Cooking for One

kitchen witch

my tongue craves skin, my skin
tongue.  how to eat when the only flavor
is salt? too poor for the extravagance
of a meal served to me, i recall the logic
of giving the beloved what you want
for yourself.  this woman
is her own again, my only lover
here.  In the kitchen i peel
off my clothes and wrap around my hips
an oceanic gust from the cotton bolt
i brought from Zimbabwe
half this life before
and gave to a dear one who returned to me
one yard in thanks, tiny stitches,
this skirt. heat tears through
onion silk. with the long blade
i slice gold threads of ginger. oil pops
as punjabi mc strips the carapace
and wings unfold from my hips.
roil and scrape. peanut, coconut, turmeric, cumin.
cabbage, tomato, cauliflower, honey.
masala dust clings to raw arms, ribs
sweat red clay heat. mouth gorged
with song, the feeding precedes
the eating. my tongue thrills at the naked
steam curling into its hidden cells, my skin
tilts towards the kaleidoscope
of scents. i serve my beloved
a dish and she returns to me
one  birth  in thanks, tiny bloodbeats,
this night. the only flavor
is never the only flavor. the body can taste
every texture of loss. the body can learn
to boil sugar
from the heart.


 

Sugar Spun

Chef and Chicken

When you peel a peach, there’s a color right beneath the peach skin that’s hidden except for that very moment. It’s like there are all these little secrets moments in kitchen, and if you don’t pay attention to that, you’re missing so much in life.

“In the Kitchen with Ruth Reichl,” New York Times, September 15, 2015

Safeway, as it happens, stocks every color of Jello except blue. The big package I bought earlier at Target should have been enough but half of it ended up on the wrong side of the saran wrap and the rest of it on the floor. The last thing I want to do is visit yet another store. As I stand here in the baking aisle, the kitchen’s engine idles. I can feel its thrum as it waits for my return.

I toss the unflavored Knox into my basket and hold out hope that I can find my stash of food coloring from last year.

Unpacking my groceries at home, I root around in the back of the cabinet and unearth the stained box. I’m relieved to discover the blue tube has a few drops left in it. This leaves me now with the small issue of taste — something I had rather avoided dealing with at the store. Continue reading “Sugar Spun”

48. Things I Can Shoot: A U-Turn

It’s topped 90 degrees. The last storm howled through only day before yesterday, but summer couldn’t care less. She just strode in, popped open her beach chair, and planted herself for the duration.

Six days left of school.

As the mercury rises and the countdown quickens, restraint flags. When I pick up Bug at the end of the day, the whole class is prickling. It’s as if the entire second grade has raced to the ragged wall of the calendar and slammed into it. They stand there chafing as the rest of us catch up. Every kid wilts in a 3-day-old T-shirt. Every kid marinates in last week’s sweat.

Today I arrive in time to catch the end of a nipping contest among a group of first and second graders. Who-said-what-when-how? In the four minutes I’m in the classroom, the alliances shift twice.

Buckling ourselves into the car, I ask Bug about his day. I barely get the question out.

“Will you STOP THAT!?” he roars.

“Stop what?”

“THAT! Just doing that TALKING!”

His response is so beyond rude that I actually laugh, which makes him shove the dog out of his lap and set his jaw.

“Wow, Bud. You’re having quite a day.”

A long pause. Very quietly from a ducked head in the back seat: “Can I stay at my dad’s tonight?”

Keep it light, lady. I put a smile in my voice. “Sorry, kiddo. Tonight you’re with me.”

“Well, can we at least make some lemonade and sit on the balcony?”

Where did this come from? We’ve never once made lemonade, and we brought the chairs in from outside weeks ago. Who would want to park it out there? Given the choice, even the garden would trade places. The pepper plants have shrunk to husks and the basil’s given up entirely. You can almost see the ambient poison that earned this afternoon its Code Orange.

“Geez,” I say. “We don’t even have lemons at home. How about orange juice? Or maybe I have a packet of Kool-Aid?” Someone was handing out rainbow envelopes of the stuff at the Pride parade last year. I think one is still crammed somewhere in a cabinet.

Bug just sags. “Lemonade is better,” he mutters.

If I don’t do something here, this kid is going to start crying. Which actually means screaming at me because in my kid’s 8-year-old world, that’s a more satisfying way to manage the misery eating at him.

It’s been a long damned year.

I snap on the blinker and pull into the nearest driveway, which happens to be directly across from ours. I swing around and watch as the neighborhood pool, the air conditioning, and the pile of books on the living room couch recede behind me. Those comforts may work for me, but my boy needs a different pacifier tonight.

“Where are we going?” He asks.

“To the supermarket.”

He perks up. “For lemons?”

“Yep.”

I can almost hear the energy buzzing back into his weary body. This is good. I’ll take a hit off him when I have to thread my way through the pack of rabid drivers at the intersection that stands between us and the store.

“Okay,” he says. “Only lemons, right? Nothing else? We won’t even get a basket, okay?”

“You’ve got it.”

But we do get a basket — the kind you carry — and we pick out a dozen small lemons that perfume our hands. The eastern peaches are just too cheap and cute, so we fill a bag. Bug dives into one in the car on the ride home. The flesh is hard but sweet, and he devours it down to the stone.

