Tag Archives: cook

“You Give Yourself To This: The Longest Day… You Give It All Away.”

Every other night, after a rehearsal in Hollyweird, when driving by a local market with a display of pumpkins and straw upfront, I swing my car into its parking lot and begin wandering aimlessly along the aisles.

And I don’t really know what I’m looking for:  Sometimes, I pick up the discounted apples and try to detect the smell of the gardens from which they’ve been gathered.  Would those gardens be from somewhere up north:  From the latitude that keeps teasing me with dreams of my future home?  Or would they come from the East Coast, where the dreams of my former home have long been put to rest?

Most of the time, these perfect looking apples have been shined with some waxy substance, and the smell is long gone.  Still, I insist on trying the next batch.

And then, there are the pears!  They are starting to come in different colors, these days, and in various degrees of graininess.  And that texture:  It is unmistakable in desserts!  And they are best accompanied with some slowly simmered ganache or a fuss-deserving caramel.  Lazily, they glisten on top of paper-thin crepes, like slivers of amber from the coast of my very former home, on the Baltic Sea.  And they smell — like Indian Summer and bedtime stories, in the countryside.

Ooh, corn!  It’s white and super sugary this season!  I grabbed a whole batch the other night:  “10 for 2”.  How ever have I forgotten about the existence of corn, for this entire year?  Sometimes, it’s as yellow as the petals of sunflowers.  That type — is a bit denser, and it doesn’t fall apart in stews.  But this white creation should be nibbled on, after dinner, instead of a handful of honey roasted nuts.

This time of year, mushrooms take over at least half of an aisle, at the market.  The portabellas are always de-stemmed and tamed into some styrofoam and plastic containers.  But once unleashed — they are each bigger than my palm.  The baby bellas, despite being the most regular visitors all throughout the year, are especially juicy these days; and the criminis always remind me of the bellas’ darker-skinned cousins.

And what in the world are these?  They’re tiny and come in a clump, with a common root still attached.

I study the grains of soil caught in between each miniature creature; and I remember the thrill I felt if ever finding a generous gathering like this, in a forest of my most original home, left behind so long ago.

I wouldn’t call upon the help of other gatherers, back then.  Quietly, I would kneel onto the mossy ground, that chewed and slurped underneath my rubber boots; and I would twist my finds out of the soil, by their common stem.  (That’s the secret with mushrooms:  It’s best to twist them out.  That way, the fragile web of their roots doesn’t get destroyed.)

And the best part about such a find is that, most likely, there are more of these creatures around:  For they’re rarely solitary.  And so, I would continue kneeling, scanning the ground for more hidden caps.  With my heart racing, I would whisper to every tiny creature I would locate under a leaf:

“Come here,  you lil’ munchkin!”

And I would imagine some forest gnomes scowling at me from branches:  Those mushroom caps were meant to be their hats.  (Don’t you know:  Gnome are very dapper dressers!)

The black trumpets — always freak me out a little.  How can these things possibly be eatable?  They look like dog ears!

And the oyster mushrooms — I prefer them dried.

An entire basket of loose shiitakes attacked my nose with a whiff of moss.  These creatures are leathery.  They’re the earthiest and meatiest of them all.  There is a whole other flavor profile assigned to mushrooms in Japanese cuisine:  Umami.  Savory.  Earthy.  Incomparable to anything else, really.

And they caressed my palette with memories of my people’s home — from the very original homeland, on the Pacific coast.

“What a treasure!” I thought the other day, rushing home to make a stew.

No, no, no!  Actually, it should be a soup.

Yes, definitely, a soup!

A soup that could fill my current home — with the aromas of all of my former homes, and all the homes to come.

“There Is ALWAYS Something Cookin’!”

It started like a typical talk last night.  Because that was the only reasonable thing to do, with my dad’s people:  To be typical. Because the question of “What would people think?” — always dictated the choices of his family.

When I resumed my weekly phone calls to Motha Russia, two years ago, I expected heightened stakes for a while.  After all, I haven’t been home in sixteen years!

And for the first couple of months of these telephoned conversations — with the family — things were indeed thrilling:  Someone was getting married.  Someone had passed away years ago.  This person was now a high ranking government official; and that one — had succumbed to full-range alcoholism.  Most of our shared excitement came from other people’s tragic tales:  immigration, disappearance, cancer, suicide.  And because Motha Russia always has had such stories in plentitude, we seemed to never run out of things to discuss.

