by Allen Forrest
by Heather Banks
My hand holds this smooth gold globe
as you once held my breast.
I strip the protective parchment skin
as your lustering eyes
peeled concentric layers
from my heart’s green nakedness—
like the pale, double core of a single onion.
This pungent, biting tang distills
morning’s verdigris of promised pleasures’ island,
pale Bermuda sands,
or golden dye of sunlit Spanish afternoons.
Such colors and aromas as onions keep
speak of pomegranates, wine,
acid oozing from slashed flesh,
the bitterness of deceit.
So many the spices we dry,
try to reconstitute
reminiscences of exotic origins.
Long braids of onions fade,
shrink to maps of a lost archipelago.
In midwinter, this sautéed fragrance summons
with sharp, musty, sexual savor
the relish of both daily victual
and consuming vital memory of summers.
Humble, homebound onions—
whose memories linger longer than all scents—
peeled, held, keenly divided
impregnate my pores, my eyes, my hands.
Why wonder then, that onions make me weep?
by Heather Banks
You come to break me
into the fat and the fire.
Cook me to soft consistency
not self-enclosed hardboiled contraction.
Popped too soon to a fast flame,
I’ll shrivel, bounce,
rebounding like rubber gum
from hostile contact.
Some places I might be dearly purchased
Here, we are had by the dozens.
Even in perfect-seeming uniformity,
double yolks, blood drawn in the bearing—
most often, a simple lack of fertility.
Use my plasticity,
separate my components.
I can rise to heights unguessed, climb to peaks,
but must be used, seasoned, cured by heat
before the lightness falls away.
I need not be, unincubated, only an aborted life.
by Padmaja Sriram
Priya’s mother always made sure her father never left home without a plate of Idlis. Always soft, always fluffy and airy, the rice cakes were her passport to love from the kitchen—a place where non-stop noises of grinding, pounding and crushing emanated and messy cooking jostled with aromatic, spicy smells. And, when father signed off with the last bit and looked into her mother’s eyes, the streak of love light would lift away all her weariness. This happened every morning.
Boiled rice and black gram is soaking in water; and this is Priya’s twelfth attempt. The proportion is right—three is to one. This time, she has also soaked a cup of flattened rice and a teaspoon of fenugreek—to suck the gas out of black gram. She shuddered remembering how she had soaked raw rice instead of boiled rice in her first attempt. The Idlis had come out so hard, it was like concrete. What was an easy and everyday recipe was fast becoming a nightmare, eluding her with a confounding stubbornness. Every morning, most Tamil women doled out Idlis as a matter of routine. Here she was, trying out all sorts of combinations, and nothing worked.
She lay down for a while taking care not to doze off. Having worked full-time before taking to freelance in the last three months, she never took that afternoon siesta. Unlike her mother though, Priya hated cooking. She’d rather draw graphs in excel, make power point presentations and brainstorm issues than enter kitchen. In fact, dreading cooking, she sought refuge in work. But, between deep sea workplace politics and devilish cooking, she finally decided the latter was better.
The ingredients are ready for grinding. Priya filters out the water and shoves them into the grinder. Be gentle. What’s the hurry? She’s bewildered. What’s that voice? Ok, no problem. Let me follow it, she decides. Priya sprinkles a little water into the grinding vessel and switches it on. Hopefully, this time her husband may not go to his mother’s house on the next street to eat. Not that she complains, but she doesn’t really like it. To be fair, he also eats whatever Priya makes without a stray comment. But, he finds it easier to eat there. She is not able to assert as she herself is still not able to make one recipe—one basic recipe—right.
Her husband belongs to a family of foodies who had vast farmlands in ancestral villages, who vie with each other to make time-consuming, traditional dishes; who share jars of exotic pickles, sweet string hoppers and home-made fries; who discuss finer details of cooking on the phone all the way down to picking vegetables, slicing and cooking tender for hours together; and who also know which vegetable digests well, which reduces swellings, and other such home remedies for health troubles.
Priya thrusts her hand to check the batter. Has it mixed well? Is the batter smooth? Slow down. Don’t rub so hastily. It is not a chore. The voice says, again. Actually, it commands. Fine. She switches off the grinder, dips her fingers gently and checks. It is smooth. There are no rice crumbs sticking out.
