INHERITED KITCHEN

May 22, 2017

Orange Noodles

3 cups of noodles

½ can of tomato soup

2 tbsp of Cheez Whiz

 

Boil noodles until soft. Add soup and Cheez Whiz.

 

        I’d always thought that my parents had a lot of money. We lived in a two-story house on the nice side of the golf course. My friends at school lived on the poor side of town with great trees that stretched their skeletal claws across the streets. My trees were more civilized. They were taller than my father, as trees ought to be, but not too tall to be considered unruly. They had skinny trunks no thicker than my mother’s smooth, wiry wrists.

        My sister and I had to take the bus home—a limousine compared to the children who had to walk. A boy on my bus would make pig faces at the snow-suited children we passed on the road. The rest of us laughed with our red cheeks and reveled in the smell of melted snow and damp feet.

        Orange noodles were weekend food. My father worked every Saturday catching up on paperwork and, more often than not, my mother would get called in for yet another emergency at the hospital. My sister and I would make orange noodles for our brother. We watched for the water to boil, poured in the noodles, stirred until our arms were tired, and had fun mixing the yellow Cheez Whiz and red tomato soup into the pan until it  turned orange. It  schlop-ed into our little bowls. We tried to imitate the sound with our mouths until we snorted with giggles. Orange noodles were fun.   

        When I moved out of my parents’ house, I learned how cheap orange noodles were: made up of food-bank food. I spent weeks living off orange noodles, then just yellow noodles when the tomato soup ran out.

 

Banana Bread

 

½ cup butter

1 cup sugar

1 cup mashed frozen banana

2 cup flour

2 well-beaten eggs

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

¼ tsp salt

4 tbsp water

 

Mix dry and wet ingredients with a wooden spoon in separate bowls before combining. Pour mixture in well-greased bread pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 35-40 mins. Place in warm place with dry towel over the top of the bread until cool.

 

        Spankings were not uncommon in my household, though they’d always been administered with a wooden spoon. I had been playing with an old baseball bat and my mother snuck up to scare me. She wanted to play the game I played with my father. She tiptoed behind me as I obliviously played. I remember the sharp intake of breath as her sharp nails poked my ribs, the heat of the adrenalin that raced its way through my veins. I shrieked for my father in the kitchen to help me and ran as fast as I could away from her. My mother chased me until I found myself in a corner, unable to run. She reached her hands towards me with her wiggling fingers ready to tickle me and I swung the bat I still carried into her face. I remember the crunchy connection between the bat and my mother’s nose. The give of cartilage the same as mashing frozen bananas.

I never wanted to hurt her. Fear and desperation took over my little body until I defended myself with the only thing I had. Sometimes we have to make decisions based on what we have handy, follow a path to its completion even if it ends in a place of pain. We do the best we can with what we’re given.

        My father lifted me up onto the white counter next to the stove and rummaged through the drawer beside me for a makeshift spanking tool. My father had been often criticized—by me and by my mother—that his spankings didn’t actually hurt. Anytime I told him that, he’d just smile and shake his head. This time, he pulled out a black, plastic spoon that shone in the fluorescent light. He smacked it against his hand and I decided that I really didn’t want to be spanked with it. So I said, “That’s a good spoon for your light spankings. Won’t even hurt.”

        I thought that I was quite clever when he agreed and put the spoon back. Instead of letting me down, my father walked to the back door where our pantry was. When he returned, he held a fly swatter. It was made up of thin, twisted wire that culminated in a red, plastic mesh.

        I still flinch when I hear the whistle of a wire slicing through the air. I doubt my father realized the damage coiled metal could do on the back of a little girl’s legs before he swung. Afterwards, I sobbed into my mother’s shoulder as she berated my father for his choice of punishment. She held me on her lap while she held a wad of tissues to her bleeding nose, ready to comfort me even after I’d hurt her. Red welts marked out “IX” on the back of my thighs, which later blackened into bruises I proudly showed my sister. The fly swatter still hangs in the pantry, but I’ve never seen my father touch it since.

 

Holiday Punch

 

1 part Welch’s Grape Juice

3 parts Ginger Ale

 

        “Come make the juice!” my father would always call when he stood over the sink. Sometimes, he was washing vegetables, sometimes dishes. My mother used to do most of the cooking, but sometime before my childhood ended, the job became my father’s.

        Juice was always last, after the ban on children in the kitchen was lifted. My parents, if they were both home, would talk in secret messages the children couldn’t know. They kept their voices low and my mother would swear or glare if she spotted me or my siblings anywhere within hearing distance. We weren’t asked to set the table or help cook because we would hear a conversation as intimate as dark whispers after bedtime. Then one of us, whoever was closest to mind—usually because of trouble or homework—would be called to make the juice and the spell would be broken.

        Sometimes the secret conversations would escalate until my mother’s screams would echo through the house. I can’t remember the content of the yelling except for the “fucking” and the “horseshit” and the “I work my ass off all day long…” My father always stayed silent and still as if he were weathering a tempest while my mother stormed around him. It didn’t matter where the rage started because it always ended at me. At first I stood gallantly still, like my father, but my little girl resolve was nothing like his. For years I’d break down in tears, which fueled my mother’s fire. Then I got older and borrowed some of the embers from her.

        “Go make your own goddamn punch, you stupid cow!” I screamed during one of the daily matched between my mother and me.

        “You won’t speak to me like that, young lady!” She hollered back.

