(by Alicia Garey)
The orange juice:
In the mornings before school, you’d serve me a cup of orange juice before I walked out the door, and despite my reluctance to drink it, you’d insist. Since I’d just brushed my teeth, the juice left an acidic burn in my freshly cleaned mouth. I was too young to form the right words to explain my misery, which continued each day.
The cream cheese sandwich:
With jelly, on white bread. I couldn’t imagine a more awful combination. When it appeared in my lunchbox, it caused prickly bumps on my arms.
The chicken Parmesan:
I watched as you coated the pieces first in egg, then bread crumbs, with your left hand, your skinny fingers and long, manicured nails lifting and sorting, while your right hand held your cigarette. Those same hands would sew repairs on my jeans or make a pillow out of an old hat. I’d watch you apply your makeup with those hands, and I’d watch you smoke a joint with those hands. And many times, those hands would hold a drink of wine to your lips or bring antidepressant pills for you to swallow. Those hands never hit me, but one time when I was late coming home from school while you were doing the dishes, you slapped the wet sponge to my face, which landed softly against my cheek. I saw the worry on your face and said I was sorry. I wiped my guilty tears with my small elementary school-sized hands wishing for a time I could be grown up, away from your array of emotions.
Oh, dear god, why the liver? If it appeared on the menu, I turned it over to my two Siamese cats waiting under my bed where they’d hide.
The creamy chicken:
I don’t remember what the dish was called. It was everyone’s favorite—rich and tasty. The sauce was as thick as the volume of your shouting those days. I had known your rage my whole life, and now our blended family after your second marriage got a taste of it too. The chopped broccoli, bitter as your fury. Crispy bread crumbs on top, a crunch of madness.
The TV dinners:
You’d be off doing something, and I’d sit at a tray table in our living room, eating the greasy chicken and corn kernels in the foil sections. If they entered the brownie area, I’d just eat around it. I’d watch a show, maybe Carol Burnett, laughter in between bites.
On weekends, you would make lox, eggs, and onions. I know that “LEO” combination is a deli tradition, but I could have done without the onions. The salty smell of the warming bits of lox filled our New York galley kitchen as the morning sunlight appeared through your plants on the glass shelves next to the table.
You’d spray the miniature bottle with spearmint breath freshener into your mouth several times a day, whenever we went somewhere. Your slender fingers found the small white button to push the chemical onto your tongue. The delicate mist landing there covered your volatile words, delivered within the walls of our apartment with a thunderous pitch, about money or things I didn’t understand. One time when I was a child, I accidentally spritzed it in my eye, not realizing the tiny hole was pointed upward. It stung, and I cried minty tears.
The Passover holiday brisket:
How you got the meat so tender, I’ll never know. For what seemed like hours, you’d grate slivers of carrots over the top before putting it in the oven, perfectly coinciding with your disappearance into your makeup routine, returning on cue to check progress.
The Noodle Kugel, aka Noodle Pudding:
The sweet smell of warming cinnamon smoothed over any family chaos happening at the time. It was the special dish that made a Jewish holiday together tolerable, a reprieve from the usual arguments with your husband that typically started as early as six o’clock in the morning. Occasionally there was a request by someone to leave out the raisins, but I liked them. Sometimes I’d eat the leftovers for breakfast.
Then one day:
You were making hamburgers. There was an unknown scent, but even my young olfactory told me something was wrong. It was sweet and bitter and cut through the air on impact. We looked at each other, both wondering: What’s that? And you laughed, realizing what you had done, opening the oven door to discover the melted clock you’d put on the top rack the day before because the ticking was too loud. The chemical smell from the melting plastic pricked the edges of my nostrils, awakening a new sense of fear. Who puts a clock in the oven, I asked myself, and found no answer. Years later, my hunger for truth and love would propel me to make my own life recipes.
Alicia Garey is an interior designer and author of What a Blip: A Breast Cancer Journal
(I never saw my mother actually make this dish. It just appeared, a thing of perfection in a glass baking dish. Dried cranberries, chopped apples, or pineapple can be substituted for the raisins. I made it for the first time recently, and it came out great.)
softened butter, for greasing the pan
12 oz. package wide egg noodles
5 large eggs, beaten
1/2 c. butter, melted
16 oz. sour cream
8 oz. cottage cheese
3/4 c. granulated sugar
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 c. black raisins
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Grease a 9 x 13 baking dish.
In a large pot of boiling water, cook pasta according to package instructions, about 9 - 11 minutes. Drain and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine eggs, melted butter, sour cream, cottage cheese, sugar, cinnamon, and raisins.
Stir in cooked noodles.
Pour into prepared dish and sprinkle additional cinnamon on top if desired.
Bake until set, about 1 hour.
Cover with aluminum foil toward the end of baking if you prefer it less browned.