When I was much younger, my good behavior was rewarded with used books and gyudon. The soft paperbacks and mouthwatering Japanese dish went hand-in-hand. My mother and I would go to The Book Rack, the tinny bell ringing as I flew through the double doors. She would remind me to choose “just one”, but after watching me vacillate and pout over feathered pages she would usually surrender to buying me two.
In the past I read voraciously but was a notoriously picky eater. Age two was nothing but spaghetti. Seven only cheesecake. Cooking no longer applied in our house because I simply wouldn’t eat anything that was made. Beef bowl, however, was an exception with its salty broth, tender beef, and neon ginger. Those tiny tongs used to fish the tart coral matchsticks from their container fit perfectly in my hand. It felt as if they had been waiting just for me to come in and pick them up. For just a moment, it felt like I belonged perfectly on that padded bar stool with my feet dangling. The corner of Kokoro and The Book Rack was my asylum in a culturally divided childhood.
It is a similar asylum that I create in my own kitchen at twenty-eight. I have my familiar knives, cutting boards, and a favorite high-lipped pan. Jars of local this and bunches of organic that. Perhaps, one day, tiny tongs. Today, when I breathe in and stir the earthy miso, I still breathe out, “Sanctuary.”
Yesterday it was making dill pickles with novelty cucumbers; today grapefruit jam slightly improvised and candied peel. Breaking down the ruby grapefruits left me staring at my acid wrinkled fingers and thinking of my grandmother and her mother and her mother. I lost count when adding mounds of measured sugar, imagining what my mother was feeling at that. precise. moment. Placing a test plate in the freezer too late, I carefully estimated how long it will take us to consume the five quarts of chocolate chip ice cream sitting on the top shelf. While pouring the molten lumpy liquid into jars, I concluded that this must be what nectar is like for hummingbirds.
Preserving fruits almost always includes stripping, boiling, detaching, clipping, and trimming away the unwanted parts, then combining everything else together with endless amounts of sugar in a pot that isn’t too important. Boiling the bitter out of grapefruit has been a difficult and complex exercise. I only hope that it yields a product as sweet as the process.
Today I ate fortune cookies with my mother. We crinkled and tore the wrappers with our teeth and snapped them in half to fish out small slips. Fortune cookies always seem to have more weight, more cosmic sway somehow, during times of struggle.