By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Unpacking the mixer, I felt excitement beginning to stir in the pit of my stomach. When I dumped the condensed milk into the glass mixing bowl and saw a pale-yellow pool that already felt like lemon pie, my spirits soared - I was halfway there. I set the oven and snapped the beaters into place on the mixer with a hum and a flourish. I added in the grated lemon rind, egg yolks and lemon juice, and the whole thing bloomed a deeper yellow; I was ecstatic. This was simple, and so fulfilling. This was the kind of work Marx said was society's backbone, its soul - labor that yielded fruit that you clearly had a hand in shaping, that you could see. As the lemon filling blended on a high whine, I thought that even writing, something I thought I was born to do, didn't make me feel as great a sense of triumph. I tussled with writing, kneaded it like so much bread dough, never entirely settling on a working mix of ingredients. I took only fleeting satisfaction in a curious, perpetual sort of dissatisfaction, and even getting to that point was so haphazard a process it was easy to miss the point altogether. I needed more endeavors like lemon pies, things that allowed for rampant creativity within the parameters of a bowl and 20 minutes' baking time.
The filling lay smoothly in the crust, awaiting the meringue before going into the oven. This final step seemed the easiest; it only required two egg whites - left over from the yolks - some white sugar and that odd ingredient called cream of tartar. Aglow with my success thus far, I turned the mixer all the way up to a shriek. After five minutes, nothing happened. The concoction was foamy but hardly resembled meringue. I set the mixer on whip for another five minutes. Still nothing. It looked like dishwater. A tiny spark of panic hopped across my chest. I broke into a light sweat and yanked open the louver windows to let in the night air. Maybe I was watching too hard. I turned the mixer back on and wandered into the living room to check out a little television, peruse a magazine. I did this kind of thing when the Dodgers were losing or Tiger Woods was blowing a tournament; I assumed myself to be the jinx and simply took myself off the scene. It worked more times than it didn't. When I came back 15 minutes later, the stuff in the bowl looked thin and exhausted. No meringue. I conceded defeat. Eyes dewy with a couple of tears, I shoved the naked pie into the oven and went to lie down on the sofa. My head was pounding. No wonder Marx never mentioned the bitter fruit of labor gone wrong, no wonder people cushioned the shock of life's thousand disillusions with the mountains of paper they pushed for a living.
My mother was sympathetic about the failed meringue. "You probably didn't separate the whites completely from the yellows," she offered. "If you get the least bit of yellow in there, it doesn't come out. Or the bowl was a little damp. That messes it up, too. I should have told you that."
Really? I felt vastly better. These were the tricks of the trade I was hardly privy to. And in the light of morning, the pie sitting on my refrigerator shelf didn't look too bad. I sliced a piece off; miracle of miracles, it tasted good - tart and firm, creamy, lemony, the smallest bit grainy, like Mama's. It was only missing the top, and I decided right then that I never liked meringue anyway - it was nice to look at, grand and pillowy, but beside the point, a mere decoration. I dubbed my creation Lemon Tart Supreme. My brother didn't drive down for it, but my younger sister, only 10 minutes away in Koreatown, did stop in for a sample. As we watched Jeopardy, I tried not to appear anxious as she cut a mouthful from the plate in her lap. No telltale pause in midchew. "Uh-hmmm," she said, not taking her eyes from the screen, a trace of surprise in her voice. "This is good."