She who cooks, eats, at least in my house. Though I enjoy good food, I am not a gourmet. I’m not interested in recipes that take hours to prepare or ones that require precise temperatures or fussy ingredients – a quarter teaspoon of a spice I may never use again, a particular kind of cheese, this type of sugar or that. Close enough is good enough for me. I am an approximate cook.
My husband says, “Make sure you write down that recipe,” when I cook something he really likes.
“Sure,” I say. I do not tell him there is no actual recipe, but rather something I have made up with ingredients on hand or made so often I no longer need the actual recipe to concoct it.
There are more than words to recipes, more than ingredients measured and meted out.
This recipe was learned at my grandmother’s elbow when I was nine years old. This one came from a folded recipe card someone wrote out years ago, this from a cookbook my mother once gave me, the words all but obliterated by stains and spills.
I open that cookbook, a collection of recipes from a group of ladies at a Lutheran church somewhere in the Midwest. It is many, many years old. I begin to page through it, pass countless recipes, neatly typed, pristine and waiting.
“Make me!” says one.
“Try me!” says another.
But I continue on, looking for friends in a crowd.
I am famous, it seems, for my frosted sugar cookies. I make them several times a year and give most of them away – decorated trees and stars and snowflakes at Christmas time; pumpkins and maple leaves at Halloween; hearts for Valentine’s day. Everyone loves my cookies. People ask for the recipe, and I freely give it.
“It’s nothing special,” I say. “It’s just a generic sugar cookie recipe.” I take a photo with my phone and e-mail it to them.
“I made them,” they tell me later, “but they didn’t taste like yours.” They spread too much or were not as crisp. The dough was sticky, hard to handle.
“Use margarine, not butter,” I advise. “Use stick margarine, not the soft, spreadable kind.”
“They were good,” they say after they have tried again, “but still not as good as yours.”
What else can I say? What advice can I give? My eyes tell me if the dough looks right. My fingers know in the rolling. Without thinking, I turn the cookie sheets around in the oven after ten minutes or so, rotate them from shelf to shelf.
These are things I know that cannot be taught with words. They are lodged in my memory, part of me. I picture myself years from now, a very old woman, my hair and thoughts fraying, standing at my stove baking cookies.
In the end all memories go with us to the grave, no recipe required.
Sick and Tired
“I’m so sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
It isn’t like Ellie to be this way. So down. And semi-sad. And … flat.
“What gives?” I ask.
“It’s nothing,” she replied. “It’s just that I’m … old.”
“You just discovered that?” Lynn asks. We’re at out weekly “girls” gathering.
“Well, yes,” Ellie says, “as a matter of fact.”
“Who says you’re old?” This is Nora, the youngest of our foursome.
“The world. My kids,” Ellie says. “They won’t visit me because I am ‘high risk’.”
“What’s so funny?” asks Ellie. “It’s not funny.”
“No, it’s not funny. It’s just that I never thought of you as ‘high risk,’ is all.”
Lynn’s right. We are not exactly a risky group. We are four women, all active and in relatively good health, all seventy or nearly so, who have suddenly discovered that we are elderly.
“Suze?” Lynn prods my elbow.
“I spent yesterday planning my funeral,” I say.
“Yes,” I say. “I seriously did. I put it all in a folder and filed it away. It’s between FREEZER and FURNACE.”
“How did that make you feel?” asks Nora.
“Good,” I say. “Sort of like you feel after you’re done cleaning the refrigerator.”
I go on. “I told the kids.”
“And?” asks Lynn. “What did they say?”
“Two didn’t respond. The other one just said, ‘Ew, Mom!’ They’re too young. They don’t get this. But they’ll be glad I did it.”
“When the time comes,” says Lynn.
“They will,” I agree. “When the time comes.” I am thinking of the death of my dad and how nothing was planned and how my brothers and I had to put together a service based on what we thought he’d want because our mother, in her grief, had totally abdicated.”
“I was afraid someone might suggest Amazing Grace,” I say. “I hate Amazing Grace.”
I look at my three friends. “What music would you choose?”
“Let It Be,” says Ellie. “Something so people know I wasn’t always old.”
“I’m not having a funeral,” says Nora, which is no surprise to us. “Lynn?”
“Turn out the lights,” she says. “The party’s over.”