I remember all the times I watched as my grandmother and my mother and all the aunties would bustle around, measuring out ingredients and filling kettles, stoking the fire of the big old coal-burning oven and testing things for doneness.
Sometimes they’d give me some dough to shape. I never twisted it into the classic pretzel-shape everyone expected, though. Instead, I’d outline continents or trace the lines of constellations, then dab on the egg-yolk and sprinkle a bit of cinnamon sugar or salt, as my mood dictated.
I always suspected that they gave me the dough to keep me from seeing what they were really cooking.
But I knew.
Too many things that weren’t food came out of our kitchen.
Aunt Helen, for example, always baked the loveliest quilts, patchworks of strawberry, blueberry, and raspberry with squirts of lemon juice for a punch of color.
Aunt Delia poured galloping horses out of her kettle, and Aunt Patricia blended the most amazing stories – you could taste the voices.
Mom… Mom dabbled in a little of everything, but when she was at her best she’d toss a few ingredients into a hot saute pan, and out would come a complete outfit, inspired by the latest cover of Vogue or Elle or (when she was making something for me) Seventeen.
My grandmother, on the other hand – she had the real talent in the family. She’d layer things into one of the big lasagna pans, singing while she worked, and an hour or so later, she’d pull pots of African violets out of the oven.
She sang to them, too, of course.
But that’s a different kind of magic.
It took me a while to figure out my specialty. At first, I wanted to blend stories like my aunt, but we have different voices and different experiences in the world, so my stories are different than hers.
She blends things from root vegetables and sharp cheeses, red wine, fresh bread, and long walks in misty woods.
My stories… they’re made of other ingredients. Dark chocolate, spicy chili, sometimes a little wasabi, other times a whole, creamy avocado. And I don’t blend. Sometimes I saute, like Mom, and sometimes, I bake, like my grandmother, and often I use the crockpot, because some stories need to be stewed slowly… And I do sing while I’m working, sometimes.
Now, each of us has one, special, secret ingredient that we use when we’re in the kitchen. As with magicians, we don’t reveal what those ingredients are. Or at least, we would never share what others might be using.
But I don’t mind telling you what mine is.
It’s very simple, and incredibly hard to find, both at the same time.
It’s a pinch of stardust.