I don’t remember the rest
Wash your hands. You are very young, so your mother will have to lift you up and pin you against the sink with her hips while she rubs the soap on your stiff little hands. Hold them out dripping while your mother washes hers, and then rub your fingers carefully on the towel she hands you.
Sit up on the counter. If you stand on a chair it will be in the way of your mother, so let her lift you onto the counter next to the glass pan into which she is laying noodles. They are long and wide like bookmarks. She hands you the rippled edge of one that broke off in the pot and you bite it between the few teeth you have.
Watch carefully. Your mother lays a noodle down like a ribbon, slides across it a spoon of red lumpy juice (the stuff you scrape off of pizza and spaghetti), and lays cheese on top like a playing card. She hands you a corner of white cheese with an orange edge and you decide it is your favorite, your very favorite cheese.
Watch from the counter as your mother slides the heavy pan into the danger of the oven, her arm scaring you always by its nearness to the reddened metal she calls “Hot!” She will lean against the counter with her elbows and tear the last, unused slice of cheese down the middle. She hands you half and squeezes your little socked foot that dangles off the counter. Your mother says the name of the cheese with a German accent and then, “Ich liebe dich.” You giggle with the cheese on your tongue at the gargle of words. Muen- as in mother, not muen- as in moon.
That new apartment smell
Tell your father, “We could make hamburger rolls?” You know how to cook more things than some other nine-year-olds might. You are both standing awkwardly in the sparse kitchen with beige walls. Dinner has to be something that requires few ingredients because that’s how many ingredients he has. Think to yourself, I have watched my mother and grandmother make these, but don’t say those words out loud. That one in particular is forbidden.
Make the biscuit dough. Your father has the Bisquick for making pancakes. He opens a few drawers to remember where he has put the measuring cups. He sets out a new plastic bowl for you to mix the dough in. Peel the sticker out of the bowl and rinse it. He is letting you make most of this because he can see you are trying to be grown up. Rinse out the bowl before you use it. It is not as sturdy as the ones you have at home. Mix the dough and knead it with your small hands. It will stick inevitably.
Become unsure. You forgot about this part. Neither of you know how to form the rolls themselves. Somehow when your (mother) makes them, the meat and dough get spiraled together, distributed equally, in thin and balanced layers. But you and your father aren’t sure how. Form mounds of dough and smash a ball of hamburger into it. Call it close enough.
Bake them until they are golden brown and the meat is dark. Take them out of the oven and while they cool, set out two plates, two forks, two cups at the fake-wood table he put together before you got there. Study the rolls for their imperfections. They are massive and thick, you can already tell they will suck the moisture from your mouth. Laugh at them with your father and eat them, even though you can barely swallow. Put lots of butter on them to compensate for this. As you eat them, plan to ask your (mother) when you go home later tonight if she’ll make them for lunch tomorrow, then you will know how it’s done.
Cows (not to eat)
Wake up early in the morning, about six, the sun should just be coming up. Walk down the road to your grandparents house (you can’t drive yet, give it a few years), and put on your chore boots. The farm is quiet and everything is sleeping. The fields that roll into the distance are pale with dew, the sky is pastel tangerine. Walk down the trail to the pasture and wake up the cows. Some of them saw you coming and have already hitched themselves up, are walking the right direction. They know what to do. Walk to the far edge of the pasture to make sure you don’t miss anybody. Be careful, because the grass is wet and the pasture is steep, don’t slip. Tell the cows good morning, ask them to walk a little faster please.
Your Papa will join you to sort out which cows will be milked, his left knee buckling a little with every step. Once they’re sorted and penned in, about seventy of them, you can begin the milking process. The milking parlor is set down into the ground so when you stand in the bottom of it your arms are level with the udders. There are hoses reaching up and away in all directions, some for water for washing, some for milk. You’ve done this a million times. Wash, dry, spray, wipe, milk, dip the udder. Give the cows a kind pat on the rump. Usher them out the door, back towards the pasture. Bring in the next bunch. The milking machine makes a heartbeat as it sucks the milk up and away to the tank. The smell will never come out of these clothes.
