Bread for the Birds

Bread and water – two things we cannot do without in life. Let’s make bread: white, wheat, oatmeal, even pumpernickel with a hint of chocolate, or rye with the bitter touch of caraway.

Stir together the flour, water, salt, oil. Whatever else it calls for. Check your recipe, mix, knead, let it rise.

Punch it down, shape it, bake it. See, I have it all written down for the different kinds right here.

Then set out the butter and the strawberry jam. They’ll always eat their fill.

Sometimes you make so much that even after everyone eats it for several days (toast for breakfast, ham sandwiches for lunch, butter-bread with soup for supper) the last pieces go stale. Then it sits on the counter, a few slices in a bag until, finally, there’s a little spot of mold on the last piece.

You might be inclined to throw that last slice away when it turns green. But don’t do it. One must never throw away bread or waste water. Bread is the staff of life. Never forget that. And never throw away even that slice of days-old bread that cannot be toasted or rejuvenated as bread pudding. Put it out for the birds, but never ever throw it in the trash.

We waste too much these days. We really must be more careful.

 The author's grandmother (at center) saved bread for the birds, and taught her daughter to do the same.

The author's grandmother (at center) saved bread for the birds, and taught her daughter to do the same.

- Hope Nisly is Acquisitions Librarian at Fresno Pacific University and a writer who lives in Reedley, California where she still tries to cut down on what she throws away. Her writing has been published in Mojave River ReviewFredericksburg Literary and Arts Review, The Esthetic Apostle, and DreamSeeker Magazine. Her stories have aired on Valley Writers Read, a program of the local NPR-affiliate radio station.

How To Remodel

Start with the perfect cobalt blue farmers sink, on sale at Lowe’s. It’s too big for your kitchen, but that doesn’t matter, you bought this house for its potential. Set the sink in the middle of the kitchen floor where the tiles are missing because you plan to install a mosaic there, and start ripping out cabinets. Replace the bronze drawer pulls with blue glass knobs.

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Do the dishes in the tub while the kitchen is torn up. It’s not that bad, even if your joints ache every time you kneel down and your back threatens to seize. Take a hot bath after the dishes are clean.

Buy new appliances (also on sale at Lowe’s). Store them in the garage; the kitchen cabinets are still half dismantled, sheets of one-inch tiles laid loosely over the plywood, and that beautiful sink is still on the floor because you need to replumb. Walk around it for the next ten years every time you move from the fridge to the microwave. 

When your lungs are too crowded with smoke to swing a hammer, hire your boyfriend-slash-handyman, who is slow but cheap and does really excellent work when he is sober. When he isn’t sober, lock the door but don’t call the cops, because really he just needs a break. He didn’t mean to set fire to your hair that time. It was an accident. He apologized, later. He started to build shelves in your bedroom.

Buy him tools, a coffeepot, a KitchenAid. Maybe he’ll stay clean now that somebody is taking care of him. And when you do call the cops, that night he is banging on your door and will not leave, that night he stabs the bartender downtown because you wouldn’t let him in, write a letter, telling the judge he’s getting better, he’s not perfect but he’s got such potential.

Take the doors off the cabinets. Line the open shelves with beautiful blue jars full of pasta and beans, flour and sugar and coffee. That sink will look so nice, when the kitchen is fixed up.

 The author and her mother

The author and her mother

 

- Christine Hanolsy is a writer from Portland, Oregon. She serves on the editorial staff of the online writing community YeahWrite, where her primary portfolio includes microprose, flash fiction, and poetry. She was a 2015 BlogHer Voices of the Year recipient and community keynote speaker for her essay Rights and Privileges. Her short fiction has been published in print by MidnightSun Publishing and online by Enchanted Conversation; other pieces appear on her blog, Trudging Through Fog. She is currently revising her first novel, which she co-authored with fellow YeahWrite editor and Dead Housekeeping contributor Rowan Becket Grigsby.

Abuela's Special Vegetable Soup

Chunky vegetable soup at your house was a treat.  The fun began when you started to prepare the vegetables. I was the happy recipient of your discarded strips of potato and carrot peel, celery ribs, fennel stalks. Butter knife in hand, I set to work industriously in the covered patio outside your kitchen.

We both chopped, sliced, and stirred in unison, you at the kitchen counter; me, at a picnic table, listening to your crystalline voice. You always loved to sing.

 Abuela in her garden

Abuela in her garden

You brought your soup to the table with a radiant smile. My pretend soup ended up in the trash. 

