Growing Avocados Like Asa

Cut carefully around your avocado, longways. Twist to separate and spoon out half the insides. Spread onto toast and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Over the next twelve hours, the other half will brown. You can't bring yourself to eat it so you peel away the gummy, dried exterior, pry loose the pit and toss the rest with regret. Clean the pit gently with warm water. 

Reach into the spice cabinet for the twenty year old box of toothpicks you stole from your grandparents' house and will never empty. (Your sister will, though, and store it, flattened, between photos of you at her first birthday party.) Pierce the pit with three toothpicks spread equidistantly, careful not to snap these tiny supports in half. During rainy months they'll bend on insertion and you will say to no one, "oh, crumb."

The author at her first birthday, with brother Asa, age 13.

The author at her first birthday, with brother Asa, age 13.

Suspended in a half-full cup of water, the pit sprouts roots and stem if you shuttle it from sunbeam to sunbeam. 

Eat half an avocado on toast once a week. 

Leggy, an undeniable eyesore, their roots will circle the bottoms of jam jars and promotional glasses from The Spaghetti Factory. Change the water weekly but never plant a single one.

-Stefanie Le Jeunesse

When you don’t have enough, it’s okay to substitute.

Any chef will tell you substitutions are crucial to innovation. However, in grandma’s house, innovation often tasted bitter. Grandpa would point us to the refrigerator and nearly beg us to eat whatever was in there. “Get it out of the house,” he’d say.

One of grandma’s favorites was Rice Krispy treats, a delight in nearly any other kitchen. Here, they were always rock-hard. Yet the recipe is so simple I can easily recite it from memory.[1]

In grandma’s kitchen, lining up ingredients was not part of the recipe; she’d only check the pantry as the list demanded. And she wouldn’t have enough of something. Maybe Karo syrup. So she improvised. Just add more granulated sugar. Or peanut butter. When grandma asked me to taste a spoonful, I’d think of ways to not hurt her feelings. “You can really taste the peanut butter,” I’d say, or, “Wow, what are these? Raisins?”

Pictured: T  he author's brother and grandma, with a safe, store-bought cake. T  he fact that we have no pictures of   her in the kitchen helps prove the point that she was not   immortalized there.

Pictured: The author's brother and grandma, with a safe, store-bought cake. The fact that we have no pictures of her in the kitchen helps prove the point that she was not immortalized there.

Now that I’ve learned to cook, I want to take her into my kitchen, to resurrect her from memory and make her real again. We’ll spend an afternoon skipping work, playing in the kitchen. She’ll ask where the rolling pin has gone, and I’ll tell her it’s in a box back in Spokane, along with her china and matching silverware. She’ll pet the cat and ask if I’ll ever move back home. And while we make our batches of gooey, peanutty treats, I’ll tell her that I would if she would be there, too.


I would, even for her home-cooked meals.


[1] See author bio.



- Jenne Knight’s Peanut Butter Rice Krispy Treats are made with 1c granulated sugar, 1c Karo syrup, 1c creamy peanut butter, and 6c Rice Krispies cereal. On the stove, slowly melt the sugars and peanut butter in a large soup pan. Remove from heat. Stir in the cereal. Once coated, immediately pack the mixture into an 8 by 8 pan. Let cool. Eat. Find more at www.jenneknight.com.




Let Her Think it's Terrible

When a grandchild pesters you for a sip of your coffee, because you have a known sweet tooth and she figures whatever you're having must be good, make a strong pot and give her a steaming mug of her own.

Telling her coffee will stunt her growth won’t work. She is contrary and will say she prefers to be small. She still isn’t brushing her teeth because someone tried to turn Merritt Morrison’s dentures into a cautionary tale. That backfired and now she wants false teeth just like he has.

Give it to her straight, so full she can hardly lift it.

After her first burning taste she will leave you alone. Don’t say you haven't had your coffee black since the war. Add milk and sugar when she wanders off to pet the poodle. Stir idly, enjoy.