In the beginning, she managed making Idlis with batter bought off stores. But, the preservatives hurt their stomachs. She piled on to her mother-in-law’s cooking in the hope that she’d stop inviting her son once she knew Priya would tag along too. The trick failed. Next, she tried to get batter from her, but her mother-in-law was not too forthcoming. Priya tried sharing Payasam, a sweet porridge (made for special occasions) with her once but that only added to her mother-in-law’s fault-finding list. Then, she circumvented the cooking exercise by making western recipes like cakes or panna cotta. It worked to keep their mouths shut, at least till the time she trained herself well.
The batter mocks her as she tries pouring it slowly into an earthen vessel. As she wipes the last of it, it dawns on Priya that there is a rhythm to cooking. She needs to be involved in the whole process, in a loving sort of way. She needs to like it. She needs to like the feel and touch of rice, pulses or vegetables. So, was that what her mother did? It is beyond ingredients, proportion or careful cooking. It is love. A love for cooking, a love for serving, a love for tending to her husband.
The batter cascades into it, filling up the mud vessel. White as the full moon, it smiles at her as she tucks it with a plate and lulls it to sleep. Through the window, the December breeze caresses the green curry leaves which flutter to the tune of old, romantic Tamil songs from a small radio sitting on the kitchen table beyond the gas stove. The crimson evening sun sets.
Well-fermented, overflowing batter—a good sign—greets her in the morning. Holding two cups of filter coffee, Priya nudges her husband out of bed. It is a quiet Sunday and he is relaxed. She is not going to announce it yet; she is not sure herself.
He’s taking a shower. This is the right time to fill the batter into the Idly plates and steam them. The Idly cooker whistles. Ten minutes of whistling and it is through. Husband hears the whistle, but she keeps off any conversation. She just wants her Idlis to come out right this time. She doesn’t even mind him going to his mother’s place to eat, afterwards.
As she places the Idlis—soft and white as jasmine—on two plates, she sees her husband taste a piece. A streak of love light fills his eyes. The morning mist leaves her eyes moist. A sudden puff of air lifts away all her woes and worries. The voice in her head—her mother—smiles with triumph and pride.
In the Key of Chocolate
by Laurie Lambert
chocolate is a woman’s song
the whispering knife
in the delicate, artful act
of removing the first slice
the whistling whipped cream
squirting from the can
the scratching spoon
gathering the last morsel
to your waiting lips
to make your soul dance
your heart sing
to bring comfort
friend’s blues ballad
chocolate is a woman’s song
and eat of it
by Leroy Trussell
Ralmond in de Louisiana Sunshine,
he broke into dem good days of his remembrance.
wild,n wooly dem days of youth so fine,
with his Gaiennie at de Cajun Fais do do dance.
Ralmond,and his Chromeo,
they be whoopin up de night.
till dat rooster cock did crow,
an with black creole coffee brought on de morin’ light.
Now they brought dem self ta’ de bayou,
put dat bacon on de string.
paddle out in de swamp,in Papua Cairo’s pirogue.
through de gators ta’ git dem crawfish things.
Ralmond,n Gaiennie got dat buchet plumb full,
they brought them self home,dem mudbugs,for Mama Dorcelia ta’ boil.
cept what jump out,are Gaiennie did cull,
den makin’ Creole Gumbo,Etouffee on dirty rice riyal.
Now some we do,
on dat fire really hot.
with taters,n ounyons,and we make dat coonass rue,
in dat big ol well used cook pot.
Mama Dorcelia make some Jambalaya,
ta’ put on dat dirty rice.
Jacqueline pick,n made a blackberry pie,
an Beau’s got dem cold Bud beer on ice.
by Erin Locks
used to capture
lemons in the gnarled
in my backyard
lemons as large as
sun rays high
held the magnificent
a red metal basket
atop a white rod
a gangly skinny
straight blond wispy
blue eyes wide
in the hot
beckoning to me
caressing my face
bluest cloudless sky
remember in my
squeezing the tart
zingy and zesty
in the old electric
as my mom
my sister and me
run our freshly cut
fruit on top
propelling our precious liquid
no seeds please
liquid squirts and whirls
into the glass bowl
white mountains of sugar
arm tingling stirring
until it is just right
refreshing and cold
dozens of sugar cookies
baking in the oven
ready to sell
my sugar soiled fingers
grimy with wet dough
10 cents a glass
10 cents a cookie
i wrote on
a cardboard sign
my sister and i
six and eight years
the big sister
cars whizzed by
enjoyed the view
red and yellow and blue blurs
front yard next
to a freeway
juniper trees swayed
in the lingering breeze
guava tree on the side of our house
covered in white blossoms signalling
a new crop of greenish gray fuzzy guavas
warm tender and juicy
tastes like the languid air
on the way
we sell in the hot sun
enjoying our bounty
silvery and shiny
years fly by
i am still
out of lemons
by Ryan Lee
Beef in sauce over noodles pours
onto my plate.
