A Cooking Conversation
But Mama, Why. Can’t. I. Read. It? Boy, these are the longest, twistiest sweet potatoes I’ve ever seen. Will this knife work on ‘em?
It’s not on the mandatory list is it? At school? Why should you read it now? Use your thumb like this when you pare. No bleeding!
But everyone is reading it. I’m the only one in the class who hasn’t. Do I do half inch slices?
Half inch. Everyone…schmevreone! I’ll spread the slices in the pan. Here, peel these garlic cloves.
Chunk chop too, right? Do you want me to sprinkle the chunks on the potatoes? But what’s the harm? It’s only a book. What do I do with this olive oil?
Pour two tablespoons over the garlic; then stir to coat. Have I ever told you about your Zeyde Chaim and the suitcases?
Grandpa Henry? No. There. I’m done mixing the oil and garlic. Now put ‘em on the potatoes? What’s Zeyde Chaim have to do with the book?
Drizzle! Drizzle the garlic and oil over the sweet potatoes and then stir. Make sure you coat each slice. We were on the train, going to the Bronx to visit the cousins. I had been badgering my Tate, Zeyde Chaim to you, to tell me about Uncle Izzy’s “secret” that I’d heard Aunt Tillie and Aunt Rachel talking about.
Uh oh. This spoon is no good for stirring! It’s flipping the potatoes out. So what was the secret?
You’re the one who’s flipping! And you’re spattering garlic and oil all over this blouse! It’s going to leave a grease stain. Here—put this on. Tie it in the back. Tate wouldn’t tell me. The train stopped and it was time for us to get off. He had his big suitcase and I had my little satchel. Sponge off your front while I stir.
Did Uncle Izzy tell you? You’re right; it isn’t coming off.
I’m always right. Nevermind Uncle Izzy. Watch while I do the rosemary. I shake it onto my palms. Rub my hands together over the potatoes. Smells good, doesn’t it? You try it. Over the bowl! Over the bowl!
Yum…I love this smell. The bags, Mama?
Tate said, “You take my bag, Miriam.” I couldn’t believe it. I said, “I can’t. It’s too heavy for me!” It was too. He was bringing the Bronx cousins some of his jewelry setting machinery. Dust some pepper over all this.
So what did he say then? Should I use the pepper mill or the shaker?
The mill—give it lots of twists. He sat me back down on the seat. I can still remember the people rushing past us. He looked me in the eye. Make a pattern with the pepper. Make it pretty.
I…twist….still…twist…don’t…twist…see…twist…what…twist…this…twist…has…twist…to with the—how’s this look Mama?–What’s this have to do with the book!
He said how silly of him to think that I could lift his suitcase. “It’s too big for you to handle at your age, isn’t it?” he said. Now watch. See how I put the pan in the middle of the oven? Keeps it from cooking too fast.
Hmmm. Mama, I see where this story is going. Watch out! The spoon’s still in the pan.
You’re a smart girl. Just like me. Tate patted me on the head and said, “You’re a smart girl. The suitcase is like your question. You’re not big enough yet to handle it.” Set the timer for thirty minutes. So, dear one, that is how we do the garlic and rosemary sweet potatoes and that is why you cannot read Lady Chatterley’s Lover!
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Mmmm. These sweet potatoes are sooooo good. Mama, didn’t you ever think of Just. Asking. Uncle. Izzy?
Next time I think we should do more rosemary, maybe a little more thyme. Ask Uncle Izzy! Oy vey! Never. But! After we got back to Dorchester, I went to see Zeyde Chaim. Do you remember my grandparents lived upstairs in the Dorchester apartment? I asked him. Straight out. “Zeyde? I said, Zeyde, what’s Uncle Izzy’s secret?
Mama, you were brave. And you’re right. More rosemary next time. I don’t know about more time; we don’t want to burn it. So you just up and asked Zeyde Chaim! What did he say?
He sat me on his lap. I remember he was smoking his pipe and had a cup of tea on that little table you have now next to your bed. He says, “Ah, dear one. Izzy’s secret. Hmmmmm.” He puffed on his pipe and rubbed his chin. I could see my Bubbe watching from where she was setting the table. Finally he says, “Have I ever told about my Zeyde Chaim and the suitcases?” And, by the way, it’s more t-h-y-m-e not t-i-m-e we need.