Peta-Megan Dunn

Essay


Making a Hash of It, You Say,
Winking into the Imaginary Camera


There’s a peppy American lady on the internet who expounds on the virtues of micro-dosing marijuana; the health and mental benefits are listed all over her website, punctuated with various disclaimers that invariably tell you she is not a medical professional.

You found her when you googled the words hash-butter-recipe.

She lives in Colorado and loves yoga, cooking, weed, and combining the three as much as humanely possible. But you actually have a soft spot for peppy American ladies. It’s not very British of you, but it’s March 2021 and you’ve spent a lot of time on the internet recently, so let’s just say you’ve acquired plenty of new tastes.

She tells you that she has discovered the best, most potent hash butter, like seriously you guys. She says the recipe she’s posted only contains half the original amount of hash; her initial experiment had her unable to leave the couch, and that’s not what she’s about. That’s not the micro-dose way.

You halve it again.

A measly gram of hash to 100g of butter as a starting point.

You have zero intention of K-O-ing your mother. She’s a teacher for Christ’s sake.

You’ve cooked with cannabis once before (a disaster) and used to smoke enough to comfortably guesstimate what you’re doing here. During the second year of university, you quit drinking, completely. You smoked weed instead. You were a stoner, which is funny, because it’s something you then abandoned for no real reason in your late twenties.

Your dog is a rescue from Cyprus, a total scavenger. If something drops on the floor, it immediately goes into her mouth. If you’re cooking, she’ll hover around your ankles, licking large patches of the floor, just in case there’s something good in the grout.

So you shut her in the office (with your working-from-home partner) and get to baking:

Hash Mini Cheddars

50g hash butter
100g flour
190g Cheddar (you want something mature and strong)
1 teaspoon salt

Hash Shortbread
150g hash butter melted
50g butter also melted (at a minimum, browned preferably)
50g Flour
50g Cornflour
100g Caster Sugar (plus more for dusting)

First, in a double-boiler, you melt the 100g of butter and add your gram of hash (your kitchen scales, despite being advertised as the ones from Bake Off aren’t accurate for anything around or under a gram so you weigh the whole piece = 3 grams and cut into rough thirds).

The hash incorporates beautifully and in its low quantity gives off a lovely yet vague aroma. Something green and herbal mixed with the nuttiness of the butter solids as they start to brown. It smells like the back of a concert hall, but if someone had absolutely drenched the place in hot melted butter. It’s great.

You let this simmer for twenty minutes while imagining all the different YouTube chefs using the phrase “let them get to know each other” as they throw ingredients into a Dutch oven. Since lockdown, you now subscribe to many YouTube chef channels. You try their recipes and talk through the method like someone is listening. You imagine a time in the future when you can hang out with friends, maybe you can design a fun drinking cook along; some sort of YouTube-chef-cliche bingo. But chances are you’ll probably just go to the pub.

Once the butter and the hash are well acquainted, you pour the mixture into Tupperware and pop it in the fridge.

You wipe down the surfaces and do a once over with the hoover and mop before releasing the dog and apologising to your partner because no doubt she’s been begging him to let her out and he’s had to refuse and she would have gotten real shitty about it.

A few hours later, you shut the dog back into the office, mix the dry ingredients, add half of the now-cold hash butter, and make a rough biscuit dough.

By the time you add the vast amount of cheddar the recipe calls for, the dough is too warm – but hey, you’re two, possibly three lockdowns in, you’re no biscuit chump, no cookie rookie.

You wrap that shit in clingfilm and back into the fridge it goes.

Twenty minutes later it is perfect for rolling and cutting, so off you go – using a shot glass you cut about fifty biscuits, baking in batches.

(Baking for your mother will double the pressure, you want it to be the best homemade mini cheddar, she deserves the best. Adding the additional cost of hash into the literal mix, you really don’t want to fuck it up).

So you bake it in batches and you keep an eye on those little fuckers so they don’t catch.

Once they are baked and sealed in the freezer bags (minus the test cheddars), you wipe the surfaces, do a once over with the hoover and release the dog, who at this point is fucking fuming.

The next day, you melt another 100g of butter with another gram of hash, add the remaining 50g of the original hash butter, and inexplicably 50g of normal butter, and you lightly brown it.

Then add the gorgeous melted butter to a mix of cornflour, flour, and caster sugar. Press the mixture evenly into whichever tin(s) you can find and bake until golden (40-45 mins).

Once out of the oven and smelling truly hypnotic, sprinkle with sugar and slice while still warm.

This shortbread comes out practically flawless, and you pat yourself on the back before cleaning down the kitchen and releasing the dog, who is just about sick of this shit.

You wait for an afternoon when you don’t have much to do and test the cheddars; the flavour is slightly weird and also delicious, the texture delightful, and you feel the lightest of floaty feelings – you certainly feel relaxed, but also you have many many thoughts about everything, like what if you reversed all the furniture in the living room and what your old maths teacher might be up to these days. You make popcorn.

You wait until a Sunday afternoon and crack out the shortbread. It is buttery-rich, nutty, and deliciously sweet. You lament that it’s your best shortbread ever and you can’t eat three in one sitting. Or could you? No, you shouldn’t.

