Ketchup on Waffles and Other Things We Eat at Diners

It’s 9 PM, well after the usual dinnertime rush…

via Daily Prompt: Loop

I’ve frequented the same diner since the age of five. My parents would travel an hour away from their rural home with three kids in tow to attend open houses in the suburbs. Touring homes was every kindergartner’s dream—basements became dungeons, attics were castles towering above the highest of clouds. Carpets were begging to be played on, and that elusive fourth bedroom for a family of five was just in reach.

Over the years, a second home found itself at the diner. Waitresses would dote on our family, slipping extra packages of crackers with our vegetable soup and providing an abundance of crayons for us kids to scribble furiously with on placemats. Yet one day, something changed. The kids were in their teenage years, and the dynamic wasn’t what it usually was. Staring into my cracker-less soup, I realized problems sometimes extend beyond the walls of a house.

Fast forward to the present. The four of us, fraternal twins and two close friends from high school, huddle in a booth toward the back of the diner. It’s 9 PM, well after the usual dinnertime rush. With an artist’s flair my friend drizzles syrup and ketchup onto her Belgian waffle. A waitress—a girl our age—spies the unusual combination and eyes our table with the perfect mix of disgust and confusion. We laugh. The hostess seats a group of three older ladies in the booth behind us, and we scramble to the display case of desserts when it is discovered they are, in fact, our teachers from elementary school.

A lot occurred as I matured from a five-year-old to a rising college sophomore. Some hard lessons learned, a life both enriched and complicated by difficult times—I emerged a girl with a more balanced, if not cynical, view of the world and all its unanswered questions. This diner has been there through it all, with its steaming bowls of soup, stained-glass lamps, and artfully arranged bouquets of flowers spilling over the booths.

My mind surfaced from its fog, I recognize the waitress who has served our family since my now-teenage sister was in a high chair. The memories slip into a comfortable loop. I’ve moved on from my standard meal of mac and cheese and refusal to eat broccoli. But when I eat that first spoonful of chocolate ice cream, I realize some things never change. That’s a reassuring thing.

When It Pays to Panic

via Daily Prompt: Meddle

As I mentioned in an earlier post, cooking is a form of therapy for me—a way to determine my purpose in life and center myself after those overwhelming days. Most nights it isn’t a challenge to whip up a fresh batch of cookies or broil salmon with a maple-rosemary glaze for dinner. But as all those who spend time in the kitchen know, sometimes there are moments when nothing seems to be going right.

I was making flourless pancakes with a blueberry compote last week when disaster struck. Everything was going well. I zested a lemon with ease. The perfect mix of bananas, eggs, baking powder, and salt pureed in the blender. A generous splash of coconut oil went into the skillet, and it was time to pour the batter. And that’s when something went wrong.

The first pancake was flipped too soon and resembled something straight from a Dr. Seuss classic. A second clouded the small kitchen with smoke, inciting panic on my end. Hurriedly opening the first-floor windows, I prayed the smoke detector wouldn’t go off. One hour passed, then two. I eyed the pancakes sizzling in the pan with intense concentration and held my breath as they were flipped.

After three pancakes were placed on each of the five plates and generously covered in the blueberry-lemon mixture, I slumped in a chair.

Maybe cooking just isn’t for me.

But as soon as that thought crossed my mind, I reminded myself why cooking was so important to me. It provided a fresh start, a chance to “do it all over again” and discover what I love. And like all chefs, amateur or otherwise, I need to start somewhere.

 

 

Across the Creek

via Daily Prompt: Relieved

There’s something about returning to your old high school stomping grounds during an evening walk. I experienced this the other night with a friend, and it posed an opportunity to reflect on my life before college.

Sometimes I need to revisit the places I’ve been to remind myself what is in store for me now. This was no exception—as we walked through the tennis courts, running our fingers across the chain-link fences and kicking those forlorn green balls out of our path, I couldn’t help but remember this same moment just a few years ago. Call it déjà vu, call it coincidence, but as I kicked the last of the tennis balls into the grass, my mind wandered to the days when we’d play, six to a team, for those last forty-six minutes of the morning before rushing to the next class.

The conversation lapsed into one of recipes—seared steak served over a tomato and blue cheese salad, maple salmon with walnuts—like many things in life, it comfortably circled back to food. We climbed the hills surrounding the brick school buildings, alone save for a janitor shutting the power off for the night. Rabbits, shifty ones with nervous eyes and powerful back legs, darted across the overgrown reeds. After a shortcut through the adjacent neighborhood, home to residents who often called school officials to complain about students parking haphazardly in front of their driveways, we reached the elementary school.

Having never attended public school until my teenage years, I held no connection to this place. But its friendly sign, decorations in pastel colors, and impressive playground held vague memories of childhood and all that comes with time. Named for the creek running through one section of the forest, the school became crowded by New York residential developments over the years. Even as we cautiously scaled the hillside, my friend and I were aware of neighbors murmuring from their patio sets.

Wading in the creek is a pastime from our parents’ generation. It was times like these I longed for the cornfields and overgrown swamps of my own childhood. We were older now, but the creek invited the curiosity we often miss as adults with obligations and schedules. Crossing it was another thing entirely.

I held my breath, steadying myself as water rushed over the slippery rocks. One step, a wave of relief, and the moment was cut short by the realization I would need to make it a little further across to capture that perfect shot. My sneakers filled with water as I raised my arms, balancing as wire-walkers do on a taut line.

I made it across the creek that day with minimal scratches—an impressive feat for a self-proclaimed klutz. And as I waited for the camera to focus, sunlight peeked through the trees and bathed the forest in golden light.

There was more to this evening, of course. Hot fudge sundaes at the nearby convenience store, a four-mile walk through the neighborhoods, and subsequent admiration of each home’s eclectic features. Conversations about movies, music, democracies, and fireflies. I made it home as the first lightning strikes pierced the sky.

My life is far different from the one I lived in high school. But as Dr. Seuss once said, “Onward up many a frightening creek, though your arms may get sore and your sneakers may leak. Oh! The places you’ll go!”