Alone in the kitchen? Impossible! My kitchen is noisy with echoes. With every move I make I hear the voices of every person who taught me something special—a skill, a trick, a principle—that has since become my habit. I think whether we acknowledge it or not, we all become cooks that way, heeding the voices (of a mama or grandfather, a wise aunt or a wacky friend) that take us back to other kitchens and other times. These remembered voices are gifts from the past. They help to make us the cooks we are—guiding us, informing us, making us smile.
The pale morning light slides through the deep piney woods into Lola Mae’s cottage in Hickory Flat, Mississippi. She’s making biscuits, same as breathing to her, forming patties with her fine pianist’s hands—the first knuckle of her index finger ever so slightly skewed—and chattering away, clear as Southern birdsong: “Buttermilk makes all the difference,” she reveals. She’s been known, of a morning, to turn out dozens of those smooth, flat beauties at a time for her hungry family without breaking stride. Once, for Christmas, she FedExed me a box. I never make biscuits without buttermilk.
I’m hunched over a sink in a tiny French kitchen outside Lyons, washing lettuce just picked from an abundant vegetable garden in front of the house. “Il faut laver la salade à trois eaux,” Mimi shyly confides to me, making sure I know to wash those leaves three times to get out the dirt.