Monday, January 16, 2017

Honey is a Rebel

Continuing my new “thing” of Writing Practice, ala Natalie Goldberg’s writing lessons, most posts here for a while will be just that:  a practice, and for the time being, a practice of random thoughts on random subjects. Here’s what hit at 7am, while I was making a cup of coffee.

Honey is a Rebel

 When I used to use sugar in my coffee, and also drink weaker coffee, it wasn’t nearly as good as my daily cup is now. Hell, I would drink two to three cups per morning. That stopped sometime after I made the switch to honey for sweetening my morning cup of mind.

 I got started on that practice accidentally, when I performed with an acapella trio called The Java Girls.* We rotated hosting rehearsals but most often practiced at J’s house. She didn’t use white sugar then (still doesn’t far as I know), but served us coffee or tea depending on mood, and always put out the glazed earthenware honey pot for us to use, along with some half-n-half.

 The stronger but more subtle enhancement of honey was odd, at first. You get that honey taste and it seems like an extra, but after a few times of using it, I was hooked. Elements of the coffee’s flavor that sugar had apparently covered up, like fruitiness or spiciness in a given blend-- those were basically being introduced with fanfare to my happy tongue, by the honey.  So I bought some for myself, clover honey, and began learning the way of the honey jar—and there was plenty to learn.

 Sugar is your whore. You buy it, you own it, you pour it in and it goes exactly where you expect; then you close the lid or tip back the dispenser and you’re done.  Your drink is sweeter & you go about your business.

 That doesn’t work with honey. Like the cat you feed every day, honey is a still a wild thing inside, beneath the smile of that cute plastic squeezy bear, and it will surprise you if you try to force it to your will.

 It’s a natural product, even after some processing: as long as it’s still honey it will behave the same way, which is not to behave according to anyone’s will.

 Raw or no, honey flows and settles in its own time.  It follows its own pathways, moves to its own rhythms. And if you interrupt that, if you try to stop or rush it, you get a mess. Honey will not give in to your demand for speed or accuracy; it will not fall where it is being forced to go.

 But if you wait, if you simply allow yourself the few extra seconds it takes to let that gold slowly work its way down, you’ll be rewarded with incredibly complex sweetening that doesn’t make your bloodstream shiver and your hands get jittery. Without a mess.

 I learned all of this through watching, and asking, and cleaning up sticky spots on the counter.  As soon as I moved a jar of honey onto my kitchen table in place of the sugar bowl, someone gifted me with a honey dipper, one of those odd looking wands with a carved or ribbed bulbous knob at the end. You know what I mean, you’ve probably seen them in some gourmet shop & wondered what the hell they were.

 I didn’t know how to use the dipper, despite having watched J use one to expertly convey honey from pot to coffee mug without spilling a drop at least 30 times. When I tried, it worked to get the honey out, sure, but what was the benefit over a spoon if you still had to stir with it? I experimented, and I cleaned up more sticky spots until the next time we had rehearsal at J’s.  She demonstrated proper usage, I paid attention, and I found out that those weird wands are a genius product.

They work with honey’s natural tendencies. You dip in, twirl around, and slowly lift, still twirling so that honey winds itself around—it wants to stay in the grooves, basically, and will for a moment or so, giving you ample time to hang the dipper over your cup or mug. Then-- and this is the crucial part-- you wait. Let it happen. Don’t move the dipper around, don’t stir with it, don’t bother to bitch how much time it’s taking. Just wait. And every blessed gleaming drop will stream into your hot tea or coffee, there to dissolve with minimal effort on your part.

 Truthfully, because I was “busy” then, with my choir and my band and my lover and my jobs, I wasn’t so very Zen about it. I still got frustrated a few times, grumbling and trying to rush things along. Maybe I was even annoyed with honey, stupid as that sounds, because I wanted what I wanted when I wanted it. It took a while for me to fully understand and appreciate (and if you’re sitting somewhere reading these 1700 words or so about what my friend John happily calls Bee Poop, surely you have enough patience to begin your own journey of appreciation) the gift of honey to my daily life, a gift for which I will always be grateful to J, remembering her generosity, her delicious coffee, and her example of patience that, eventually, I put into practice myself.  