You didn’t complain if your 11 grandchildren made a mess, but you never tolerated rude language. “¡Te voy a poner una papa caliente en la boca!” The threat of a hot potato in our mouths was an effective deterrent.

Years later, when it was time for me to make soup for real, I asked you what made your soup taste so special. Your green eyes twinkled and you settled down for a chat, matecup in hand. The secret ingredient included flavors from the land of your ancestors, Spain.  

“Mix a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and a heaped tablespoon of smoked paprika and heat over a low fire until the paprika dissolves,” you said. The paprika imparts a smoky yet subtle flavor. “Make sure you don’t burn it, or it’ll taste bitter. Then trickle this infused oil on the soup.” 

These orangey-red pools of oil carry flavor, family traditions and childhood memories. 

 

 

- Ana Astri-O’Reilly is a fully bilingual Spanish-English travel blogger and writer originally from Argentina. She now lives in Dallas, USA, with her husband. Besides writing on her travel blogs, Ana Travels and Apuntes Ideas Imagenes, Ana has published travel and food articles in a variety of outlets as well. She likes to eat good food, read good books and play tennis (she’s a beast at the net!)    

How to Transport a Thanksgiving Turkey

Start by buying a bigger bird than you think you need. It will be frozen solid so don’t wait until the last minute like last year. On Thanksgiving Day, get up at 4:00 a.m. In a dark house with a single kitchen light burning, make stuffing by tearing two loaves of Wonder Bread into little pieces. Add onions and a lot of sage. 

Wash the bird and study the skin for pinfeathers. Pull them out with a paring knife until you can run your hands over the bird’s skin and not feel a single feather. Pack the turkey with stuffing and put it in the oven. Turn off the kitchen light and go back to bed. At 9:00 a.m., when everyone is awake and dressed for Thanksgiving, take the midnight blue roasting pan with the nearly done turkey out of the oven and set it on top of the stove. Put the lid on the roasting pan. Wrap the lidded roasting pan in a dozen layers of the Detroit Free Press and tie with twine. Call one of your children to put their finger on the knots so they are tied nice and tight. Place the wrapped roasting pan on more layers of newspaper in the trunk of the car.

Ride three hours in the blue and white Chevrolet your husband is driving. Listen to your kids in the backseat counting telephone poles and reading Burma-Shave signs. Worry a little that you didn’t buy a big enough bird. Doze off with the smell of roasted turkey heating the car and wake up in your mother’s driveway. See that your brothers are already there and know they are having cocktails and joking in the kitchen. Put the turkey in your mother’s oven and then look for the yellow baster you left in the drawer last year.

 The author's Mom and Grandma after dinner.

The author's Mom and Grandma after dinner.

- Jan Wilberg grew up traveling two-lane roads in Michigan and would still rather be in a car than anywhere. She is a daily blogger at Red's Wrap and has had essays published in Newsweek, the New York Times Modern Love, and three anthologies. She was a 2015 BlogHer Voice of the Year, selected for an essay called "Blindsided" about coping with severe hearing loss. Now a cochlear implant recipient, she is reacquainting herself with the hearing world but still likes the printed page better.

How to Cook Cod Pil-Pil for Your Son-In-Law and His Mates

Drive sixty miles to La Sucursal in Lugo. They sell the best salt cod; it doesn’t flake and will leave your son-in-law and his mates (and, of course, yourself) satisfied. Why Lugo, in the interior, has better cod to offer than your town, on the coast, remains a mystery.

Immerse the cod in a bowl of water under a cloth so that it can free itself of the salt. Leave for forty-eight hours and change the water every twelve. Shake your head every time your grandchildren come into the kitchen to check if the cod is still under the cloth.

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In a clay pot coated with olive oil (generously), brown a chopped head of garlic and eight chilies. Take out and replace with the cod, skin on the outside. Grab the sides of the pot with both hands and shake firmly, in circles. Do it for twenty minutes: it is vital that you don’t stop, even after the sweat starts to pour. The grandchildren will stare at the cod as it lets out its fat to produce the thick, white sauce known as pil-pil.

Dish up with the garlic and chili. Join your son-in-law and his mates in the basement and enjoy your dinner. Your grandchildren will eat their soup in the kitchen, but make sure they eat a bit of cod too: fish is an acquired taste and it is important they start early.

 

- Originally from Galicia in Spain and a resident of Glasgow in Scotland, Eva Ferry's fiction and non-fiction work has been published or is forthcoming in Salome Lit, The Public Domain Review, The Corvus Review, The Cold Creek Review, Foliate Oak and Novelty Magazine, among others.