In the afternoon the child will grab her customary can of Coke from the fruit cellar. She’ll find you first, sweeping sweet-smelling sawdust in your little basement woodshop or enjoying the sun on a patio lawn chair, planning tomorrow’s puttering. Maybe you will trim the apple tree, or hose off the cement Virgin who presides by the shed.

painting by Kathy Codere (daughter of the subject, mother of the author)

painting by Kathy Codere (daughter of the subject, mother of the author)

Do you want a pop, too? She’ll drink hers in front of the TV with M&Ms from the cut glass candy jar by your seat on the couch.

This same method works for your evening 7&7s. Let her have a harsh taste of Seagram’s before you sweeten it. She won’t bother you for another sip and her mother will come take her home as you turn the dial to Wheel of Fortune.

 

- Meredith Counts is a Founding Editor of Dead Housekeeping. This piece appears on the three month anniversary of starting this site. 

Macaroni and Tomato

“It’s so simple. Just cook some macaroni and pour in some tomatoes.”

Mama’s verbal instructions were simple. But there were so many variations.

Method 1: Combine cooked macaroni noodles with a jar of home-canned tomatoes. Talk to your little girl about when we all drove up to Aunt Char’s farm, and picked and canned them. Sit down at the table to eat with her. Tell her a story, or sing her a song when you’re done.

Method 2: Combine noodles and home-canned tomatoes as above. Call for your daughter to come to the kitchen and eat. She stays so busy now. Be gracious and understanding when she rushes off after eating to go spend time with her friends.

Method 3: Heat up a bowl of the macaroni and tomato you made the previous night in anticipation of your daughter coming home for the weekend. Listen while she tells you everything about college. Smile and keep it to yourself that you know she isn’t telling you everything.

Method 4: Use a store bought can of tomatoes because it has been many years since you could pick and can your own. Hold your new granddaughter in your arms while her mother eats a bowl of the best food in the world.

Method 5: Hold your daughter’s hand while she reminisces with you about how she always loved your macaroni and tomato. Laugh about what a simple thing that was. Smile and squeeze her hand a little tighter when she sheds a tear and tells you it is her favorite food in the world.

photo by the author

photo by the author


- Nena Gravil is a writer and an artist who works a daytime gig as an Information Systems Security Engineer to pay the bills. She shares a home in Nashville with two snakes, two cats, and one dog. Nena has one daughter, one girlfriend, and one best friend, and she understands exactly how fortunate she is. Sometimes she sings way too loudly in the shower and it's ridiculous. 

Stand up, stand up

I yell at my husband for doing it.

Nag at him in the same way she nagged so many people about so many things that it is now the genetic marker against which many of us are measured.

“You are your grandmother’s grandson,” I am told.

 “Sit down when you’re eating,” I reprimand. “A Canadian study showed that people who ate while standing consumed 30 percent more calories than people who were sitting.”1

But then he’ll come into the kitchen, and there I will be. Standing over the sink and eating my lunch, looking out the window as she did. My mind a million miles from where I am, remembering her standing in her housecoat at the sink, looking out the window, smoking a cigarette, her Black Russian sweating large beads on the kitchen table, her mind a million miles from where she stood.

  photo supplied by the author

  photo supplied by the author

“Eat that over the sink,” she would say, returning to her chair as General Hospital returned from commercial.

Yes. If you stand while you eat, studies have shown that you are likely to consume 30 percent more calories than the sitters. 

But, if you stand and eat over the sink, there are no dishes to do. You’ll drop no crumbs on your clean kitchen floor. You will not need to wipe down the table when you are finished.

 

1 Please note: Included for dramatic effect. I don’t always quote obscure Canadian scientific studies.

 

-T. (Tom) Cashman Avila-Beck is a writer who lives in Bangor, Maine and works in Washington, DC. Well, technically, he works in an attic in Bangor, surrounded by stacks of hardcover books and comic books, where he tries to keep the dog quiet enough to get through remote conference calls with a minimum of embarrassment. His work has been published in magazines that oddly all have the word "Metro" in the title, and has been rejected by a number of magazines that do not. 

Liz's Cornbread

Measurements will be given by gestures.

A slight wheeling of the hands. Pinches of air. Cupped palms.

You will need to explain this again and again.

 

Equipment:

Yellow Pyrex Bowl.

Hands.

Blackened, burned out aluminum pan.

 

Ingredients:

This

That

Buttermilk

 

Mix.