My father is staring
at my mother who is the star
with a pan in her hand.
She makes it for him. All five of her
fingers work on the final scoop.
He grins. And pokes the stuff
forking the egg noodles–
releasing chemicals in his brain.
After a big gravy bite:
a memory about his mother.
She made this for him when
he was little; when he would wait
Irish eyes, budding temper,
for a father that never came home.
For a Russian dish that never tasted so well
Chef Philosophers and Artists
by Roo Bardookie and Louis Marvin
“Guys and gals, fellow chefs extraordinaire, connectors of the new worlds, and connectors of our old lives to the now.”
Chef Matty T salutes, with a rather expensive glass each, of a nice champagne.
“They can dream it up, they can have a robot cook it, they can do it in the “creationeers”, but only as well as their imaginations will let them. Understand this please, we are the truest art form, an experience where each and every patron, tastes your creativity. As sure as a sculpture, as vivid as a painting with shadow and light as spice and texture, we are the artists of the new age.”
His dream was taking hold. Even Johnny Sweet was becoming more impressed with this Scottsdale Master Chef. He was getting a little nervous as it was soon to be his turn. Matty T’s magic came from his love of his art. Johnny Sweet created things because he wanted to lick them together with the trenchcoat woman. There were hints and confessions when the Texas walnuts were on the icing, but his true love was his baking muse.
“So I hear you are going to be up in that space triangle deal. I could see it in that Dr. Wang’s eyes. She had a vision for you, weather you knew or not. Women can see each other cooking up the goods for men.”
“What do you mean?”
“I knew when I heard her mention the President, and leave you a card, and all that about changing your life stuff.”
“But it’s you I bake for. Before you I was good, but when you flashed your baby blues, and tapped the glass counter with your maroon nails with the white roses, I knew something was going to happen.”
“You are so sweet, Mr. Sweet.”
“Are you up for adventures my detective of love?”
“Man, you are really hitting the sugar bottle today!”
“It’s my last chance to talk to my mystery lady and love of my life.”
She took off her dark shades, and she had tear pools in the bottom of her eyes. The blue was even bluer, the red of her lips even redder.
She leaned forward over the glass, and her tears dropped. She grabbed his face and kissed Chef Sweet, passionately. Then she pulled away.
“I can’t leave my beloved New York. And you, with your passion and desire, your success, your beautiful soul, are a girl’s dream. I know I am a fool to not fly off with you.”
Johnny’s eyes were wet. The old rich ladies who came in all the time had long stopped talking, and they were looking across the table at each other. They were all looking deep into each other’s teary eyes. Each of them was in the here of this baker’s passion, and each of them was thinking back on the love of their lives too.
One of them whispered to the other ladies, “Oh God, take me with you Johnny.”
The ladies turned in their seats, and as the woman’s hand left Chef Sweet’s hand, the lady in the black trench coat turned and walked out, leaving just the tinkling of the bell echo behind her.
The women were holding their hands up to their mouths. It was better than a romance novel. It was right in front of them. They looked at each other and smiled through the tears.
Johnny watched her get into her cab. She waved.
“Helloooooo, Chef Sweet,” called Matty T.
He cleared his throat, “Sorry, thinking back on Brooklyn for a second.”
“What’s in the future man?”
“OK, for my current creations, I think we have found that perfection that seems to come around just a time or two in our kitchens. This deal with the Texas Walnuts and the Arizona syrups is out of this world.”
A few laughs, a few giggles, and on with the presentation.
“Chef T and I are thinking that right along with our recipes and our working with each other in each community, that we should run it like post doctoral seminars. In other words we are going to be putting on master classes for each other, so that we are excellent not only in our speciality areas, but we can add to the awesomeness of the team by unlocking potentials.”
The door opens and in comes plates of Johnny Sweet creations. Cupcakes and champagne anyone? Everyone.
It’s Hard to Believe Padre
“Ah, mi hija! It has been so long!”
The padre hugged the beautiful Texican girl. When she pulled away she noticed how the padre had aged, but was still handsome and rugged. A very good looking Mexican man with a collar and sparkle in his eyes.