Cabbage Rolls On Vicodin

Mom and I come up to help you and Pap after you get your knees replaced. Pap’s old-school, a Greatest Generation guy who’s only comfortable cooking BLTs, maybe an egg or two. Mom and I trade off tasks, but we want to leave you with sustenance: your trademark cabbage rolls.

From your bed, you sleepily tell us the ingredients. The filling is half ground pork, half ground beef, a kind of rice they don’t make anymore (I parboil regular rice), chopped onion, eggs. The cabbage, you say, should be dense. Feel how much it weighs. For the sauce, get Campbell’s tomato soup, the big cans. We’ll also want to get a can of chopped tomatoes to put on the bottom on the pot along with the pieces of the cabbage we cut off so the bottom rolls don’t burn. The sauerkraut should be the kind with caraway seeds. Remember to squeeze it.

 Gram, on the phone with the author

Gram, on the phone with the author

Pap helps you out of your room while Mom and I smoosh together the filling. We’re using your big pot to boil the cabbage—not the heavy one of my childhood that gave us your pot roasts, but a lighter one that one of your kids must have gotten you. You tell us to put the whole head in there; stick a fork in the core, and with a knife, cut off the leaves as they get tender and stack them off to the side. “Be careful. You’ll get …”—you search for words, even though you’re nothing if not precise—“… hot hands.” Mom and I look at each other and realize that you’re kind of high from your pain medication. But you’re also right. You remember all this, even behind the curtain of Vicodin, the lessons of your Polish mother.

You show us how to form the cabbage rolls, using a sharp knife to trim the edges. “Tuck in the ends. Not like that. Like this. You don’t want them to fall apart.” You do one before you need to rest. Mom and I are both amateurs at this—it’s a miracle of pharmacology and aging that we’re allowed to use your kitchen—but we do our best.

I’m assembling and layering the cabbage rolls in the pot, and I run out of tomato soup. I scrabble through the cupboards because I know I don’t have time to go to the store, not if you and Pap will eat at a decent hour. I come up with some Prego.

We wake you. We ask you if it’s okay that we use Prego in the cabbage rolls. “Some people do,” you say.

“Some people,” I realize too late, translates into “some poor fools who weren’t taught right.” (Later, you’ll tell Mom, “I don’t know why I said that!” and laugh.) We ruin the cabbage rolls and know it almost immediately—but you eat a little over the mashed potatoes that Mom made and say, “I love you, my angels.”

 

Jennifer Niesslein is the editor of Full Grown People and the author of Practically Perfect in Every Way. You can read more about her Gram, a bootlegger’s granddaughter, in Jennifer’s essay “Before We Were Good White.”

 

Preserving Time

Perfect sun-warmed peaches fill baskets slung on my arm in August. A recipe from my mother reads “Pfirsiche,” but I hardly need it. That day, my granddaughter fetches the folded paper. She is a struwwelpeter, a messy child, whose hair catches on the fly paper hanging in the barn. She needs taming, and I start with teaching her to preserve peaches.

I tie an apron behind my neck, as we begin putting time in a bottle.  We wash a dozen quart-size jars with Ivory liquid in the porcelain sink. Rainbow bubbles escape into the sunlight streaming through the wavy glass of the farmhouse windows. Her smooth young hands—a contrast to my wrinkled ones—reach out to catch them.

 The author's grandmother and great-grandmother, picking peaches in 1943

The author's grandmother and great-grandmother, picking peaches in 1943

Dropping the clean glass into pots of boiling water with tongs, I set the timer to twenty. I show her how to schnibble with a paring knife, and she fills a red enamel bowl to the brim, my clever Schnookzie.

Add the zucker and the salz, I say, teaching her German as we cook—two-cups per two- cups per bowlful. Easy. I want her to remember. She rolls lemons under her palm, halves them, squeezes out the juice. Mixing everything together with my hands, I tell her, these will be the best tools in your kitchen. I sprinkle in ein kleines of vanilla, which we both pronounce a klex into the filled jars.  Sealing the lids, I say, wait for the magic.  Peng! go the tops, and she laughs.

- Ryder Ziebarth is a writer, a gardener and a mother, who lives on a hay farm in Central New Jersey where her daughter is fifth generation. Ryder received her MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2016 and has been published in Brevity, The New York Times, N Magazine and is currently working on a memoir about her life on Cedar Ridge Farm.

