(by Dana Aber-Torres)
Engaged, January, 2019: delighted.
Married, January 2020: exhausted.
Quarantined, March, 2020: scared newlyweds stuck in a shoebox.
With both of our families’ help, we were able to celebrate our nuptials with the wedding of my dreams. It was a glorious week with family in from around the country and across the globe. As happy as we both were, we weren’t able to take off any time for a honeymoon, not even a mini-moon. We both started back to work two days after our wedding, with rehearsals and performances, studio work and café jobs crisscrossing over the “family calendar” that hangs in our narrow kitchen. But these days, that once-crowded calendar is nearly empty, and we have different problems.
I love my new husband, and we’re practiced at living together in our modest New York City apartment. But the quarantine narrowed not only our physical parameters but also our options for relaxation, fun, and coping skills. Now, it’s not so simple to “take a walk” to cool down during a moment of tension, or head to work and “talk about this when I get home.” Money conversations, already a classic anxiety-ridden subject between newlyweds, have become of pressing importance. And my own private anxieties now ping off the well-worn walls of our Harlem apartment like flies against the screen door of my mother’s kitchen. With the current scary situation, I’m homesick for my mother’s table, for the comfort of safety, for feeling like “it’ll all be okay.” I’m also feeling overwhelmed that it’s now part of my job to offer that comfort to our newly created family. I previously worked in a café, but haven’t really practiced many recipes to offer a sense of normalcy through a favorite meal—gosh, maybe I’m a terrible cook!
After a recent FaceTime call where I fretted about these worries, my mother texted me to tell me to check my email. I am constantly impressed with my parents’ ease of newer technology, but in these unstable days, their willingness to figure out the latest gadgets and gizmos has become a huge comfort, as we yearn to see familiar faces and stay connected. It’s really no surprise, though, since my mom (like most teachers) had to adjust overnight to the socially-distanced learning protocol, and has adapted to a completely online Google Classroom teaching style. So I scooted to my laptop to see what she’d sent to my inbox.
Her email was full of calm encouragement and love, and she’d attached some recipes from the cookbook she used when she was first married in the ‘70s. There are wholesome, nourishing, and thrifty recipes, like how to make your own ketchup, and broccoli salad with raisins. Next to one recipe, for Tennessee Corn Pone, she’d noted that they’d liked it so much, they made it for an anniversary dinner right before they got pregnant with me. I rummaged through the shelves for a can of beans and was lucky to find cornmeal at our local “bodega” corner market. I poured the savory bean mixture into the Corningware she’d passed down to me, layered the cornmeal mixture on top, and set the timer. The apartment soon swelled with the homey aroma of fresh cornbread. My new hubby and I burned our impatient New Yorker mouths on the delicious corn pone, and I told him how my parents made it when they were first married. As he went hopping to the stove for a second helping, I felt wrapped in the steady assurance of all the generations of newlyweds in my family before us, from Tennessee and Delaware and Detroit, each facing their new lives together with very little certainty except for their love for each other. I’m so thankful to my mom for knowing exactly how to make me feel like I’m still at her kitchen table, while giving me confidence to set my own.
Dana Aber-Torres is a performer, producer, writer and advocate in New York City. Her musical solo show "Baggage at the Door" addresses the process she pursued to unpack her past traumas and practice trust to love again. She can be found at www.DanaAber.com.
Tennessee Corn Pone
(adapted from Laurel’s Kitchen, with Gwen Aber’s notes)
4 c. very juicy seasoned beans such as pinto or kidney beans
(I think we probably used dried beans, but canned beans would be way easier, seasoned with some chili powder, salt, oregano, and some other stuff.)
2 c. cornmeal
2 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1/4 c. butter
1 qt. buttermilk
(Buttermilk is also great for making biscuits or pancakes from mix or
2 eggs, slightly beaten
Preheat oven to 450 F.
Heat beans until quite hot and pour into a lightly buttered 9 x12 ovenproof pan.
(I used this time to sauté some pressed garlic into the pot, and added some chili powder,
oregano, & a little salt. Check the flavor of the beans, and season as you like—chili flakes, pepper etc.)
Mix cornmeal, baking soda, and salt in large bowl.
Melt butter, and add to buttermilk and eggs.
Stir wet and dry ingredients together until smooth, and pour over hot beans.
(Optional: a sprinkle of shredded cheese on beans before cornmeal.)
Bake on top rack of oven for around 30 minutes, or until cornbread is golden brown and pulling away from sides of pan.
Makes a lot; recipe can be halved.