Post- Magazine

from the kitchen table [narrative]

recipes of love and tradition

My feet swing under the chipped wooden table. I soak in the smell of sizzling tomato sauce. My grandmother’s hands—soft from Pond’s hand lotion but aged from years of hot oil splashes—are a blur. I watch her float from oven to stove, guiding raw ingredients into a meal. Unwashed vegetables, boxes of breadcrumbs, cartons of eggs—all quickly vanish. She looks back at me, singing along to Music Choice on the television. Her apron is splattered, her smile relaxed. The aroma of salty eggplant ripples across the room. 

Eggplant parmesan is a multi-step process. A labor of love, yet practical, the dish simply takes 

                        ten shiny purple eggplants,

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                                             one box of breadcrumbs,

                                                                half a dozen eggs,

                                                                                             skim milk,

                                                                                                         salt and oil.

                                                                                                                         A perfect symphony of aromatics and spice. Tiny, teetering towers of bliss squeezed together in an aluminum pan. Violet houses in a tinfoil neighborhood. Callused and wrinkled hands delicately flip and dip each eggplant round. Flour, egg, breadcrumb, repeat. A drizzle of oil. A pinch of seasoning. Placing a steaming hot meal in front of me, my grandmother always asks if it tastes alright. She already knows the answer. 

The air smells of burning candles and sweet garlic as we gather around the dining room table on a Sunday evening. Food, the assumed star of the event, is simply a conduit for our togetherness; my grandmother cooks to keep her children and grandchildren close. Dressed in a chic black dress, her curls fluffed to perfection, her joy and Estee Lauder Youth-Dew permeate the entire house. Trays and trays of food march out of the oven, appearing on the dining table one by one. Boisterous conversation intertwines with classical music. She dips in and out, checking on all of us as she tends to the food, blurring the line between the dining room and the kitchen like an otherworldly being.

Chaos fills the house before dinnertime, but my grandmother is a very peaceful woman. I watch her sprinkle some extra parmesan cheese on top of her eggplant, twirl spaghetti into little spirals, and carefully fold foil tins notch by notch—ready for the oven. Flattening chicken cutlets requires the slam of a meat mallet, crushing San Marzano tomatoes takes a strong fist unafraid of getting messy; cooking demands physical exertion. Copper pots and pans scratched and etched from years of use, her comrades, soldier on into the fight.

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I sit cross-legged on the twin bed in my dorm room. Rain slaps against my window angrily. I sink into the distant, rhythmic ring of the phone held up against my ear, and melt deeper into my bed when I hear my grandmother’s voice on the other end. There are many stories my grandmother tells over and over, ones she thinks we want to hear, like her first dates with Granddad. She didn’t let him kiss her until after the twelfth one. But there are some stories I don’t know—the ones I’ll only get by asking.

Surprisingly, my grandmother’s first time cooking was when she moved with Granddad into an apartment in New York City. Over the phone, step by step, her mother taught her how to make a meatloaf. 

“She told me I needed a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Chopped meat, breadcrumbs, egg, seasoning. She said I would feel the difference. No measuring needed. I thought she was crazy.” 

When I sit at her kitchen table, I watch my grandmother toss spice and flavor into her dishes with a crease in her brow, yet a secureness in her motion. Her dishes, organic and sacred, never know measurements, timers, special equipment. Just salt, fat, acid, heat, and love. 

“I just had an air for it,” my grandmother says, the smile in her voice crackling over the phone. “I was always in the kitchen, watching my mom. I just learned by observing her.” 

At the end of Sunday evenings, dusk turned heavy and dark, my grandmother gathers us in the kitchen once more to pack leftovers into still more aluminum tins, the last step of the dinner ritual. Secret recipes wrapped up in boxes like presents: Cooking is everything we need and filled with everything we know. She hands me a package, warns me about the hot temperature, and kisses me on the forehead. 

 – 

“When someone cooks, whether you are a mother in your own home, you always do it with love, because it's a way of bringing the family together. When you know you're doing that, you always put your best foot forward.” After we hang up, she calls me back to tell me this. Little did she know that she already did, over and over again, each time I entered her kitchen.

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