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Michigan Arts & Culture

Essay: White Sauce

My mother was a gourmet cook and wanted me to follow in her footsteps.One of my first steps was on a stepstool next to the stove where I had the job of stirring the White Sauce, a common ingredient in many favorite dishes.


“First, you melt two tablespoons of butter,” she said, “then stir in two tablespoons of flour to make a paste. Finally, you start adding two cups of milk, very slowly, so that the paste gets soupy. If you add milk too fast, you get lumps.”

I learned early that lumps were against the rules.
 
So I stood on the stepstool and stirred and stirred and stirred, watching the sauce turn into milk.
 
“It will thicken,” my mother said, “but it takes time.”
 
It took forever. It took until I had given up completely.
 
“This won’t work,” I complained but she only told me to keep stirring. And finally, after I had lost all hope, the milk began to change, ever so slightly and then quite quickly. It became a White Sauce.

I think about standing on that stepstool whenever I give up hope. It takes more than perseverance to thicken the sauce.
 
It takes faith. A belief—without apparent evidence—that if I can just keep going, I’ll get there.
 
A recipe worth keeping.