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Cleaning out some memories

(post, Jenny Weber)

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Allow me to introduce myself. Food has been the center of my life. Food is the center of my life.

My earliest memories spent tiptoeing on a worn wooden dining room chair peering into the boiling pot of water where Mom had just poured in the evening's serving of rice; hair tussled and arms deep into the plastic container of cheese doodles, my fingertips and mouth stained an unnatural orange; standing in a park in front of a homemade chocolate cake complete with sprinkles and multicolored candles.

I grew up in a kitchen.

Not in the way you might think. Sure, there was always me elbow deep in something my parents were cooking for dinner. Watching as my dad would pull simple things from the pantry to make great little empanadas full of bacalao; never sure what he was ever putting together (sometimes not wanting to know when my mental pickiness overtook my palate) but always surprised and enticed. But that's not what I mean when I write that I grew up in a kitchen.

Life, love, death, happiness, sorrow, anger, and secrets were some of the first ingredients I was taught to put together. Life began and ended in the kitchen. Storied shared. Gossiped. I remember the phone placed on the wall directly outside the entry archway to our First Avenue kitchen. The cord long enough to allow my mother to maneuver around the tiny L-shaped room.

The dining room where I sat and filled out almost all of my college applications while Mom or Dad happily worked away. The almost empty living room on Saturday afternoons and evenings because every family member crowded in the kitchen to catch up, spill secrets, and dice the actions and choices of our extended clan.

The kitchen years later where I told my parents I wanted to go to pastry school. And then sobbed when my father was not supportive.

The kitchen where I made flan for my grandfather before he returned to Puerto Rico. Only the second attempt at the flan (using the same melted spoon that had been born out of the first attempt at the caramel sauce) but the desire so strong to be perfect, to deliver something worthy of a man who left his mark on each and every of the 86 years and counting of his life.

My life is food. In its creation. In its sharing. In the stories tied to every meal.

My life is in the nook and cranny of every kitchen counter I ever leaned against in teenage sigh.

My life is now in every counter space I leave my mark. In every instance I etch my own nook and cranny. Through recipes and ingredients explored and shared. Through books I flag and stain. Through every restaurant and store I walk into and sample.

My life is in the counter space.