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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Portfolio Piece #3: Someone's in the Kitchen with Pooh-Pah

Trying a little something new.  Something I’ve wanted to do for a while.  For the next few days, I will be posting the pieces I submitted for my Writing Minor Portfolio.  They are all from classes I took Sophomore to Senior Year at Keene State College.  Most of them are memoir in nature, but a few are slightly different.  These are pieces I love, but know still need work.  If you would like to know more of the stories behind the pieces, let me know and I will be happy to share!  Also, any and all constructive feedback is always welcome – just because these were the final versions to be submitted doesn’t mean that they are perfect.

Oh, and also?  These are mine.  Do not steal them.  Thanks.

Someone’s in the Kitchen with Pooh-Pah
Written for Cooking Eating and Dreaming, Junior Year

“Pooh-Pah!  Are you making dinner?  Can I help?”  Mary runs into the kitchen, excited in that five year-old way to play chef with her grandfather.  I smile and laugh – my niece is so much like me.  She climbs on her chair in front of the stove and throws me a heart melting smile over her shoulder. 
“Auntie!  I’m helping!” 
“I see that, Mary!  Be careful, and listen to Pooh-Pah.”
 “Oh, Auntie!” she giggles as she turns back to stir the boiling water for the Kraft mac and cheese.  I watch for a moment, enjoying the scene with wistful eyes.  I can’t lie - I am a little jealous.
I am a daddy’s girl.  Always have been.  My father was the cook of the family.  He taught me, encouraged me.  When I was living on my own for the first time, he was the one I called for cooking advice.  Now he cooks with his granddaughter, her tiny chef’s cap and apron adorned with Disney Princesses, his gentle guidance teaching her how to properly stir the mac and cheese.         
It is December, and I am home from school.  December in my family means a lot of things: school vacations, Christmas Pageants, Caroling.  Singing the Christmas Cantata on Christmas Eve; complete with a duet of “O Holy Night” with Dad during the Offertory.  And fudge.  Tons of fudge.
Fudge has been very important in our family for decades.  My dad used to make it to give to bank tellers at Christmas, and for our annual Open House.  Eventually, it spread to our teachers in school, the ladies down at the JC Penney Hair Salon, church members, our bosses at work, and friends who lived far away.  He would even make it for someone’s birthday in July if they asked.  Watching Dad make batch after batch every Christmas, sweating over the hot stove, cutting the freshly chilled fudge with his giant machete, was fascinating to me.  One year, he finally taught me how to make the fudge.
            He stood next to me, giving me gentle directions.  We chatted about how he came to this particular recipe (which I will not share, so don’t ask), which pot works best, and his off-temperature candy thermometer.  “If I ever lose this thermometer, I am screwed.  It’s off by a few degrees, but I know exactly where it needs to be to hit the right boiling point.  That is the key to making fudge.”  I nodded, taking in his sage advice while I continued to stir the pot.
            After the mixture had reached the magical boiling point, we mixed in the chocolate and poured it into the pan to be refrigerated and sent out as Christmas gifts to loved ones and acquaintances.  It turned out pretty good, in case you’re wondering.
            I have since forgotten how to make Pastor Ted’s Etna Famous Fudge.  I know he will show me again and again until I can make it from memory, batch after batch, just like him.  Someday, we can both teach Mary how to make it, keeping the family tradition alive in her.
            I still call my dad for cooking advice.  I give him a hard time for putting his Furi knife in the dishwasher.  We talk about Top Chef and Rachel Ray.  Cooking always and forever will be a major part of our relationship.  Even when I insist on making food for my family with no help, he is always there in the background, a calm reassurance that if I mess up, he can help fix it.  If it is beyond fixing, he eats it anyway, insisting that the effort was more than enough.
            One Fourth of July, he taught me how to grill steaks.  I had broiled and pan fried steak before, but was nervous about the grill.  He sat out in the blistering heat, the sun shining in our eyes.  Once he showed me how to get the grill heated properly, he sat in the sun lighting sparklers.  I soaked the steaks in my fabulous bourbon marinade; caramelized onions, cooked corn on the cob and fresh green beans.  We had Hood ice cream cone sundaes for dessert.  Mom and I ate in the living room, while dad sat at the kitchen table, occasionally piping up as we talked about traditional Fourth of July movies.  Mom took two bites of her steak and proclaimed “Ted, I think Beth may have surpassed you!”  After much protest from me, Dad quietly but firmly stated from the kitchen “That’s how it should be.”
            As I stand in the kitchen of my childhood, watching the new baby of the family learn from the master, I think to myself “the baton has been passed...”  Dad has always said that I would be his little girl; that no matter how old children get, parents will always think of them as kids.  That is, of course, until they have children of their own.  The day Mary came into our lives, I was no longer the apple of my Daddy’s eye.  She has his heart in her tiny fist, and none of us really seem to mind too much.  I suppose that’s how it should be.

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