After an hour or so your Papa will ask you with a smile to go make breakfast. He’ll usually say it like, “Alright, I guess you can go make me breakfast, you can quit asking already” or “Your Oma has some bacon in the fridge that’s calling your name”, with a wink. Walk up to the house and remove your boots, heel after heel. Wash your hands well, but don’t be surprised when they still smell. Turn on the griddle and butter it when it’s hot. Lay bacon on one side, spoon pancake batter on the other.
Make enough pancakes for yourself, your Papa, and your Oma, who has just awoken and says “Good morning sweetheart” with her rough morning voice. Pour orange juice into two pint jars and screw the lids on tight. Stack pancakes and bacon on two paper plates. Set the plates, the jars, the forks, the syrup on a wire tray. You’ll have to set it down to put your boots back on.
Eat your pancakes while the milk chugs through the tubes overhead. You stand in the middle of the milking parlour, your plate resting on the basket of rags that sits on a cart. Your Papa sits on the steps that lead out to the feedlot where the cows wait. His plate is resting on his knee with one hand to stabilize it and one hand to fork pancakes into his mouth. He tells you they’re not bad, his smile bulging around the pancakes stuffed in his cheek. The smell of maple syrup will also stay on these clothes, even after you wash them.
Preparation to say the word (dad)
Green food coloring
Wash your hands. You are long past needing your mother’s help now. Except she still has to be in the car when you drive it. But you can put things in the oven by yourself, no problem. Get out the food processor and the stand mixer. Lay out all the ingredients neatly on the counter with the measuring spoons and cups. Preheat the oven and grease the baking stones. Everything is ready.
Pour the pecans into the food processor. Blend them up until they’re like dust. Run your finger along the words of your Oma’s recipe until you find the next step. Pour the pecan powder into the mixing bowl, and pour the oats into the food processor. Blend the oats until they’re small, but not quite dust. Mix them into the pecans. Add the flour and butter and combine until it forms a thick mound of dough.
Roll out little balls of dough and begin to lay them out on the baking sheet. Be careful to make them exactly the same size because these are a gift, or something like that. The oven will beep to alert you that it has reached the desired temperature. Your mother will come into the kitchen from weeding the front berm with her bandana over her hair. She wants to make the thumbprints. She washes her hands.
After your mother squashes her strong thumb into the middle of each cookie ball, slide the baking sheet into the oven with your own strong arm. Put the stand mixer, the flour container, the oats away while the cookies bake. Your mother will begin to tell you about the different kinds of flowers she wants to get from the plant nursery while you wipe off flour from the counter.
While she talks to you, mix up the frosting. A bit of margarine, a bit of milk, a bit of powdered sugar until it tastes right and isn’t too thin. Dye it light green like your Oma always does. You tried pink once, but it tasted different. Once the cookies are cool, spoon a glob of glorified, greenified lard into the shape of your mother’s thumb.
Put most of the cookies into a tupperware, but put the rest into a smaller container. The recipe makes a lot. When your mother asks you why you’ve put some in a separate box, take a deep breath and tell her you’re taking them to your (dad)’s when he picks you up. She won’t reply to this, she’ll just nod her head once, slide a whole cookie into her mouth, and lick the frosting off her thumb.
Spring Salad with Homemade Dressing
Leaf lettuce from the garden, tender and new
A large family
Your first time home since Christmas
Collect the lettuce from the garden. Slide your nice shoes off and leave them neatly inside the door of your grandparent’s house. Do everything very thoughtfully, as though to prove you are the same, that college has not changed you, that your feet have not grown soft. Walk down their driveway, look both ways, cross the road, and there’s the garden. It is the corner of a corn field, half an acre. Revel for a moment in the softness of the good, black dirt. Your feet are a little softer. Step in between the rows of onions and beans, find the lettuce. Using the paring knife you brought, behead the lettuce close to the ground but not too close until you’ve filled up the big white bowl your Oma gave you.
Tuck the bowl against your hip and carry it back to the house. Look both ways. Wipe your feet at the door and look over your shoulder at the shadow of dirt now wedged in their grooves. Wipe them again. Pick through the lettuce over the sink and wash any very dirty pieces. Pluck out any bugs if you find them. The hiss of the sink adds to the gurgle of family talking about weather and school and who’s getting married and who broke their hip.