You think of being small and young, the youngest of all the siblings and cousins, you think about hiding in your grandmother’s pantry. And you remember eating Marie biscuits, sweet and buttery with small pieces of cheese – you felt like you had really discovered something there. A strange thought occurs – you should clean the oven, like really scrub it out. You dig out the screwdriver and unscrew the glass front so you can get it in the sink. Not because there might be any residue of hash, because it needs to be done and why the fuck not now. As you lower it into the warm, sudsy water, the thought that you are, in fact, an adult strikes you. This is, of course, true, undeniable by any standards, but weird to think about lately, you’ve been feeling like a five-foot-six child with too many responsibilities. It also occurs to you that that nice American lady who talked about the ‘productivity zone’’ micro-dosing can achieve is possibly a genius, and maybe you should write her a nice email (you won’t).

You speak to your brother, who calls you more often now and is trapped in his own lockdown in Canada. You can hear how desperate he is that he can’t come over to see your mother right now and how much he regrets that he couldn’t come the year before. You tell him about your drugged baked goods. He laughs at the thought of her being high. She’s a giggly person as it is. And the only person you know who gets almost instant tears to the eyes if she laughs for more than five seconds.

Neither of you mentions that precious, precious time might suddenly disappear while you’re trapped in your respective houses.

With both tests complete, you’re happy you can give your mother two options, a cheddar or two on the days where she’s not too nauseous or too food-phobic, and maybe she has some stuff to do like marking or lesson prep, but then she can have a piece of shortbread when it’s really bad, the day after the infusion for example and maybe, hopefully, it won’t be so fucking awful for her.

You call your mother to arrange a lockdown-defying plan to get these baked goods to her (you will break the stay local rule but you won’t hug her, the risk is too great, it will break your heart).

You tell her how clever you’ve been with these micro-dose cheddars that she could maybe even have one a school day (it’s only on Zoom anyway for god’s sake).

But, she reveals, she’s quit her job, she’s retiring with a FUCK IT, I’m not spending my remaining time working attitude, she has a list of books to read, she wants to be outside whenever she feels like it. You laugh along and say, yeah, of course, that makes total sense.

And an early retirement does make sense, but you hadn’t thought about it before because three weeks ago, she was perfectly healthy. We were on the right side of an ALL CLEAR. At some point, that threat crept back in, found another spot to root itself in. Doctors prepare to throw everything at it that they can. And there’s fuck all you can do except hope that this time they’ll really fucking get it.

You hang up and succumb to the terror. You cry off and on for two days. It’s a terrible heaving cry, which rocks your shoulders and threatens to take over all brain function at any moment.

You feel drained and the answer is nourishment.

You begin with foaming a not remotely small knob of butter with olive oil and adding chili flakes, the zest of an entire unwaxed lemon, and a few garlic cloves you’ve lightly assaulted with the back of a knife. You drop spaghetti into rolling salty water and start grating what some might say is an excessive amount of parmesan.

The dog weaves her little body around your feet, picking up the bits of parm that tumble to the floor. You live in a parmesan-loving household, but you’ve never known any creature to love cheese as much as this dog.

One of the beautiful things about cooking something familiar is not just the resulting dish, nor is it the lovely aromas that fill your kitchen, it’s the mechanical nature in which you can pull it all together. Like a piece of music you learnt as a child, essentially you can go on autopilot. Your mind can wander.

You think of the following:

The time you were listening to Dolly Alderton on a podcast. She spoke about how people in the UK can be assigned child psychologists until they’re twenty-five.

That New Yorker article from years ago when those twelve-year-old girls tried to murder another twelve-year-old girl because they were afraid of an internet meme. The writer spoke to some expert on brain development and fear and the difference between a twelve-year-old girl and a woman in her mid-twenties. The strength of fear doesn’t really decrease but the irrational responses can be managed better.

How fucking good garlic, lemon and butter smell.

That Mitski song about late spring and pretending that you’re a grown-up when you’re still so young only to reach your twenties and still feel like a child.

This thing—cooking when anxious has been a long developed coping mechanism. More than that, you’re the cook in the family. Despite being the youngest, at some point, you took over the kitchen. Now it’s your role, your domain. It’s how you contribute, help and show your love. You made grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup for your brother well into your late twenties and attempted to teach him the art of scrambling eggs at least three times before chalking it up to a lost cause. Christmas dinner is yours and yours alone and each year you compete with yourself to present the best yet. You occasionally get messages like ‘what should I do with fennel?’ or ‘give me that recipe for that rub/marinade/dressing?’. It’s why when your mum gets cancer and you’re not allowed to go stay with her, you find the recipe for edibles. It’s your wheelhouse.

When the pasta is al dente, you emulsify the starch water and parmesan until it is shiny and covers every lovely long noodle. You pull some basil right off the plant, knowing that you should do that harvesting trick to keep the plant going, but whenever you need basil, it’s usually moments before sitting and eating, so you simply tear it clean off like the monster you are.

You twist large mouthfuls around a fork, keeping half an eye on the dog who’s been known to try thieving from the table if she thinks your guard is down. Each bite is bright and rich and galvanising.

Later you call your mother, she’s enjoying the cheddars but the shortbread may be a little much. She probably doesn’t need the productivity zone, her oven is always immaculate. You tell yourself that you’ll get there one day, with or without hash shortbread. They’ve tweaked her medication, and the Chemo isn’t nearly as bad as the last round, she’s actually feeling quite chipper. You think about the year ahead and your mother’s spotless kitchen and all its potential, things to brine and barbecue and eat outside on warm late evenings, picnics with fresh strawberries and zesty salads, the Christmas duck, because at least in your mother’s household you can all agree that turkey is horrible and dry and a pointless bird. And when you build your duck sauce and someone will inevitably question if that’s not too much butter, but you know best. You’re the cook in the family.



Peta-Megan Dunn is a London-based writer, previously a screenwriter, currently in the final stretch of their MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck.


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Issue One