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.”

 

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.

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. 

 

Making Manicotti (Mon-a-gaught)

“The crepes are very, very, easy; you just have to keep an eye on them,” my mother said as she stood in my kitchen, wearing her familiar blue apron — my sister’s long-discarded Kmart smock. These were her precise instructions:

Crack six eggs in that blender. Add 1 ½ cups of water and flour, but not all at once or you’ll clog the blender. Let it run for a few seconds. Don’t overmix it!  

The batter has to rest for half an hour, so let’s get the ricotta going. I hope you didn’t buy fat-free, it’s tasteless. Get rid of some of the liquid. Dump the ricotta into that big bowl. Now crack a couple of eggs and fold them into the ricotta. 

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    Marie La France in 1990 wearing her much loved Kmart blue smock. She is actually holding a Kmart flashing blue-light special lamp. The picture was taken during the author's sister's surprise 30th birthday party. She is laughing so hard she's doubled over.

Marie La France in 1990 wearing her much loved Kmart blue smock. She is actually holding a Kmart flashing blue-light special lamp. The picture was taken during the author's sister's surprise 30th birthday party. She is laughing so hard she's doubled over.

We have to chop the parsley. Is it washed?  It has to be dry or it won’t chop. I told you to wash it last night. You never listen. Did you get flat-leaf? Curly parsley is terrible.

Let’s do the crepes now.  Heat up the crepe pan—medium low.  No oil.  The first crepe comes out lousy. Don’t worry about it. Grab that gravy ladle and pour a ladleful into the pan.  Swirl the pan so the bottom is coated.  Wait for the edges to curl and come away from the pan.   Okay, now grab that spatula and pick the crepe up—GENTLY! Put it on the dish towel. Now listen, wait for the pan to heat up again. You’re always so impatient.


- Denise Sawyer is a new writer enrolled in the Creative Writing and English program at Southern New Hampshire University. She is also an active member of the Creative Women Writers of Greater Derry located in Derry, NH where she shares her creative works with other new writers and published authors. Her latest endeavor is a memoir taken from the pages of her diary penned at the age of 16. The year was 1971 and she has some doozies. She lives in Londonderry, NH with her musician husband, Jeff and their cat, Dizzy named after the great jazz musician, Dizzy Gillespie. Denise makes manicotti every Christmas Eve, and tries to remember to wash the parsley the night before.

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.




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. 

Bitter Gourd Over a Low Flame

She will teach you to cook bitter gourd even if you yourself hate the vegetable. “We do such things for love,” she says, “learning a dish is nothing.”

            Before she slices the korolla, the bitter gourd, as thinly as possible, admire the bright green, ridged outer skin. Like a palm-size crocodile it sleeps in her hand. Remember to scoop out the seeds earlier if they’ve begun to harden. The younger, the softer, the better.

flickr photo by  Aruna Radhakrishnan

flickr photo by Aruna Radhakrishnan

            Salt the korolla rounds, and let them sit. If you let the slices sit quietly, the bitterness will drain. While you wait, keep busy. Talk about love. You do not yet know, and she never will, that you will learn not only to swallow bitterness but to hold it in your mouth and smile. Chop up onions and lots of garlic.

            Once the korolla releases liquid, wash thoroughly. Rub with turmeric powder. Heat cooking oil (mustard oil is best), and fry whole cumin until it sputters. Add the onions and garlic. When they’re translucent, add dried red chili. Throw in the korolla. Add salt if you need. Do not cover. Let it cook on medium heat. The longer you leave it the crispier.

            Place a slice on your tongue. If you still don’t like it, spit it out. Some tongues are not meant for bitter. Remember: no matter how many times you wash and no matter how long you salt it, some bitterness will remain. Who can change, through mere cleansing, the essence of a thing? 

- Shabnam Nadiya

Sunday Biscuits

Winter mornings when frost etched my bedroom window and icicles dangled outside, I snuggled under my thick warm blankets waiting for the call to get ready for school.  But on Sunday mornings, the whispered songs of women longing for love, playing on mamma's stereo, nudged me from my child’s dream. 


Awake, I’d slip from my bed and wander into the living room. It was warm from the kitchen where the biscuits mamma made every Sunday were baking. Sometimes I’d get up in time to catch her sifting the dry ingredients made of flour, baking powder, and salt then shaping them into a volcano-like funnel in which she blended with her hands the Crisco, and next stirred the right amount of buttermilk to the dough. Then she’d roll the dough out on a floured board and cut out the biscuits using a tea-cup. Her biscuits puffy light and delicately flavored.

photograph by  Asha Rajan

photograph by Asha Rajan


I’m sitting here in my home sipping coffee waiting for my biscuits to bake. I’ve modernized her recipe: Sunflower seed oil—a healthy substitute for Crisco, and yogurt—because it’s easy to find in stores—for the buttermilk.  These moist ingredients lead to a drop biscuit. It’s not as magical and less work. But the biscuits are puffy and it approximates the flavor I remember. On the radio, Sunday’s Jazz DJ celebrates Billie Holiday’s birthday and plays three versions of “Fine and Mellow.” I am mother and child.

 

- 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 was an editor for American University Graduate magazine where she received and MFA in creative Writing. Since retiring, she has explored various writing forms, multi-media formats. She created a video imagining the black migrant’s experience, "Detroit Great Migration Impressions.” 

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

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