In our kitchen, we rinse the lime green pitcher and force the lemons inside-out. Bug ladles in sugar and sloshes in water, then stirs with a wooden spoon. He pours just enough for a taste. A pucker, a blink, more sugar, then we get it right and fill our cups for outside.

Only now it’s not balcony. It’s swim trunks and floaties, and we walk to the pool loaded with travel mugs and soft towels and plastic rings and chat-chat-chat, “Mom, look at this! See this?” He’s rolling the inner tube along the sidewalk, lemonade splashing, face bright and grinning. Then we hear voices, the trill and clang of children popping, slapping, fizzing. They call out, call to him, holler Bug’s name. They cling to the fence in a jumbled line, all the now-familiar faces. They jostle wet curls, flash neon swimsuits, bounce shouts off concrete.

Come on, come on!
The lifeguard just called a break!
Where have you been?
Hey look, he has pool stuff.
You brought pool stuff!
Come on!

My boy picks up his pace and speeds through the changing room, and the group of children swallows him up. The parents listen to my lemon saga because they all want to know where we’ve been. Hearing me, Bug takes a dramatic sip from his cup and grins. Then the kids cluster around and listen again about the lemons because they want to know too.

Where were you? Why weren’t you here?

As if they all knew to show up here at the pool on this very afternoon, and expected us too. As if someone called the opening meeting of some secret society.

As if our membership is a given.

As if this is exactly where we are supposed to be.

41. Things I Can Believe: Those Wise Words

We need a way to forgive others, ourselves, and the fact that things don’t turn out the way we expected. Writing our experiences, our fears and our aspirations can clear away the overload of resentment and the stale taste of remorse.

– B.L. Pike in “Write Now: Why You Really Can’t Wait Any Longer”

I ask my son to help with dinner. He snaps and stomps, tells me he’s not going to cook for both of us, he’s only going to make his own snack, and it’s not fair. For once, I conquer the urge to roar back. Instead, my voice is even as it reminds him of his options. He can either make dinner for us both by himself, or he can help me make dinner for us both together.

“Why do I have to do everything around here?” He storms into my room, hauls Biggie the stuffed polar bear off the bed, and thrashes him against the mattress. Noodle comes streaking out, head bowed, ears down.

I empty the dishwasher then check the mail.

Continue reading “41. Things I Can Believe: Those Wise Words”

Egg and Milk

He stands with his back to the doorjamb and tries to sneak up onto his toes. “Flat feet,” I say. He grins up from under the turquoise towel a friend made as a shower gift. It had seemed huge then. A baby would drown in all that terrycloth. Now it barely covers his rear end.

He goes down on his soles and I swipe the marker across his crown before he can pop up again.

“Wow,” I say.

“What?”

He turns and looks at the black slash. It is more than an inch higher than the only other mark. We made that one half a year ago on his seventh birthday – the first birthday we celebrated in the first home we’ve ever owned. In all those cabins we half-claimed before moving out and moving on, we had never recorded his growth.

“Just six months. Look at that.” I start to write by the line.

“Can I do it?” He asks. I hand him the Sharpie. In slippery big-kid block letters he scrawls his name. Next to it, “May 2014.”


After I pick him up from school, we race in, drop our backpacks, and grab the ball and scooter. Spring. Light. At last, evening does not mean night. It happens every year and is a surprise every time.

He opens the fridge and digs, pulling out hard boiled eggs, a block of mozzarella, yogurt tubes. He takes a glass down from the cabinet and fills it with rice milk. He slips a knife from the rack and sets up the cutting board. He does all this now. The thrill of watching my boy saw off a hunk of cheese is enough to give me a shiver. No one would believe me if I told them. No one would care.

He is seven and doesn’t need to ask. This kitchen is his. In some parts of the world, he would have long since killed and dressed his first deer.

In the bedroom, I peel off my suit and whip my 6:00 hair up into a ponytail. My neck breathes and my spine shakes loose. When I come out, he is sucking down the last of the cherry yogurt and has knocked back the whole glass of rice milk. The golden ropes of hair tumbling past his shoulders are in desperate need of a comb. He bobs from one foot to the other. “Come on, Mom.” He picks up the remaining half of an egg and shoves it in his mouth. Then he jumps on his scooter and bangs out the door.

We have barely reached the corner when his name starts to ricochet around the park. Little voices call. Greeting or alert? Like prairie dogs, they pop up then down, re-arranging themselves. A girl crouched in the overgrown grass stands and waves a handful of buttercups at us. Another girl appears beside her. Together, they dart to the fence to watch us arrive then squeal and take off when we cross over. Three boys straddling the top of the slide leap to the ground and careen through the play equipment, faces flashing. The echoes of my boy’s name follow us in. He drops his scooter near the bike rack. Falling into stride with the galloping pack, he disappears.

When I see him next, he is hanging from the monkey bars at the center of a swarm of children.

His legs windmill and his torso pivots. Motion churns milk and egg to fertile slurry. His limbs unfold between blinks, telescoping, fanning, revealing new sinew snaking out across new bone. His arms stretch skyward. He plunges toward light.