                                                                      illustration by Meredith Counts

                                                                      illustration by Meredith Counts

 

Previous to this - and over 50 years -

You should have made a mark on the temperature knob of the oven.

That mark should be between 425 degrees and 450.

The reason is that’s just where it should be.

 

When oven is hot, wait half an hour because your sister called and she’s your sister and you love her, but that woman is an asshole.

 

Put several spoons of shortening in pan.

Place pan in hot oven while reminding everyone the oven is hot.

 

At the right moment, remove the pan. Pour batter in.

It will smell like summer time.

Incidentally, it is always summertime and you can’t wait, Jennifer, until it snows up to your asshole.

 

Make a salad plate:

Iceberg.

Tomato.

Pickle.

No one will touch this.

 

Remove cornbread.

Swear.

 

Spoons.

Butter knives.

Margarine.

 

Rap on the kitchen wall to those in the den - shave and a haircut.

 

Cut cornbread into large squares.

Overfeed everyone because that is love.

Butter it while it’s hot because you have to and because you have been told.

 

- Jennifer Cumby

How to Clean Crabs: Or the Finer Points of First Aid with Seafood

I watch crawfish skitter around my kitchen sink, clamorous and clawing.  The spectre of my father hovers, whispering the steps to crustacean preparation.

Step 1:  Purchase the freshest live crabs from your seafood market or fishmonger.  Freshness is directly proportional to nippiness.

Step 2:  Empty crabs into the deep trough of your kitchen sink.  Maintain a wary distance as crabs scramble atop each other, clawing at eye stalks, snapping at pincers.

Step 3:  Grip a large cleaver in your right hand, steel your courage, and grab a crab firmly to summarily do away with it.

Step 4:  Call your youngest daughter to attend the resultant wounds on every finger of your left hand from an irritated crab, not yet ready to shuffle off this mortal coil.

Step 5:  Do not be deterred!  Grasp the cleaver now firmly in your bandaged left hand, and boldly grab another crab.  The first crab was an aberration, the second will be easier.

                                                                                the author's parents

                                                                                the author's parents

Step 6:  Call your youngest daughter again to attend the wounds, now on your right hand, from the second irritated crab, unwilling to volunteer as tribute.

Step 7:  Stare forlornly at victorious crabs dancing their glee in the kitchen sink.

Step 8:  Ring oldest daughter, with bandaged phalanges and a rotary dial phone.  Plead plaintively for daughter to clean crabs.

Step 9:  Cook cleaned crabs, savouring the rising bouquets of aromatics and tomato.  When the crabs metamorphose from uncooked blueness to the ripe vibrant red that mirrors the sauce, remove them from the heat.  Note with satisfaction that your foe has been deliciously defeated. 

Step 10:  Serve with plain rice, and sprinkle with abashed humility.  Bandaged fingers are optional, but do reflect the determination required for success.

- Asha Rajan

Dulce de Leche

My father’s culinary repertoire included four dishes: Fideo, a tomatoey soup of angel hair pasta and garlic, hamburgers, spaghetti topped with a jar of Ragu, and Dulce de Leche. I grew up in restaurants, and my beloved aunts could cook from scratch for armies of guests. His menu was a family joke, but secretly I loved it. 

            He and my much older brother lived in a garden apartment in Ravenswood, and entering their always-humid lair was heaven. I’d throw my things down and set myself in my brother’s room with a stack of Playboy or Penthouse magazines and paperback books and listen to them as they did their manly, Saturday things. Soon my brother would be gone, and it was just me and dad making food in a velvet cocoon of quiet and calm, so different than my frenzied life with the aunts and hordes of cousins.

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 7.25.56 PM.png

            Each week the big question was: Would he make the Dulce de Leche? His method--questionable and arcane and to me a form of magic--was to slowly simmer a can of condensed milk for hours, until the time came to cool it and eat it. Was anything more sublime? A deep mahogany if left a little too long, a rich hue like that of damp sand if not, either way, it was the sweetest, creamiest, best thing on earth. When we opened the can and spilled out the gooey innards the kitchen was always dark (never) and the apartment silent (hardly ever) and there was just me and him, sampling the sweetness.

- Deborah Pintonelli