There are things I make for myself at home I would never serve to anyone else. Many of the things I’ve made are strange but I eat them anyway. When the kitchen cupboards and refrigerator and counters are at my disposal then it is time to experiment, cooking what is available and hope that it turns out.
And if it doesn’t, I eat it anyway, usually.
Especially when funds were low and the cupboards, refrigerator, counter were mostly barren. It was an episode of “Chopped” just to get dinner made and on the table.
Okay, chefs. Here are your four ingredients.
Because there were only four ingredients left in the kitchen before we had money again to go grocery shopping.
Always rice – a big bag of it in the corner. Often potatoes. Canned black beans. Tomatoes if we were lucky, though they never lasted long. Sometimes pasta from the back cooked in an old bottle of red wine turned to vinegar, with those leftover pine nuts and some long-gone basil in a drawer. Ample amounts of salt and black pepper. And always, always some sort of hot sauce.
And when it got worse than that we stole loaves of bread and peanut butter from the gas station. The friend with the largest Carhartt jacket slipping a 6-pack of cheap beer out the door because the buzz would help us forget our situation. I was caught once with a deli sandwich stuffed into my armpit. Turkey and cheese with mayonnaise. I pushed the man who grabbed my arm and dropped the sandwich. He let go. I ran.
I’ve come to understand that I don’t need many options at my fingertips to be happy; that being forced to work with that I have is not only a more enjoyable way to cook, but also (often) yields much more creative results.
There were maggots once, little white grubs wriggling and writhing in our container of uncut oats. I had left them sitting for too long in the knee-level counter. It was a warm and humid summer. We picked out the grubs and at the oats anyway. We drank water from the tap.
I’ve always known (believed) that eating well is something worth spending money on. So that is what we saved for. Buying groceries and finally having good things to eat.
I still get excited about going out for the experience of a cafe or restaurant or pub to dine. Something about the food cooked by someone else – someone else’s vision translated on a plate to create edible art and a feeling you just don’t quite get when you eat at home; it’s like getting a massage: It’s great when you do it yourself, but so much better when someone else does it for you.
But, then, there is something special about the warmth of the oven at home, your face over steaming pots and pans, the table and chairs that haven’t been used by a dozen different diners just this week. Something special about the kitchen, your kitchen with all of its tastes and smells. The plates covered in food that we make. A night in, cooking and drinking at home.
Remembered; rooted in memory.
A Short Story on Love and Cooking
The eggs. White speckled with bits of brown.
It’s hot. I can taste the air. The stove breathes.
Millie is lying stretched out on the bed. Her arms are crossed behind her head. Her arms are soft, like the pillow beside her. The sun is shining through the window. Sheets are tangled beneath her lying naked in the light. I’m making eggs in the kitchen, poaching them one by one for breakfast. We are unsure of the time: Millie declares it 3pm or half past eleven. When she says something it becomes the only truth.
The pot is steaming. I pour salt and vinegar in the water. The smell of Madame Toulouse’s apartment downstairs comes through the open window. She smokes cigarettes, Gauloises, and cooks cabbage all day. And she has cats.
Millie lies on her stomach, rolls on her back, lies on her stomach again.
She asks, “How much longer?” and I hand her a plate. Eggs, toast, tomato. Put parsley on the side for garnish and isn’t that just…
She smiles. She holds her chin up to me and says, “Thank you.”
The courtyard is full of moving furniture. People moving in to the building and moving out. Their chairs and couches dragging across the cement by men and women sweating and cursing and pausing halfway to take a breath in this heat. I don’t plan to move but I do like to get away. A bird is sitting perched on the windowsill in front of me, enjoying the relative calm of the apartment away from the commotion downstairs. The sun is warm through the window and I can feel the sweat running down my back.
“Don’t you think,” Millie says, “that we should do something about that crack in the wall?”
The crack runs down the plaster in a way that looks like lightning hit the building. The walls are white.
“Now?” I ask.
“This apartment is so nice otherwise.”
I turn back to the pot in front of me. Toast comes a little burnt from the toaster. I’m sweating. The smell of Madam Toulouse’s cats makes me lose my appetite but I know I need to eat. I turn off the heat and take a plate from the cupboard at my knees. All the cupboards are at my knees: the apartment was designed by dwarves, like the Rocha couple who live next door. The walls are white and empty: we haven’t put anything up. Millie puts her plate on the floor. I sit down next to her and she puts her arms around my neck.
“Careful,” I say.
“Careful,” she says back and she pulls my hair. She lays back on the bed again and shuts her eyes to the sun. We listen to the voices outside. The sounds of the truck backing up. The birds and the wind and, somewhere farther away, the sound of the river. The sheets are soft, but damp with sweat. I finish eating and set my plate on top of hers. The smell of eggs and toast masks the smell coming from downstairs, but there is nothing we can do about the noise.
“Let’s go to the beach,” Millie says from behind me.
“Or down by the river.”
“You want to swim?”
Millie sits up. “I’m hot. I want to swim. Don’t you?”
“We could take a cold shower.”
Millie frowns at me, putting a downward curve around the corner of her mouth. Someday it will
stay there forever. “You could,” she says. “Won’t do me any good.”
I hold her around the waist. It’s hot but she lets me. Her hair is pushed back behind her ears and I can see her whole face, probably the way she looked in elementary school. Bright-eyed and ready to learn.
“But there’s nothing you can teach me,” she teases me.
Her skin is soft and she shivers when I touch her. She puts her hand on my neck. She stands and her body blocks the sunlight, looking back down at me playful in her eyes. Her body blocking out everything else in the world. She shakes her head. Her hair falls back over her face. She turns away from me, standing naked in the window, looking down at the courtyard. She watches furniture move across the lawn, and the people paid to carry it who don’t notice her at all.
The air cools down when the sun goes down. At night we eat ice cream from the carton and watch TV. Her legs are crossed over mine. It’s quiet. Only the sound of crickets and cars passing on the highway. The ice cream is mint and bright green. It freezes the roof of my mouth. I kiss Millie to help but the cold is replaced by something else. I turn off the TV and put my hand between her legs. She says okay in my ear, but reminds me to go slow: “You’re a kitten sometimes,” she says. But she is satisfied and she says that is hard to find. For me as well. I’s easier for some men just to masturbate for the rest of their lives and swear off making love to women entirely.
Millie says she feels the same way. This is why we’re going to spend the rest of the year together, and the next, and maybe more.
In the morning Millie wakes up before me and makes cereal for both of us. She wakes me up with coffee and her hands through my hair. It’s a cloudy day. We shut the windows before the rain starts and eat with just a single light on overhead in the kitchen. The clouds are dark and a violent purple. The rain comes down fat and heavy on the rooftop, drip drip drip down the window. Millie stares at the wall and we eat in silence, listening to the sky.