“Echaba de menos a tu padre.”
“Ven y sientate en mi oficina.”
She sits and looks around, seeing things that she remembers as a young girl who grew up in this church. There are some of the same books and pictures, dustier and faded, but the titles and faces from the photos she recalls. It was his same simple desk.
“Do you want te or cafe?”
“I’ll take coffee padre.”
He pours them two coffees in the paper cups that they always used after the services. I have something special in the refrigerator. He steps through his door and goes across the church to the Cocina. He says hola to Senora Garcia-Lopez and blesses her. He returns to hs office with a large cupcake. It has cut up nuts on the top.
“Guess where the nuts are from?”
“My father’s farm?”
“That is why I am here. And, I must confess father, my cousin says you and a certain sonora had some church y ciudad problema.”
“Well, as much as I would like to have kept that private, I blurted that out during my sermon. It was most embarrassing. It was unprofessional. It caused trouble for both Senora Garces and me.”
“Why did you do that padre?”
“It was the truth.”
“How long have you loved her?”
“From the day I saw her when I arrived. We were both young then. I don’t even think you were born.”
“Wasn’t she married?”
“Si, si, nunca hable de ella.”
“So why blurt it out now? Even though her husband is gone, you can’t marry her.”
“I know mi hija, but it just overwhelmed me.”
He cut the cupcake in half and put each half on a small paper plate.
“I think that the walnuts have something to do with it.”
“Like they made you sick?”
“No, they make you better. Like you see only the truth.”
“From my father’s farm? That whiskey drinking, asesino de mi madre?”
“He is not the same man. He doesn’t even drink anymore. He attends church two days a week.”
“I don’t believe you padre!”
The father looks at her with some hurt in his eyes. He hands her a half of cupcake and a small plastic fork.
He points the fork at her plate, “Try it. This Sweet cupcake baker from New York is amazing. The flavors are often from this syrup place in Arizona.”
“I will try this, and I will try to see my father. But, I can’t make promises padre.”
They are enjoying their quiet time with coffee and cupcake, while the senores rise and kneel at the cross in their little dusty, Tejas church town. Nothing seems to have changed. But everything has changed.
The Dining Table
by Wilda Morris
The old wooden dining table remembers
the prayer Grandfather recited,
always the same few words I’ve forgotten.
The table recalls how Grandfather
always sat at the head, near the window
and Grandmother sat at the rear, nearer
the kitchen in which she cooked
like a pioneer housewife or German immigrant:
hardy stews she learned from her mother;
chicken fried in lard or bacon grease each Sunday,
drumsticks reserved for my sister and me;
home-canned beans, peaches and applesauce;
home-baked bread, cakes, cookies and pies,
and now and then a surprise recipe she cut
from Good Housekeeping. The dining table
remembers how tired Mother was at supper
after a hard day as a waitress or later, a clerk
at Montgomery Ward, how relieved she felt
to get off her feet for a while and renew herself
so she could play cards at the dining table
with her daughters before they went to bed.
The table remembers the feel of matches
given out for points in Michigan rummy,
the Bicycle Cards dealt and slapped down
in pairs or runs, and the Rook cards used
to play Orange, a game that helped us girls
learn to add. The walnut dining table recalls
the laughter we shared as we played
and listened to Fibber Magee and Molly
or Bob Hope and his friends entertaining the troops.
The table still breathes in the dust
of the jigsaw puzzles and feels the scratch
of the pencils which subtracted and divided
or scrawled out the poems thought up in our heads.
The table remembers the can of Rediwhip
bought when it first came on the market, the can
that exploded as Grandfather topped his desert,
turning the room into a snow scene with a curdled smell.
The walnut table remembers holidays
when it was joined by other tables to make room
for aunts, uncles and cousins, the smell
of turkeys Grandfather carved, mashed potatoes,
yams, cranberry sauce, all the pies
topped with cream Grandmother whipped,
and the oyster stew served at New Years
because custom said it would help us prosper.
The dining table has not forgotten the smell of coffee
and the feel of spilt milk, or the wartime rule
of no more sugar today if you spill some,
for fear our rationing coupons wouldn’t last.
The dining table is grateful Grandfather decreed
no one could be sent to bed without supper.
After all these years, I still smile to remember
the old dining table, the table that saw me grow
from a toddler squirming in a squeaky wooden high chair
to a young mother serving dinner to children of my own.