        “You’ve been speaking this way to me for years! Don’t like it? Don’t fucking dish it!”

        “If you curse once more, I will smack you.”

        “You can’t hit me anymore. I am not a child. And if you hit me, I swear to God I will hit you right back!”

        She hit me and called my bluff. She found out I wasn’t kidding.

 

 

Angel Cookies

 

1 cup butter

1 tsp cream of tartar

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp vanilla

2 cup sifted flour

½ cup brown sugar

½ cup white sugar

1 egg

Pinch salt

 

Mix all. Roll in small balls, roll in white sugar, and place on cookie sheet. Press with a fork to keep from rising. Bake in oven at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Great Grandma’s recipe.

 

        My great grandmother died in April. My boyfriend and I moved in together in June. My mother and father were so angry. I sat at the kitchen table opposite from my parents. My sister sat next to me, held my hand. My father said nothing. My mother said all the things she could think of to make me change my mind. I think she wanted me to fight with her, the way that we used to fight. I couldn’t fight that way anymore, not that day. In March, I’d gotten pregnant. In May, it was gone. I wanted to tell her that I was moving in with him because he wanted to do the right thing by me, but shame and fear, so much fear, kept me silent.

        “You’re not getting any of Great Grandma’s things, you know.”

        “I know.”

        “And when you have thirteen children and he leaves you, you can’t come crying to me.”

        “I know.”

        “And if you do this, we don’t want any part of your wedding, your marriage, or your children’s lives. You are not a part of this family.”

        I learned that day that love was conditional.

        Until my grandparents, my mother’s parents, intervened. They gave me furniture, cutlery, and a string of white pearls that had belonged to my great grandmother. They made sure to visit me, even though they lived 300 kilometers away. When my car broke down, they co-signed a loan and gave me 3000 dollars towards it. I worked hard at my relationship with my boyfriend, who then became my husband, in part because I wanted to prove to my grandparents that their faith in me wasn’t for nothing. The little white pearls sit on my dresser as a reminder all these years later.

 

 

French Bread

 

1 ¼ cup water

1 tbsp sugar

1 ¼ tsp salt

3 ½ cup flour

1 ¼ tsp yeast

 

Mix in bread maker. Roll into loaf with 2-3 diagonal cuts about ½ inch deep. Cover with towel and let rise. Brush with butter. Bake at 350 degrees until brown.

 

        My father’s mother used to bake dozens and dozens of sourdough buns, which we dubbed “Grandma Buns.” She frowned on bread makers. They were lazy and made bread with a great hole in the middle.

        Sometimes, my sister and I would get to help her bake. She’d let us measure and add ingredients. Then we watched her knead the dough. Her arms up to her elbows were white with flour and clouds puffed up like sea spray with each wave in and out of her arms. She worked the bread as a rower. Forward, back, turn. Forward, back, turn. Until the dough was like skin: smooth, soft, poke-able.

        We would watch Grandma place the dough in a bowl that looked as big as a boat. She covered it in warm cloths and placed it on a special table in the south-facing window for the sun to warm. We were strictly told to leave it alone, but we waited until no one was looking and lifted up the towel to take deep breaths of the yeasty sweetness. Sometimes we’d poke it to see how much the dough would give way, but we were always caught.

        My first year living on my own kept me hovering on the edge between broke and homeless. I couldn’t afford to buy a loaf of bread for just one person when it couldn’t be stored for any amount of time. I resorted to baking short loaves of French bread. I didn’t know my roommates and was afraid to get in their way so I waited until after they all went to bed, which was usually around midnight, before I started to bake.

        The loaves were small. I could finish one in a single meal if I was really hungry, but it wasn’t often that I did so. I only had so much money to buy ingredients. The warm crust and the soft scent reminded me of a kitchen that I was no longer welcome in.

        Once, in the middle of the night, I brought the bread out of the oven and held it as I stared at the tuition bill I’d just received. “Overdue” in big red letters stared back at me below the white bread that burned my fingertips. It was the last loaf that I could make before I got paid again. I ate the whole thing with stolen butter and tears in my eyes.

 

Dad’s Pancakes

 

1 cup flour

2 tsp baking powder

2 tsp sugar

¼ tsp salt

2 eggs (yolks in flour, whites beaten)

2 tbsp oil

1 cup milk

½ tsp vanilla

 

Instructions on the pink card smeared with flour and oil and egg and drops of water.

 

        I saw circles in circles in circles on the backs of my eyelids while I waited for the mass of cells to be torn out from inside me. To open my eyes would be to stare at the pink poster on the roof, which was covered in rainbows and unicorns all slathered in bubblegum-pink ink. My parents would never know, but I did it for them. My mother’s Facebook posts against abortion were nothing in comparison to the red shame that came with an out of wedlock grandchild.

        Later, I would dream about a conversation in the kitchen that would release the guilt that beat me daily. My mother still whispered about her mother’s teenage pregnancy fifty years later. Fifty years isn’t enough time to forget shame. Neither is five.

        The homemade food of my childhood has been replaced with ready-made reproductions. The pancakes my father made so often that I can’t read the recipe card are gone. Now I grab a bag of some corporate aunty’s pancake mix. Just add milk or water or whatever the bright, smiling box calls for and you get something that teases you with the reminder of what used to be and what is lost. This is the modern woman who isn’t confined by the kitchen. Who secretly misses the past, but cannot give anything to go back.

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