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The Ref

(by Natalka Burian)

(me, Bapcha Dorosz, and Mom)

My mother is an intrepid and fascinating woman in nearly every area of her life, but not in the kitchen. I remember her cooking only two things, ever. She made a mean pot of oatmeal—a dish she fixed for my brother and me for breakfast, lunch, and dinner—and a colossal shrimp boil, heavily featuring Old Bay, that she made once every summer. Our takeout options in rural Maryland were limited. There was a single pizza place, a McDonalds near the closest highway exit, and a Friendly’s two towns over.

So most of our meals as kids were sandwiches and cereal (or oatmeal), except when our grandparents visited. Both of my grandmothers were proud and experienced home cooks, whipping up every iteration of Eastern European dumpling, soup, and bread from memory. There were tons of starches and meats in their rotations, and not a lot of vegetables—with the exception, of course, of beets.