Food
July 2008

CONTENTS

Sofrito | Fred Arroyo

Sleeping In | Micah Bateman

On The Road Again | Tyson Blanquart

Kohlrabi | Rebecca Bodicky

Chili-Mac | Michael Castro

Breakfast with the New Madrid | Ian Dorward

Delicious | Hilary Hitchcock

Transmigrated Duck Heart | Thom Fletcher

Improvising | John Garcia

Lines in the Van, Lines in the Sand | Chris King

Hermetic Rice | K. Curtis Lyle

Don't Forget About Your Veggies | s.c. truckey

Mastication | Brett Underwood

Tables | Justin Visnesky

 

 


Improvising | by John Garcia
 

I still have the house key and let myself in.

I open the refrigerator, see what she has, and take out a red pepper and a green pepper and a box of tofu. I check the cabinets and find a bag of long grain rice and another bag of pinto beans. Tomatoes fill a bowl by the toaster. I look in the refrigerator again, see some eggs.

As a boy, I enjoyed helping my father scramble eggs for Sunday morning breakfast in our Chicago home. I am not cooking eggs now, but those memories with my father when I was little and watched everything he did with the intensity of a child who wanted to grow up quickly and be as big as he was come back to me in a rush and are pleasant to recall. I see him put eggs in a bowl and grease a frying pan. I hear myself ask if I may set the table. He says, Yes, and reminds me to fold the paper napkins, and I do, creasing them sharply.

I close the refrigerator door and decide to make stuffed peppers. A knee-jerk version of them anyway, given what she has available, but it should work. I boil three pots of water; one to steam the peppers, the other two to cook the beans and rice. We are trying to reconcile. I thought I'd surprise her by having dinner made when she came home from work.

I turn the gas flame low and cover the pots. Then I put one cup of cubed tofu in a bowl with a little canola oil and mix in two tablespoons of soy sauce, four cloves minced garlic and one diced onion. I let it marinate for about twenty minutes and then pour it into a frying pan and keep the flame low. As the pan warms I stir the tofu, flipping it with a spatula browning each side.

As I grew older, I'd make my own breakfast while my parents dressed for work. The mornings I didn't want cereal, I scrambled eggs. I broke the eggs against the side of the bowl with one hand, differently from my father, who would crack the eggs open by gently tapping the shell with a fork and then pry them apart with both hands. He beat them into a furious bubbled yellow froth for minutes at a time. I, on the other hand, whisked the eggs just enough to create a yellow pond floating idly in the bowl. He added salt and pepper to the eggs after he poured them into a frying pan. I sprinkled seasoning into the mixing bowl before I even had the eggs out of the refrigerator. No reason. Just my way.

My father would watch me cook and shake his head. He was ill-equipped temperamentally to deal with an obstinate  teenager and the shouting matches between us over nothing as I progressed through high school ended only when we retreated to our separate domains; my bedroom, his study.

On Sunday mornings, however, the kitchen became our demilitarized zone. We worked together and made breakfast as we had when I was younger. An unspoken truce extended until we had finished eating and cleaned the dishes. He would advise me to adjust the gas flame beneath the pan as I stirred the eggs so as not to burn them and I did because he was right and that was okay. We lingered by the stove, content in the fragrant silence that filled the kitchen and the quiet calm between us.

Oil hisses in the frying pan and stings my hands, reminding me that I am not in my family's kitchen but here in Sonoma County cooking for my estranged wife. I spear the tofu with a fork and shake it off on paper towel. I place the steamed peppers on a wood board and cut a circle around the curled stems and pull them out like corks. I remove the seeds with a spoon before I turn my attention to the beans. Steam billows out of the sink toward the ceiling as I drain the beans dampening my face. I open some windows to cool the kitchen and notice the closet where I had pulled a suitcase to pack my clothes when we agreed to separate.

It had been given to me by my father years ago when I moved out of my parent's house for a job in San Francisco. He and I stuffed my Toyota hatchback with the suitcase, my stereo, a duffle bag, trunk and assorted boxes arguing at ever increasing volume about the best way to make everything fit. He said I was taking much too much stuff. I told him he needed to let go. By the time we had finished packing, we were livid with each other. We stormed silently into the kitchen to make breakfast.

My father gave me some napkins. I folded them as always with a well-defined crease and set the table. I took a bowl off a wall hook, cracked open six eggs and began scrambling them. My father stood beside me and cooked pork sausages jabbing them with a fork. I watched oozing springs of grease drip off the sausages and hiss and snap across the pan, and I imagined cartoon characters chasing one another and laughed and for no reason my father laughed too. He greased a pan for me and I heated it over a low flame.

When the eggs were cooked, I divided them onto three plates and he poured glasses of orange juice. The only sound came from the shuffling of plates and silverware in my hands and the scuffing of my fatherís shoes on the tile floor as he walked to the foot of the stairs and shouted up to my mother that breakfast was ready.

I can still hear my father pull a chair for my mother to sit at the table as I mix the rice with the beans adding salt and black pepper. Then I ladle spoonfuls of beans and rice into the peppers topping them off with the tofu. I put the peppers on two plates, one for her and one for me. I form a ring of half moon slices of tomato around the peppers and sprinkle them with salt and olive oil.

Voilŗ!

I consider my creation. Then the empty chairs. The spare table. The silent kitchen. I look at the clock. Where is she? Did she go out for a drink with friends after work? I should have called. But then it would not have been a surprise. It gets so complicated.

I wish my father was here. He would appreciate how deliberately I've cooked this dinner, although he would frown at my grab bag approach to the ingredients; how the mixed aromas of tofu, peppers, garlic, onion, canola oil, beans, rice, tomatoes and soy sauce provides a relaxed sense of purpose and accomplishment no matter how simple the meal, and how the tentative peace I now feel cleanses me for the moment of all anger and hurt as I sit in this warm kitchen brushed with evening breezes and wait, wait for her.

BIO

J. Malcolm Garcia  was raised in St. Louis and grew up on Bellerive Drive where his parents still live. In 1998, after living in University City as an adult, he moved to Kansas City to accept a job at The Kansas City Star as a reporter.