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.

Fair Share

My mother wanted all for whom she baked to enjoy their fair share. She often adjusted her work to make sure. 

Take her chocolate chip cookies. Surveying twenty-four blobs of raw dough on the last two cookie sheets, she redistributed chocolate chips and walnut pieces until she achieved fairness. Only then did the dough go into the oven.

When she baked a pan of bread pudding or a casserole of rice custard, she inspected the stirred, poured mixture for an equal distribution of raisins before entrusting the dish to the oven. 

When Mom was visiting after the birth of my second child, she offered to make me a healthy bread pudding full of whole wheat bread, eggs, milk, grated apple, cinnamon, and, of course, raisins. While I nursed the baby in the kitchen, mom and I chatted quietly as she measured, mixed, and stirred. The longer my son nursed, the hungrier I became. At last, he fell asleep, and I was ravenous. But mom hadn’t even put the pan of bread pudding into the oven. Unconsciously, she had been placing one raisin at a time into the mixture as though planting equality in perfect rows.

- Andrea (Andi) M. Penner, President of the New Mexico State Poetry Society since 2015, arrived in New Mexico for doctoral work in 1994, and stayed to teach college English. She now works as a technical writer, editor, and program communications specialist, and writes creatively in the wee hours. Her first collection of poetry, When East Was North, was published in 2012 by Mercury Heartlink. 

the author with her mother, August 1987

the author with her mother, August 1987

Marlene's Bread Pudding

Bread pudding is forgiving, not exact. Be sure to use dry bread so you don't create a mushy mess. If your bread is fresh, you can dry it first in a 300°F oven, or toast it slightly in a toaster.

3 cups dry bread cubes (about 4 or 5 slices of good whole grain bread)

4 eggs

2 cups milk

1/3 cup sugar (brown is nice)

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (you could also use ground ginger)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 c. raisins (or dried cranberries)

(optional: 1 grated tart apple, sprinkled with lemon juice so it doesn't turn brown)

Preheat oven to 325°F and lightly grease a small baking dish (8" x 8").

Beat together eggs, milk, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla in a mixing bowl. Mix in the grated apple.

Place the dry bread pieces in the baking dish and sprinkle it evenly with raisins. Pour the egg mixture over all. Bake for 35-40 min, or longer if needed, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. 

 

She Says It All Without Stopping

I am sitting in the kitchen of my grandparent’s house, after school. It is 1969. Corny old fashioned things—like home remedies and mountain music—are all the rage. My grandmother tells my hippy cousin in Pennsylvania on the phone how to make her own stomach ache medicine. She says it all without stopping washing the dishes as she talks. The phone is cradled on her neck, the long green cord hanging down from the wall to where she is standing. Take your cast iron frying pan, she says, you have a cast iron one, right? I know your mother had one. Good. Get it hot, then throw in a handful of pearl barley. Yeah, just a handful.  It’s got to be pearl I don’t know why. Add a little water. Just a little. Stir it. It smokes and it stinks. Keep on adding water as the barley cooks, until the barley fries black, then you add a little more water, you know, maybe a shot glass full, stir it and pour it back into the shot glass through a clean white handkerchief. Or whatever you got over there you can use. Let it cool. Drink it. It tastes like poison, but it works good. My grandmother stops talking, turns the tap to put more hot water in the sink, then: Do you see your brother a lot? Tell him hello for me. So when are you coming down? 


Juleigh Howard-Hobson lives on a permaculture farm in the Pacific Northwest, where the home remedies she picked up from her grandmother in Greenpoint Brooklyn are still the rage. (Although, that burnt barley recipe will never be a favorite.) Her work has appeared in The First Line, Prime Number, KeyHole, The Liar’s League, Going Down Swinging, Danse Macabre, Pemmican, Sugar Mule and plenty of other places in print and in pixel. Not bad for a person who spends entire mornings moving straw bales around.

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.

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            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