The kitchen is a windowless and narrow structure, an airplane aisle barely, with earthquake proof cabinets. But we fit easily, the women in my Japanese family are small, two hands can enclose my grandmother’s waist, and my mother was once called plancha in Argentina for her flat front and behind. We are in Tokyo, in the quiet residential neighborhood of Meguro, on the thirteenth floor, renamed 12A by my superstitious grandparents. We speak Spanish to one another, and if there are a few quibbles in Japanese between my aunts, everyone talks with a smooth argentine accent. My grandmother sits in a corner of the living room, her naked feet propped onto an electric foot massage. She stares at her many plants that have overtaken the balcony like a voluptuous jungle, while my grandfather rocks on his leather armchair and watches TV.
The last time I was in Los Angeles I was ten years old, gangly, with a boy haircut, visiting my mother’s filmmaker cousin in the Hollywood hills. After a few days on the West Coast, away from the loudness and cold winds of New York, I’m enthralled by the palm trees, the expansive roads, the flat houses, the beaches lining the shore and bursting with bronzed bodies even if the weather is too brisk for swimming. My father moved to LA for a new job and he’s only just found a house to rent, so there are boxes strewn in the living room, no soap in the showers. The house is sparingly furnished, leaving wide spaces for my lively brothers to stampede around on the hardwood floors.
Illustration by Forsyth Harmon
Piece by Annie-Rose Harrison-Dunn
The Horrors–Still Life
I. Soul Food
This bubbling stew pot is my attempt to mend us, for what we need is soul food. We have misplaced our soul. We think this happened around the same time we stopped eating together at our dinner table. Our table, carried from house to house to this our present nest, is made of a solid English oak that promised longevity. It is scratched and marked with felt-tip pen of nearly forgotten homework assignments after dinner. This is a table to be used but we have neglected it and let the room get cold like an outhouse.
My soul food will drag it back to the core and sooth our nerves. Sooth my nerves because I will have something to do with my hands, some sort of distraction from the anarchy of our soullessness. You will set the table, he will light the candles, our visitor will wait and sit and tell us stories that will make us laugh and make you glow, again. We will have our roles and each will sigh in relief when we feel that soul food warmth in our bellies returning to us a little bit of our togetherness again.
Illustrations by Hugo Yoshikawa
She follows me around the kitchen, tracing my steps but offering me enough space to move about. I like that she follows me, it instills my actions with purpose and Margot has the look of someone who is impressed. I rinse the rice, scrubbing with my hands until the water goes from milk-white (Margot’s skin!) to clear. The color of bathwater before my mother bathes. I cut loudly, chop, chop, careful to keep my fingers clawed so I don’t slice any extremities and embarrass myself. Then I whisk the salad dressing, and I beat until I feel the work and heat in my shoulders. The dressing looks like mayonnaise. The cooked fish is dry and hard under my thumb. No, who cares! Mother not here to scold me, parents on their getaway.
We are sixteen, but there’s no age for this. All men should tend to kitchen matters!
Illustrations by Joana Avillez
If I could I would spend my days perusing cookbooks, buying cookbooks, cooking from cookbooks, inhabiting them in any and every possible way. I like to think that in a few years I’ll have a mighty collection of colorful cookbooks, in many languages, filling my very spacious and imaginary kitchen. I return to books over and over again, and it’s no different with cookbooks. There’s the first look, when I’m rushing through the pages as though ravenous, eating the recipes with my eyes, one by one. Then I return, perhaps the next day over breakfast, pausing at the recipes that intrigue me. Later I will read them, reread them. Then I will begin to cook. It’s a loving relationship, the one you establish with a cookbook, the way you carry it through the kitchen and the way your fingers oil the pages with grey specks. These books weather kitchen storms, they grow wiser as one tenderly batters, folds, and stains their thick pages. I’m always throwing the salt bowl to weigh down one side, to keep the pages open while I’m whisking, shaking, stirring…
I have to stop here for a moment to celebrate a beautiful cookbook I received this year: Oma & Bella by Alexa Karolinski. Last year I went to see Alexa’s documentary, also named Oma & Bella, filmed in Berlin and based on the life of her grandmother, Oma, and her close friend, Bella. Oma and Bella, both widows, have lived together for six years and spend their days cooking. The documentary is a beautiful celebration of food and the relationship between these two women. We see them walking around West Berlin, shopping for ingredients, shaving calves feet with disposable razors (everything has to be clean in their kitchen), chopping vegetables for soups, choosing clothes from their wardrobes… Both survived the war, though they lost their families in the Holocaust. They cook the best kind of Jewish comfort food: Pickled herring, boiled tongue, red borscht, potato pierogi, rugelach…
If he’s not sending dozens of emails out to our family, you’ll find my grandfather in his dark basement, late at night, stewing jams. My grandpa never stopped working, even when he retired and sold his cider company he continued to move and toil, spending hours in his large vegetable and fruit garden, harvesting the most delicious produce to be gobbled up by my aunt, uncle, cousins, and myself. Every evening my grandparents eat at least one item that is from the garden, whether it’s the carrots and potatoes in their soup during wintertime, or the strawberries with yogurt for dessert, there’s always an ingredient from the Breton earth. On my French side most of my family were farmers. The Lemoines haven’t moved more than twenty-kilometers in centuries. My great-aunt still lives on my grandmother’s family farm where she feeds the chickens, slaughters the geese once a year, grows brilliant green beans, and gathers feisty cats in her garden. But I’m most astonished by my grandpa who knows every crack and tree and hill of this land so intimately that I can feel him itching to get out there when he stays indoors for too long. He also loves his computer, his thick and rough fingers have a hard time typing on a keyboard and clicking the mouse, but he’s become adept at photoshop and the internet, sending us images, links, stories, at least once a day.
Whenever I visit my grandparents the first order I’m given is: Go choose jams in the basement! Downstairs my grandpa hides a gargantuan production of his homemade jams. The fruity and rich insides are enclosed in mismatched jars, all carefully labeled in his slanted handwriting—the ingredients, the full date and the ratio of sugar to fruit. They’re stacked one on top of the other, rows and rows of them, neatly organized. Next to the jams are dozens of larger jars containing cherries preserved in eau de vie (the fiery high-content alcohols), and various fruit liquors, which he distills in the garage. I like to watch him at work, big rubber gloves on his hands, his proud stocky chest, legs a little bent from swollen knees, and his face focused on the task at hand as he cooks away. He’ll often ask my grandma to take photos of him while he makes the jams.