Ginny's Magic Cookie Dust

Roll-out cookies are the wild child of Christmas goodies. The dough can be temperamental and sticky, but Ginny Snyder, who was practically a second mother to me, used her gentle ways---and a neat little baking trick--to tame the flour, butter and sugar.  Beneath her large, capable hands, cookie dough relaxed and became a docile, calm collaborator.

Ginny concocted a sweet, silky dust from an equal  mix of flour and confectioner’s sugar to keep the dough in line. She’d pinch a tablespoon or so between her long fingers and thumb and sprinkle it over the work surface to prevent unruly stickiness.  And with each creaky, back-and-forth of the rolling pin, she coaxed the dough into a thinner and thinner canvas.

I marveled at her firm, tender technique. With a grainy swipe, she slid a metal spatula underneath the freshly-cut shapes, lifted them off the board and onto the cookie sheet, not a tear, wrinkle or deformed Santa in sight. Even the leaping reindeer’s antlers stayed intact.

 Image via Chauncer/Flickr

Image via Chauncer/Flickr

With her long torso bent over the cookie sheets, Ginny’s fingertips moved with care and lightness, and each piece of raw dough got a smidgeon of affection.

When the timer pinged and they emerged from the oven, those cookies loved her back. They required only a slight nudge to break free of the pan. No breaks or crumbles either.

- Linda Miller is a freelance writer and memoirist who has worked in newspapers, higher education public relations and magazine publishing. She's a Baby Boomer from Slatington, a small town in southeastern Pennsylvania, and grew up with the quickest, funniest Dad ever, a former RN Mom who created a loving and beautiful home, and a younger brother who never missed an episode of Combat! on Tuesday nights. 

Grandma's Bread


Grandma raised seven children during the Great Depression, baking bread every morning but the Sabbath. Even a generation later, with the house filled only on weekends, there was never a loaf of store-bought bread.

Grandma couldn’t read, so I had to watch her prepare what we all called “grandma’s bread,” writing down the recipe and guessing at amounts. “Feel the water on your wrist,” she showed me, as she mushed a cake of Red Star yeast into a glass of warm water, “and add a bissel sugar.” We waited for it to bubble and foam. Five times she scooped from the 50-pound sack of flour that lived in the corner cupboard, dumping each scoop into a large ceramic bowl. “Make a well,” she said. Into it she tossed two small piles of salt, measured in the palm of her hand, the yeasty water, a blob of Crisco, and another glass of water. “Here’s the secret,” she whispered, cracking two eggs, saving out a little yolk for the crust, and pouring in the rest.
 

 the author's grandmother sitting in her yard

the author's grandmother sitting in her yard

Grandma’s large, rough hands – hands that also embroidered, and cleaned, and hovered over the Shabbos candles, but rarely had hugged her own children – kneaded the smooth white dough. I knew I gave her naches: joy from children. “Just for you,” she’d say, forming a baby loaf, back when I was a little girl who tiptoed downstairs at sunrise. It smelled and tasted of love when I ate it, hot from the oven, slathered with good Wisconsin butter.

- Enid Kassner is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University writing program. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Elephant Journal3QR: The Three Quarter ReviewRat’s Ass ReviewInscape, Switchgrass ReviewWatershed Review, and other publications. She was awarded first place in creative nonfiction by the Coastal Bend Wellness Foundation. Enid writes and teaches yoga in Arlington, Virginia.

How to Make Daal

Spread lentils on a rattan tray, surveying every single grain. Scan for tiny pebbles masquerading as lentils. Close your eyes. Feel with fingertips for hard pebbles amidst the suede of lentils.
 
Rinse once. Drain. 
 
Rinse again, watching bits of dirt surrender—the flotsam you wish you could cull in your life. Drain.
 
Rinse again. Wonder if it’s ever completely cleansed? Be reminded of scars. Drain.
 
Repeat till it feels redundant or clear, whichever comes first.
 
Cook low and slow in a silver-clad handi —stir in all the spices you can muster. Simmer till the tiny beans forgot they were tiny and turn into fiery silk. Lace with garlic slices fried in ghee. Entice everyone within one kilometer of the house.
 
Ladle two big spoonfuls of steaming daal onto an island of gleaming white rice. Your plate: cheery and hopeful. A ruse.
 
Suck in your breath. Brace yourself for the unabashed heat. 
 
The first spoonful is confrontational, the second, loud. The following are demanding—your mouth feels numb and your skin lets go of beads in apology for all you can’t go back and heal.
 
Remember—it’s punishing and delicious. Remember your childhood zeal for it annoyed your mother who made perfectly delicious daal herself, though hers didn’t try to pick a fight with the world; being so brash, like your grandmother’s.
 
