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Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

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As a child, in my grandmother’s kitchen, I learned about food. A good meal could bring people together, and a delicious dessert spoke a universal language; both were capable of feeding the soul. My father returned after five absent decades, on a cold January day, twenty-four hours following my mother’s death. He called during lunch to tell me I was not alone. I was not an orphan. Good timing. 

A spring reunion brought us together. Stilted conversation fostered anxiety and a much-needed change of subject. We passed the time awkwardly and chatted about food like strangers speaking about the weather. He missed good Italian meals. My grandmother would have called it karma.

My father knew nothing about me. Nothing about my life, my career, my children, my family, my writing, my friends, my seven-year stint as a caterer, my propensity to desserts, or the food influence of my grandmother, mother, aunt, and mother-in-law in their kitchens, as well as my genuine passion for all things culinary. Cooking for dad became the icebreaker in our complicated relationship, the eventual path to my writer’s journey of forgiveness by dessert.

My mother’s sister taught me about using food as an absolution. She faced her life, bound by tragedy, with optimism and turned to cooking as therapy, making the kitchen a safe haven. Her sage advice and quick wit fueled my desire to tackle whatever life tossed in my direction. I perfected her ricotta cheesecake, cookies, biscotti, and dozens of other recipes. But no gourmet delight could assuage the ache of abandonment. Something was wanting. A formula for forgiveness cannot be written, measured in cups or in tablespoons.

My father was gone before I found the missing piece of the forgiveness puzzle, the piece that brought everything into focus, the piece revealing self-forgiveness.

In honor of all the kitchens in my life, as well as the future of a cookbook memoir, here is one Eureka moment! Some recipes have multiple ingredients, and others come out of a box and necessitate only following the instructions. This is a true example of the latter.

Through the years of attendance at athletic and academic events, I would volunteer to bring a dessert. The easiest and most requested were trays of what became Marry-Me-Brownies. This brownie christening came during a high school preseason soccer event for parents. As moms and dads carried their coffee mingling with other parents, they would stop for a sweet treat to place on a paper plate.

Conversations overlapped, and pleasantries were exchanged. I often manned the dessert table, refilled platters, and contributed to passing remarks without feeling guilty about not getting stuck in topics involving school politics. A man paused in front of my brownies and put a few on his plate and one in his mouth. As he chewed, he grinned.

“Did you make these?” He asked. 

“Yes,” I said.

“Will you marry me?”

We both laughed, and the name stuck.

Aha! Take a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips, be generous, be heavy-handed, and add chips on top of the uncooked, boxed, chocolate-fudge brownie mixture. When baked and cooled, sprinkle with powdered sugar as garnish. Remember to never overlook a food metaphor that nourishes mind, body and a sense of humor. Who knew one ingredient could override complicated? Simple. Forgive me.

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Linda Merlino
Linda Merlino, Contributing Writer
Linda Merlino is a contributing writer for Cape Fear Voices.

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