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When she has the kitchen all to herself, Phyllis Grant of Dash and Bella cooks beautiful iterations of what solo meals were always meant to be: Exactly what you want, when and where you want them.
Today: Straight up comfort food, for when there's too much to do. (And even when there's not.)
The whole heart in your throat thing, it's all because of the plum blossoms. They catch your eye outside the kitchen window. They can’t be here just yet.
You haven’t had the sex talk with your daughter. You haven’t signed up for summer camp. Your Christmas tree is still waiting in the driveway to get hacked up and dragged away. You need to be a better member of this planet before spring, to embody all of the bumper-stickered backs of Berkeley Volvos. Save the Bay. Save the Trees. Coexist. Snout to Tail. Eat Local. This could be you. You just need a little more time.
So you gather everything from your fridge that was once alive: the red pepper slices, the cucumber coins, the wilted parsley, the chicken scraps, the garlic confit, the lemon wedges. You are going to be the kind of woman who makes homemade chicken stock. But first things first.
You must deliver a hug, a grand jeté lesson, five kisses to the bleeding knee that slammed into the side of the dresser. You lead a discussion about the size, shape, and depth of your son’s love for you, for his daddy, for the dead dog, for all of Roald Dahl’s books. You deal with those two-day-old dishes, the stinky compost, the dirty kitchen floor.
And then you have to open your brain for some sixth grade math: You’re driving 360 miles to and from the mountains. The tank holds 17 gallons of gas. You get 25 miles to the gallon when you go 55 mph. Don’t forget the variables: temperature, wind, and uncle Bob needing to go to the bathroom. Calculate how much gas will be used on the drive home. Your daughter cries out I can’t do it! I suck at math! I can’t do it! I just can’t!
I know, you want to say, it feels impossible.
You try something else: Remember at the gymnastics meet when you did your triple hooha flipdeedoo roundoff back handspring. Even after your injury? You got up there in front of hundreds of people and flew through the air. That’s what you have to do with your math teacher. Walk up to him tomorrow and say I need help.
Okay, mom, I will.
Okay? You will? Really?
You sit down. You remember you should never sit down. You remember the stock. You mumble I can’t do it all. I just can’t. You take a deep, rallying breath. And then you face it.
What’s the plan this evening?
I want to play Monopoly and eat cheese.
I want to play Parcheesi and eat toast.
You want to be whisked off to Rome, drink red wine for lunch, and be fed anchovies by a male over the age of seven.
You compromise with Boggle and cheese toasts, covering the stale scraps of bread with mayonnaise, puzzling together odds and ends from the cheese drawer, showering it all with too much paprika. You dip them in A-1 Steak Sauce, drinking Sancerre until your head drops to the table.
Mom, I see that you're tired. Go to bed.
I just need to make chicken stock.
Mom, I see a tiny piece of you that wants to cook, to write, to watch a movie. But most of your body just wants to sleep.
Serves 3 to 4
1/3 cup mayonnaise (or more!)
12 ounces creamy havarti (or your favorite meltable cheese), thinly sliced
Paprika, to taste
Photos by Phyllis Grant