Your mother’s daal: a well-constructed, post-colonial argument, checking off all the vagaries of politeness and repression. Her daal took the path of perfectly balanced civility in spices, tried to smile its way out of anger, tried to look to the ground to mask moments of rage. 

 the author's Nani and mother on her mother's wedding day in 1975

the author's Nani and mother on her mother's wedding day in 1975


You are definitely full. Ladle another big spoonful.
 
Because this reverie will end the moment you lick your fingers. You’d be back yearning for a home that never was.
 

- Saadia Muzaffar is a marvellous, brown, work-in- progress - trying to feel her way through life, friendship and love while fighting to stay angry.

Of Modakams and Meticulousness

Savoury Modakams were everyone’s favourite. Soaked uraddhal and chillies, coarsely ground then steamed. Seasoned with mustard seeds, curry leaves, a pinch of asafetida and a generous amount of grated coconut.

 The author's Patti, whose nimble fingers moulded perfect modakams

The author's Patti, whose nimble fingers moulded perfect modakams

“Never leave the coconut for more than thirty seconds in the hot oil,” was Patti’s thumb rule.

“The determinant of a good ‘Modakam’ is its wafer-thin skin and not the sweet or savoury puran whose taste lingers on after the consumption.”

Pinching off a ball of wet rice dough, cooked in boiling water with a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of oil, she would use her fingers to flatten the edges and work the middle to get a cup shape. Then she would spoon the filling, nimbly bring the edges closer to taper it at the top and break off the extra dough. the finished Modakam would join the army in the steaming plate.

 "Innipu kozhukkattai" Image by  Jayashree Govindarajan/Wikipedia  

"Innipu kozhukkattai" Image by Jayashree Govindarajan/Wikipedia 

“It is an endurance test, a testimony to becoming a good wife.” I would look at the broken dough in my hand, panic shuddering through me. Secretly smashing it, I would start again.

As the making peaked, Patti would multi-task. She would knead fresh batches of the dough with water and oil, splash water on the cooked Modakams, coax them apart and transfer them to big steel bowls after they cooled.

The process would go on throughout the day. By night, not a single Modakam would be left. Patti would be stretched on the heirloom wooden swing, expecting no praise.

- Vijayalakshmi Sridhar has been surrounded by stories since young - both telling and listening to. Her day job as a freelance feature writer for the mainstream dailies and monthlies is the platform through which she meets people, many of whom have found their way to her stories’ characters- either as they are or in disguised forms. She believes that human relationships and their dynamics are the most interesting things to write about. She is keen to explore her journey as a story writer in non- specific genres. A mother of two girls, Vijayalakshmi is also interested and involved in many other creative pursuits.

How to Make the Coffee

This essay was written collaboratively by the editors of Dead Housekeeping. We honor how caretakers come together across race, religion, and nationality to mourn, to commiserate, and to plan after cataclysmic events. We owe the idea to our founding editor Lisa Schamess, for calling us in as a group to write this about the letter-writing, stamp-licking coffee klatsches of the 1960s and 1970s. It was healing for us to write after the U.S. election results last week. We hope it’s healing to read as well.

 

How to Make the Coffee

 

First, go to the store. In addition to things for the coffee, make sure and buy tissues. Some people will need a place to cry tonight.

The house may sparkle or it may be filthy. Maybe you clean when you are upset, maybe your nervous energy propels you to scrub the baseboards, or maybe the house has gone all to hell. If a mountain of junk has grown on the table, clear it off. You can put everything neatly in its place, or throw it in a hamper for later. You'll need a clear workspace, a place for everyone's cups.

Bring up the folding chairs. Alter the furniture for company and tasks. Vignettes for conversation, for work, for sitting next to.

Look for the folding table you last used at Thanksgiving. It isn't in the basement. Did you lend it to Sybil and forget to get it back? Or did the leg break? No matter. Someone has one you can borrow. Start with Sybil.

Consider making coffee cake: That recipe that everyone raves over. A little sweetness at a time like this is always welcome.

At least one person you invited doesn't drink coffee. Check your tea supply.

Not everyone will want what's in that cup. Offer anything. Everything. Until you get it right.

The coffee is bitter and the product of so many hands.

The milk is farmed from beings who made it for their children, not ours.

The sugar is bitterest of all, bitterest of all.

How do we raise our bitter cups together?

Let the children play under the table. What do they know yet. What will they know.

Drink the bitterness, leave lipstick on the cup.

