Someday I want to build a traditional outdoor beehive oven and have a neighborhood bread-baking fest! Bread and poetry . . . and chicken soup! I have mused about this for years and people love the idea. The return to bread! Teaching kids how to incubate their own yogurt!
As a child I loved the Sunday table. It was about food and eating and talking all day. My Jewish grandparents would drive up in their beige Buick from Brighton Beach with bagels and honeycake and potato knishes. The trunk would be filled with Grandpa's latest: cases of Wrigley's spearmint gum, or boxes of brand-new sneakers. My grandparents smelled good, reeking of Canoe cologne. My Sicilian step-father would put out plates of smoked whitefish and bright orange lox, a mountain of cream cheese, and a basket of fresh biales. There would be a percolator of hot coffee and a pitcher of orange juice on the buffet. I would sit at the dining room table all day listening to their stories and eating. Food was sacred and our table was the altar.
When I was in college my drawing class would run from one till six p.m. By two-thirty I would have snuck out and bicycled home to my little third-floor kitchen. I would cook and bake for the rest of the night; chicken soup, onion soup, chili, chilies rellenos, wheat bread, and hummus. I required solitude and nest building on a daily basis. I loved not having a roommate! Just me and my dog. I would sit and write letters during my solitary supper meal.
Being a restaurant prep-chef taught me more than art school possibly could have. And it was a ton more fun! For the first time in my life I was in a room full of people who actually listened to things I said and even laughed at my jokes. I once named and labeled all the salad dressings after erotic movies. I sometimes changed recipes for things, and sometimes got in trouble for it. I flirted with the bartender each time I had to run for milk and coffee for making the chocolate pudding trays! On the major holidays the chef encouraged me to drink beer that had been hidden in one of those gigantic aluminum flour measures in the fridge. I learned to love the voice of Dolly Parton, who seemed to be always on the radio. Chef Bruce was a tall pony-tailed history major who was perfect as my new older brother. Most nights I showed up to work after crying my eyes out at home for no particular reason. Life just hurt! I was hooked up with a perpetually on-the-road philandering musician who would check up on me, calling long distance from Chicago or somewhere. I discovered that I looked good dressed up in 1940's suits I'd find in the thrift stores along with, for instance, imitation-alligator pumps. So every night after my seven-hour kitchen shift, I would strip out of my jeans and dirty apron and hiking boots, and dress up in nylons, suit, and pumps! Lois Lane would emerge from the kitchen. This is where I met my beloved husband. He was celebrating his birthday out front at one of the tables and I joined the party, all dressed up.