Get out a glass quart jar and a screw-on lid. Pour some vinegar into the jar and add a scoop of sugar. You are cooking by intuition. This will one day annoy your fiancé, but you haven’t met him yet. It’s how your Oma taught you. A bit of this. A bit of that. Screw the lid on and shake it. Take off the lid and dip your pinky finger into the dressing. Add more sugar if it’s too bitter. Shake it again. The consistency should be gritty, but not lumpy.
Drizzle it over the lettuce. It should be wet, but not soggy. Mix the dressing and leaves together with a big wooden spoon until it’s all evenly coated. Set the big bowl and the wooden spoon on the long counter with the other bowls of food. Maybe in between the orange tapioca salad and the beer bread. You’ll know you did a good job when your aunties and uncles and cousins don’t say anything about the salad, they just empty the bowl.
Your father’s approval
White northern beans
Arrive when the chili is in progress. You drive there in your boyfriend’s car because his was at the end of the driveway. Your father is making two pots of chili: one with meat in it, and one without meat for you and your sister. Your boyfriend eats meat sometimes. Smile because you used to just eat the sides and call it dinner, but your dad is trying new things for you now to show he wants you there.
Tell him the quinoa is almost done. He’s never cooked it before and isn’t sure. He’s got a nice set of pots now in his big new house that he shares with this woman who is technically your step-mother, but still, you can’t say that word. Lift the lid of the nice, new pot and tell him it’s just fine. Start a board game with your siblings and your boyfriend while your dad tends the chili and your step-(mother) asks about school.
When your dad says dinner is ready ladle the chili into your bowl. You and your sister look at each other knowingly. He’s added far too much quinoa, it expands when it cooks, and one cup uncooked quinoa is much more when it’s cooked. The chili is as thick as casserole. You could eat it with a fork. Thank your father for making dinner. You and your sister tell him it’s really, really good. Your step-(mother) says she wants to try chickpea pot pie next time you come. You wonder what they’ll do with all the leftover chili.
Your last Christmas as an unmarried woman
Sweetened condensed milk
Let your mother warn you considerably before you begin making this. She will tell you it’s very easy to mess up. Look your fiancé in the eyes and then tell your mother with a smile, “We’re not afraid.” Pull on the matching aprons you got for Christmas. You’re hoping to get messy.
Read the recipe from your Oma carefully. It is not terribly specific or terribly organized, but with the two of you reading through it you can surely figure it out. Begin melting the butter and sugar and milk together in a thick-bottomed pan you borrowed from your Oma. The thickness helps prevent burning. Stir the mixture relentlessly, scraping every bit of the bottom. It makes sloshing sounds. The two of you must take turns mixing to rest your wrists. Slowly the mixture will start to bubble and brown.
When the candy thermometer indicates you’ve reached the right temperature, but the mixture is definitely not caramel yet, call your Oma. She says to cook it longer. How much longer? A bit longer. You stir it nervously until your mother finds a second candy thermometer. This one tells the truth. Your fiancé holds it for you while your stir.
When the mixture has reached the “soft crack” marking on the thermometer, take it off the heat. Hurry to grease the baking sheet and lay out pecans in clusters of two and a half or three. Hand your fiancé a spoon and begin to pour the caramel over the pecans in little blobs. You both have very different techniques. The caramel is the perfect consistency.
While the caramel cools and stiffens a bit, melt the chocolate and wax together in the microwave. Your fiancé has never heard of putting wax in any kind of food, but the recipe calls for wax in the chocolate. It makes it harden better apparently. Pour little globs of chocolate over the caramel until you’ve used it all up.
Now stand at the counter with him and stare at the turtles until they harden. Watch them carefully, protectively, so they don’t run away. Marvel at the fact that you did not burn the caramel, the chocolate did not separate, your aprons aren’t even dirty. But don’t marvel too much, because you knew you could do it, the two of you. Deliver some of the turtles to your Oma. Smile when she tells you they’re perfect. What a good team you make, she tells you.