You have a close friend who comes early to help set up. She's telling you what she cannot say later. She thoughtfully sets a napkin under the percolator spout.

This is just your "little coffee klatsch" you tell the men. You'll be home by 11 or so.

Light a candle in the bathroom. Not everyone wants to cry in public, but those who need privacy deserve warmth, too.

There's the smell of coffee, perfumes, and store-bought pastries. Cocktail napkins, condiments, cups stacked on a tray.

It will feel good to see everyone together. Your heavy hearts will fill the whole room. Everyone brings what they can. For example: There's nothing wrong with a friend liberating a pack of legal pads and two boxes of envelopes from the office where she works. We all find our way to stock the communal tote bag of supplies.

An envelope on an end table is displayed quietly for group costs. One friend leaves a generous ten every meeting. It's what she has to offer.

The dryer will buzz. Leave it.

Draw water. Fill the urn to the line. Put the basket into the urn and turn the stem. You will know it is set right when you feel the click in the notch.

Measure out the grounds, spoon by spoon. Add one for the pot.

Put the lid on and turn it to lock. Plug in the cord. The brew will begin to bubble.

Let your children watch all this.

Someday they too will mix and brew and stir the pot.

Call them from under the table to put the pastry on the plate, the good one with gold leaf that your grandmother gave your mother. Let them lick their fingers and put them back into the pastry box. Pretend not to see. A little spit never killed a soul.

One day when you re old, write the instructions for the percolator on an index card, and tape it to the inside of the box the percolator came in. Your children will need this when you're gone, when percolators have fallen out of common use and yet await their time for gatherings.

- The Housekeepers

How to Organize a Mother's Day Party

Wear a lungi wrapped artfully around your waist, and an undershirt with frayed sleeves to make phone calls to all the men in the community. If this doesn’t take at least one whole day, you’ve left someone off the list.

Round up fathers, single men, and children over the age of 15. Even if they’re not husbands or fathers, they can still contribute; they have all had mothers. 

They will come to your house the Saturday evening prior to Mother’s Day to prepare and cook the food. Time your preparations so they coincide with the FA Cup final. Cooking is always improved by soccer.

Plan the menu in advance. It doesn’t much matter which curries you cook, but chilli must be used liberally. This is how you maintain your golden rule of cooking; the hotter the curries, the sweeter the dessert. You will organise the dishes efficiently but without much passion; it’s hard to get excited about vegetarian food. 

Your passion is reserved for dessert. You will make sharkara payasam. This sickly sweet umber ambrosia is your speciality, and you’re famed throughout the community for the way you combine the ghee, rice, jaggery, and coconut in perfect proportions. 

 The author's father serving  sharkara payasam  at one of the many parties he loved

The author's father serving sharkara payasam at one of the many parties he loved

Your helpers will be an unruly bunch, heckling soccer teams into wins or losses, but you know they will follow your instructions. Revel in their rambunctiousness.

There will be time to remind them, once more, that all the mothers and mother-substitutes are not to lift a finger on their special day.

- Asha Rajan

How to Make Three-Minute Eggs


A tall porcelain egg cup is the only appropriate receptacle from which to eat a three-minute egg.
Not soft boiled, “three-minute.” Three minutes is the exact amount of time you need to achieve custardy white and soupy yolk perfection.

Use the old Farberware pot. It holds the perfect amount of water to cover the egg, but not so much that you crack the egg when you drop it in.

Watch the pot until the electric stove coil turns red.

 The author's great-grandmother; a good egg

The author's great-grandmother; a good egg

When the water starts to boil, take two eggs from the carton and lower them into the pot. Some people use a spoon for this. Not you. Kitchen work is best done with one’s own hands.

Replace the lid. Set the yellow timer. Only the timer, never a clock, because a few seconds over or under done won’t do.

When the timer rings, drain the water and put the eggs right into the cups.

One for her. One you.

 Image by Besty Weber/Flickr

Image by Besty Weber/Flickr

Crack the shell. Peel a small piece of the white off the tops. Eat it. Use the yellow and white daisy salt-shaker to salt the yolk.

Eat the warm egg with a spoon straight from the shell. A piece of toasted challah, well buttered, for mopping up the drips.

It’s a small thing you do together, once a week. But she will remember it even after thirty years have passed.
 

- Samantha Brinn Merel spent one day every week at her great-grandmother's apartment when she was little. Along with how to make a perfect three-minute egg, during those visits she learned the appropriate way to apply blue eyeshadow, the joy of rhinestone clip-on earrings, how to make a thumbprint cookie, and how to knead challah dough by hand - even though owning a Kitchen Aid mixer means she will never actually employ that particular skill. She was a contributing author to the anthology The Herstories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain, and Power of Female Friendship, and blogs at This Heart of Mine.