That said, I’m still learning. My conversion to honey in my coffee is coming close to thirty years ago now, but just a few months back I had to re-learn a small truth. Being poorer than I was, I have to buy the stuff in plastic as often as in glass jars, and those tiny holes in the lid are a pain if you try to close it right away.  You push the lid back down after you pour out, put it away in the cupboard, and the next time you pull out the container there will be a dribbled stream of honey stuck to the sides, calling all ants. I spent some time blaming my hubby-man for making the mess before I figured it out.

Watch it yourself—take a honey bear or other plastic container and pour out even a drop of honey, then set it on the counter. You’ll think it is going down and is okay to close, but then instead, a tiny balloon of honey will form and billow out above the miniscule opening. Again here, if you use force by shaking or tamping down, you’ll get a mess. It will gasp over the edge and over the side, wasted. If you are patient, you’ll see this gorgeous golden balloon thin out and rise and then pop, collapsing in on itself like a thick silken wave, and sliding back towards the bottom of the inside as gracefully as a ballet dancer doing her plies.

 That is what I watched happen this morning, humbled again by the gift that is honey. While I’m not knocking the usefulness of sugar (I’m a baker!) Gale Gand has written on that with more clarity and elegance than I could ever muster in her book  butter,sugar, flour, eggs, and I took to Word Starter today to pay homage to honey alone. Like many of the most radical radicals, it doesn’t mean to be so rebellious; it doesn’t set out to get your table sticky. That happens only when you try to work against its normal flow. It may be quiet and slow, not fast & flashy, but you still cannot force it without facing consequences (like any revolutionary you care to name). Our society and our rules make rebels out of anyone or anything that is true to their own nature or who follows their own path.  Just being themselves, they get branded as troublemakers, misfits or witches.

 And good honey, even not so good honey, does have some real magical qualities. You can’t go just by glycemic index, although honey is somewhat lower than table sugar** and depending on variety may be significantly lower. Used in moderation you’ll likely notice as  I did that it doesn’t work the same way in the body as plain old sugar—there’s a calmness to it, instead of that sharp spike and drop, and it’s more sweet, too, so you can use less.  There’s heft and a lively energy present in each drop. Honey is more like sustenance, not just sweetness.  Ask any bee or bear.

 Better varieties have more micronutrients, antioxidants & trace minerals. It’s healing & good on burns and other wounds, both as a barrier and for its antibacterial/antimicrobial properties***, and also makes a soothing, moisturizing face wash or mask.  Alone or mixed with a few other things you have around your kitchen,  a honey mask draws out impurities without stripping your skin, with no chemical after burn, and no need for a toner either—just rinse off with warm water, then splash with cool.

 For a sore throat, nothing soothes and coats better than the liquid formed when lemon slices steep in honey awhile. You can drink the juice as is, eat the coated lemon slices, or put a heaping tablespoon of the mix into tea or warm water.  Singers often use light tea with honey to relax & prepare their throat before a performance. The tea brings clarity, hydration and calm, and the honey provides a healing buffer for the tea tannins that would otherwise tighten the throat and make for less flexibility. Personally I prefer a few sips of a simple, refreshing beer before singing, but I understand the reasoning.

 So we’re brought back to singing, which is what brought me to honey in coffee close to three decades back. I’ve come pretty far in the craft of a singer/songwriter since then, just as my super strong, freshly ground Starbucks Espresso Roast made by pour-over method and smoothed out with the minimal addition of honey & half-n-half is far from my childhood cup of percolated Maxwell House with lots of white sugar and Rich’s non-dairy creamer. Instead of two or more oversweet, very white cups of weak-ish caff, I am fully satisfied by one full rich mug, and I’m more than patient enough to wait an hour to close up the honey, mess free, and put it away till tomorrow.  

 Good morning, and good afternoon--
                                                                   Aging Ophelia
  *The group practice of drinking coffee while rehearsing/songwriting actually preceded the band’s moniker. We’d already rehearsed plenty & had performed in public when we thought up the name, inspired by our love of J’s excellent coffee.