, was very soothing for me.  Although I didn’t use her bathroom—instead using the “guest bathroom” downstairs, I was able to enjoy it, a kind of boudoir presence that infiltrated my psyche whenever I went to take an item of clothing from the closet.  Why shouldn’t the woman in your life have such privilege?

In the end, our relationship did not endure.  Falling in love with her, however, was the most delectable falling in love I have ever experienced.  A few hours after I met her for the first time—introduced to her by her mother of all people, who mid-conversation said to me, “hang on a second, my daughter is going to love you, I’m going to go get her,”—I went out and got my first piercing.  I was punch drunk from having her eyes bore into me that I needed to go for a walk.  It was in Venice Beach, and I found myself 100 yards later in front of a piercing studio and I just walked in, having never thought about it before, and asked to have my belly button pierced.

The significance of that act was deep in many ways—acting instinctually can often be deeper than the most reasoned approach to anything.  This was such a moment.  A deeply political statement, an expression of my female self, a sense of powerful desire, a statement of slavery.  All these things were expressed in a ring that went into me and is still there many moons later.

I have lived and loved deeply.  That is life.  And those memories do not weigh me down.  They warm me.  And though we stopped seeing each other a very long time ago, we remain connected, and the knowledge that there is this beautiful person out there with whom I shared so many delicious moments is soul food.  Randomly, the other day, talking to a close friend who is married to someone who is connected to her, he asked, “guess who’s here?” and then to her, “X is on the phone.”

And then her voice rang out across the room and through the phone and through a million exchanges and thousands of kilometres to come into my ear as a delicious caress as I heard her say my name for the first time in decades…and it was so clear and so warm.

And I said ‘hi’ back, and my warmth was conveyed back in turn.

And someone I just met recently keeps telling me she wants to hold space for me.  Honey, I don’t even know you yet and you want to hold space for me?  That’s all about you.  Kind of makes me want to barf.  The beauty of memory is that it takes time to make the good ones.  It is the same with intimacy.  While the potential for intimacy can excite, there is no substitute for the gradual unfolding of experience.

Salmon in Aspic

There is a gourmet caterer in my town that makes the most beautiful things in aspic.  Foie gras, shrimp salad, vegetables, but best of all is the whole fish they preserve in this manner.  Such shops are gradually disappearing from the landscape, but this one does a bustling trade because everything they make is so delicious.  In recessionary times, little treats can sustain us…and their windows are filled with just such little treats.

In antique markets the world over, you can often find aspic moulds in the shape of fish or in other fanciful forms.  Nobody cooks this way anymore, and it is a pity…but the forms are cheap in that they are no longer so desired.

For this dish I like to cook an entire fish in court bouillon.  This is a low simmer.  For a real treat, do trout au bleu.  This is a method that requires a freshly killed fish, as the vinegar in the poaching liquid reacts with the slime on the trout skin to turn the fish blue.  It is dramatic and beautiful and also the best way to capture the flavour of trout.

I happen to have an enormous mould for fish in aspic, large enough to take a whole salmon.  I also have another forgotten kitchen necessity, the elongated fish cooking pot, which holds the fish carefully on a rack which can be easily removed.

In any event, whatever fish you use, it should be lightly poached—not so much as to dry out.  You then skin it.  While some people advocate using deboned and filleted fish, I like the look of the whole thing.  The fillet advocates can still keep tail and head to add back so that some of the look is preserved.  As you wish.

To the mould you begin with a “layer” of aspic, pouring it in and then chilling to let it set.  After, you lay fish on top and then fill the rest of the way with aspic before covering and leaving to set for a few hours, and preferably overnight.  

To serve, invert on a serving platter, and using a hot-damp towel, warm the mould enough for the aspic to be released.  Decorate with fresh dill and paper-thin slices of lemon.

Yummy and dramatic.

To make fish aspic, you can take either a delicious fish stock and add leaf or powdered fish gelatine…or you can do what I do and that is to make it from salmon heads and tails and bones.  While for other recipes, it is not recommended to use an oily fish such as salmon to make stock (instead use turbot, cod or other white fish bones), I find for aspic it sets well and has a nice sympathetic flavour. A small quantity of vinegar added to the water aids in drawing the collagen from the bones.  Take care to remove any traces of blood and the gills, as these give off flavours.  Your fish monger should have no problem giving you a bag of salmon heads and spines.

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