How to Make a Gumbo

The roux is everything. It cannot be rushed, there are no shortcuts. It is finicky, precise, requiring your constant attention, otherwise it will burn in an instant and the whole thing is shot to hell. The only way is to stand over it – flour and butter– and smoke three Vantage cigarettes end to end, stirring until the desired shade of brown. Between inhales, tell your children about patience and the importance of slowing down.

Next add the Holy Trinity: onion, celery, green peppers. Cook until softened. Add three cups broth and change into a terrycloth jumper before deboning the chicken and cutting up the sausage. You only go to this kind of trouble for people you love, so call the kids back to the kitchen. Laugh loudly and ask questions while your son tells you about his latest video game. When your daughter moodily rests her chin on the bar, draw out the story of the sneering girl in the Guess jeans.

 The author and her mother, in her signature terrycloth jumper

The author and her mother, in her signature terrycloth jumper

The okra will be slimy if added directly. Boil it for 3-5 minutes first, drain, then add. For a secret kick, throw in a can of Rotel tomatoes. Tony Chachere’s and pepper to taste (only a Yankee would add sea salt). Simmer with 2 bay leaves. 

Eat standing up while fetching the kids sparkling grape juice and more rice. When you’re gone, your daughter will create a mythology about your selfless love and won’t realize until she's 40 that virtue is not necessarily born of self-sacrifice. 

Freezes well.

- Elizabeth Beauvais is a writer and independent sustainability consultant.  For twenty years, her writing and editing largely focused on food justice and security, environmental policy and corporate social responsibility, but now she's hard at work to develop her creative side in narrative nonfiction through her blog at https://ebeauvaisblog.wordpress.com and through other channels.

Mrs Brown's Cardamom Bread


We were newlyweds, poor, and convinced that living naturally was important for ours and the earth’s welfare. We bought flour, grains, and beans in unpacked bulk and shopped at grocers that sold abundant supplies of beautifully green produce. I learned how to bake yeast bread—basic white, wheat breads.

He spoke longingly of the bread his mother made at Christmas. He called it Cardamon bread, a light gently sweet aromatic bread made with a cardamon spice. I tried but no recipe I found matched his memory of its texture and flavor. I needed guidance, but his family lived in Minnesota far from DC. Two years later we went to Minnesota for Christmas. His mother’s kitchen was immaculate. I felt awkward there, but watched her make the bread. 

Mrs. Brown smashed the cardamon seeds from their shells, dumped them into a bowl of hot milk, and added the yeast when the milk cooled. She mixed sugar and shortening (margarine or Crisco) in the electric mixer bowl and stirred in the yeast mixture. Flour was added gradually to obtain a soft dough. 

She let the dough rise, doubling in size, then punched it down. At the second rising, she turned the dough out onto a floured board, it was allowed to rest for about fifteen minutes. The dough was then divided in half, the halves were divided into three sections. Their ends dampened, pressed together and braided. Two loaves were made. They were allowed to rise. Then a yolk diluted with water was painted over the top, and sugar sprinkled over it. Then she baked the loaves. 

The bread was as delicious as my husband said. I would bake it for him the next sixteen years before our divorce.
 

-- Leslie Brown grew up in a close-knit working class family in Detroit and now lives in Virginia.  Where many playmates went south during the summer, she spent many fondly remembered weeks at her grandparent’s apartment near Hastings Street before the area was urban renewed. She retired from work as a librarian, working in public as well as university libraries. She enjoyed work helping students discover literature and information. She holds n MFA in creative writing from American University and served as an editor for American University Graduate magazine while there. Since retiring, she has explored various writing forms and multi-media formats. She created a video imagining the black migrant’s experience, "Detroit Great Migration Impressions.” 

How to Grow and Preserve a Garden

Don’t worry overmuch about details. Consult a grandchild about where you should put the garden, and then dig up the lawn wherever they point. Pretty much if you till the ground and throw some seeds in and make sure it gets watered, things will grow. You will have to do the tilling, but little kids like to help plant seeds. Show a grandchild how to do the first one and then let them do the rest however they want. If they get bored and abandon the job, you can finish it.

The best way to water is the beer method: stand out there watering for as long as it takes you to drink a beer while the child swings on the rope swing. When your beer is done, or the child wants to do something else, you are done watering.