So, for hours, dad and I would talk about other people:

“And how is Marinka, P?” I would ask him about my archenemy from high school, and that would spur another hour of gossip:  Someone was pregnant.  Someone was getting a divorce.  This person had left for Moscow.  That one — never returned from Chechnya.

But when it came to our own family, things weren’t discussed; not in any depth that revealed family secrets.  Nothing that would divert us — from being typical.  Surely, we talked about our distant relatives:  someone was cheating on his wife; another someone was graduating from medical school.  But the people in the immediate family — were not the topic for deep digging.

It was initially established by P:  He would answer the questions about his family living in the Urals with stubborn vagueness.

I could hardly remember my last visit to that middle section of Russia.  I was a teenager and bored out of my mind, on that trip.  Because just like the geography of the area itself, the common characteristic of my father’s people was an overall commitment to order and calm.  Every single one of them was always existing in the middle:  Not really subversive in any way and never disobedient.  They were — typical.

And the orderly flow of their daily events was dictated by the family’s matriarch:

Breakfast at 0700 hours.  Work at 0900.  Women cleaned the house and cooked — men left for the fields.  Bathhouse was ready by 1800 hours.  Dinner by 1900.

Having been a city-child my entire life, I was an immediate handful for my father’s mom:

“Why is she going to the library every day?” she scolded P in that passive-aggressive manner that was meant to be overheard, by me.  “What would people think?!” Because the question of “What would people think?” — always dictated the choices in his family.

So:  We walked our cows to the feeding fields by 0600 hours.  Attended Sunday church by 0800.

And, last night, it started like a typical talk:

“What are you doing right now?” P began our routine, after the initial pleasantries were gotten out of the way.

“I’m cooking,” I answered.

I was holding my cellphone with my left shoulder and running a colander full of spinach under the water.  An entire head of garlic was waiting to be peeled.  He would have heard my kitchen noises anyway.  So, I didn’t lie.  And I didn’t stop cooking.  Because I assumed:  P would have preferred for me to have a typical night anyway.

“You’re cooking?  At 2300 hours?” (P — is an army man.  He still talks in military time, so typical of his generation.)

“Yep,” I said.  “I’m cooking from scratch.”

I braced myself:  I expected him to start talking about the diversion from my typical sleeping schedule; or the noises with which I was disturbing my neighbors.  (In which case:  “What would people think?”  Right?!)

But P — chuckled.  “What are you making?”

“Soup,” I answered.  I preferred not to elaborate, as to not give away too much ammunition for dad’s later scolding:  I was a child of an army man, and I typically don’t run my mouth much.

But then, I reiterated, while gloating a bit:

“I’m making soup — from scratch!”

“I know you are,” P got serious on me.  “You always made me things from scratch.”

He would proceed to tell me that even as a teenager, I was the cook of the family.  Oh, how it bothered his mother — the matriarch — he told me, when I competently took over making his breakfasts, in the Urals!

“Why is she crowding me out of my kitchen?‘ your grandma told me,” he said last night.

I chuckled.  Yes, I chuckled with my typical close-lipped laughter:  so typical of my generation of army brats.  So typical — of my father’s child.

“But in all truth,” P continued, “I always preferred your cooking — over my mom’s.”

God damn!  THAT — was untypical!  The family’s matriarch was being shaken off her throne; and her son was now conspiring with a woman who was anything but typical, for her entire life.  

“What would people think?!” I thought.

But then, feeling encouraged, gloating even more, as a woman proud of all her self-taught talents, I carried on cooking, last night:  Mincing the roasted peppers; adding spices to the mixture of red, brown and wild rice.

P was into it:

“And when do you add salt?” he inquired.

“Never!” I said, in my matriarchal voice.  “In my kitchen — I use lemon!”

P chuckled.  Yes, he chuckled with his typical close-lipped laughter.  But I knew:  He was choking back his tears.

Due to the untypical turn of events in his family’s history, I grew up in an untypical fashion:  On a whole different continent, one hemisphere removed from him and his people.  I had become a woman on my own terms.  And somehow, despite being extremely untypical, in my father’s eyes — I was absolutely perfect:

I was a good woman — so typical of my father’s child.

And I was the best cook — in the family:  How untypical!