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

CAFE CON LECHE

Fill a saucepan with cold water.  

Place on a medium flame, and spoon in Bustelo.

I can’t say how much. They never measured. They just knew. I just know. I ought to: I watched my mother and grandmother do this every day of my childhood, and beyond. 

When you have spooned out enough, begin to gently stir. You want all of the coffee grounds to become drenched.  

Do not look away. It takes only a moment for this to boil over and leave you with no coffee to drink. Que pena.

You will see the crema form a moment before the liquid starts to rise. The very second you see the rising water - rich and brown like beautiful mud - turn off the flame and pull the saucepan off the stove.

image by the author

image by the author

With one hand, hold the saucepan full of hot water and coffee grounds. With the other, hold the coffee sock high, over a second, empty saucepan.

Pour the liquid into the sock. Slowly, so that the coffee has time to drip through the muslin. Too fast, and it will overflow. Otra pena. 

When most of the coffee has dripped through, let the coffee sock, full of wet grounds, rest in a mason jar. A bit more coffee will drip out over time, and this will capture it.

Take the saucepan with the coffee and top off a mug that is ⅔ full of boiled milk.  

Two sugars. It tastes like every single thing I remember. Brujeria sagrada.

 

- Lana Nieves is a Puerto Rican writer from Brooklyn, NY. She started drinking cafe con leche,  while sitting on her mother's lap, at her grandmother's kitchen table, when she was three years old. 

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