Harvest when there are too many strawberries for the child to keep up with by eating them straight from the vine. For veggies, harvest whenever. If several are ripe together, then you can preserve them.

People worry about canning, but really the process is pretty easy. It’s okay if your kitchen is dirty as long as the jars are clean. Boil the jars in a stock pot while you are cooking the preserves. For the preserves, measurements can be approximate; let a grandchild do the measuring, but don’t let them stir the preserves if they are young, lest they burn themselves. They can help transfer the hot preserves to the jars if they are old enough and carefully supervised. Details like head space and pretty labels don’t matter; if the jar is 2/3rds full, it will be fine. Process the jars in the stock pot and then take them out and line them up on the counter. Draw your grandchild’s attention to the popping sound as each jar seals.

Give the preserves to your children: the grandchild’s parents, aunts, uncles. The labels can read “cranberry something” or “corn peppers onions.” A general idea of what the jars contain is fine.

Months after you die, your children will open the jars, and you will be able to feed them again.

 

- Tedra Osell is a freelance writer and editor who lives in California with her precocious son and a bitey cat. She used to be a famous blogger and a non-famous English professor. Her father died of pancreatic cancer this spring.

How to Make Spaghetti

You don’t like spaghetti Neo what style anymore? Neopolitan? You been eating it Neopolitan style. You ate it Neopolitan style before you went off to Yale. I don’t care if they served 3 kinds of pasta with 3 different kinds of sauces to choose from.

 Image by jeffreyw/Flickr

Image by jeffreyw/Flickr

Boil the spaghetti. Add some salt. Also add oil so it doesn’t stick together. Brown some ground beef seasoned with Lawry’s. Use some paper towels to drain the oil from the beef. Heat some jars of Ragu in a pot. Season it; you know Ragu doesn’t have any flavor. Chop up some bell pepper and onions. Drain the cooked spaghetti. Pour it back into the pot you boiled it in. Add the warm sauce, meat, bell peppers, and onions. Stir it up.

Sauce to pasta ratio? Girl, you can eat this spaghetti or starve.

- Deesha Philyaw is the co-author of Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households After Divorce, written in collaboration with her ex-husband. Deesha's writing on race, parenting, gender, and culture has appeared in The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteFullGrownPeople.com, and elsewhere. At The Rumpus, Deesha inaugurated an interview column called VISIBLE: Women Writers of Color. 

How to Make Potato Salad

Thanks to Black Twitter, the world now knows the significance of potato salad to Black Americans. I don't know why this is, or why potato salad, of all foods, but I do know that "Who made the potato salad?" is the first question you ask before making a plate at a cookout. Because you don't eat just anyone's potato salad. But decades before Twitter existed, my mother instilled in me this culinary suspicion and potato salad monotheism: hers was the one true way to make it. She would bring her potato salad to cookouts, baby showers, and other events, even when she wasn’t asked to bring it. People raved about my mother's potato salad and this only reinforced her belief that hers was the only acceptable potato salad and no one else’s would ever measure up.

Dice the potatoes. Cook until firm. Unless you plan to make mashed potato salad. Also put on a pot of eggs to boil. Drain the potatoes and let cool on the counter, and then chill the potatoes and eggs inside the refrigerator. Finely chop some bell pepper and white onions. Don’t be lazy and chop them into hunks. No one wants hunks of bell pepper and onions in their potato salad. If you can’t do it right, then move and I’ll do it. Once the potatoes are cold, chop the boiled eggs. Combine the potatoes and egg in a large bowl with the peppers and onions. Then do all of the following BEFORE stirring—you don’t want to overstir and end up with mashed potato salad: season with Lawry’s, black pepper, and paprika; add mayo, not Miracle Whip; add yellow mustard (this is not white people potato salad); add pickle relish. Stir just enough to blend and coat the potatoes. You should have added enough mustard and paprika so that it is almost day-glo orange and not white like white people potato salad. Sprinkle a little more paprika on top. And serve. You know, I don’t eat anybody’s potato salad except Van’s. She’s the one who taught me how to make it. 

 

 Image by Whitney/Flickr

Image by Whitney/Flickr

I never made potato salad for my mother. Hers was delicious, but I prefer to make mine with less mustard. Or as my mother would say, more like white people’s

- Deesha Philyaw is the co-author of Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households After Divorce, written in collaboration with her ex-husband. Deesha's writing on race, parenting, gender, and culture has appeared in The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteFullGrownPeople.com, and elsewhere. At The Rumpus, Deesha inaugurated an interview column called VISIBLE: Women Writers of Color.