Cooking with My Grandmother This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

July 20, 2013
The light is strong, as the windows in the kitchen are almost never drawn with curtains. The sliding door leading to the backyard is open and from a distance I can hear our pet chickens scurrying about. It’s quite strange, about the chickens, I know. I could almost imagine this place, this same house, far away in a remote village. Maybe back in time. I snap back into the present when a cold rush of air from the refrigerator my grandmother opens hits me. We are making “taboule”, an Armenian salad today. She tells me, “Wash your hands!” as she herself rolls up her sleeves at the sink.

My grandmother is quite ecstatic about this whole affair; I’m not much of a cook myself and make no effort to be. She, my mother notwithstanding, strongly advocates the traditional role of a woman in the house- the stereotypical function of cooking and cleaning. To their disappointment, I do not comply to any of those with much ease. “I have too much homework,” is the considerably effective (not one I am proud of, but nevertheless effective) technique to escape such tasks. The chances of my mother leaving me alone after I say this are slim but my laziness in that subject is equally impressive.

So when my grandmother proposed to prepare a dish together, I wasn't, not surprisingly, very excited to make a meal. I’d really rather be reading a book or working in my sketchbook. But as it is, I am here today with my grandmother who is running about washing vegetables and such. I take the cutting board out of its usual place in the drawer and bring out the only knife in the house I ever cut anything with (the largest one) on the rare occasions when I do help with making food.

All cliché’s have their truth, and I know saying that my grandmother is a great cook would only add to the conventional image of grandmothers, but it is most definitely true. On the rare days where she isn't there after school to prepare something to eat for me, I do not eat at all until my mother comes home and does so. In fact if my mother didn't come home on that same day that my grandmother wasn't there, I probably would not eat at all that day.

When we begin to cut, she tells me that the most difficult part is cutting everything very carefully. "You need to get it down to very, very tiny pieces. That is the hard portion of this." She tells me of her childhood in Armenia and how she would make entire meals for her family when she was my age. My grandmother was the oldest of her siblings as well as the only daughter in four brothers. She compares herself to me quite often and I am always surprised at the vast differences. She was and is a more hard-working person than I will ever be.

As I cut the vegetables she hands over to me one by one, I can’t help but like the process. The steady rhythm of the knife on the board and the consistent pattern in which I cut the little squares of vegetable is quite fun. I suddenly have a thought and rush into my room and pull out my speakers and chord. I plug it in where we are working and put on a song for the occasion. Listening to music always makes things enjoyable for me. I put on Brother in Arms by Dire Straits very loud. My grandma doesn't mind.
She reminds me time and time again to "be careful, Nelli" as if I am still a child, still the child she raised so many years ago in Armenia when my parents were not there. I slow down just to please her.

We’re both not very loud workers and it feels like the music fills the space-it is too full for any conversation that would overflow the place. It is like this for a while.

There’s a creaking noise and my dad comes through the door, our kitchen’s old swinging door that is one of the aspects of our house we haven’t remodeled. He is surprised to see me in an apron and standing over an almost fully-prepared salad and very pleased. I have the song on repeat, and he asks if the song is Pink Floyd and I tell him it isn't and he probablyhasn't heard of the
band. He says alright and asks when we will be done. “Not long,” I say. The work isn't strenuous. My dad, unlike me, likes to cook. He directs me to "cut the parsley in half, and then put the two halves side by side and start cutting vertically". He, too, reminds me to take caution because I do tend to cut the ingredients in a hurry

My least favorite part is cutting the greens. It is a long process because for the particular salad we are making.

"Baboul, did I cut this small enough? Or should it be smaller?" I say to my grandmother. Baboul is a Russian term for grandma, and I have called her that ever since I can remember.
"It's great, perfect. You did a good job with this!"

My mother comes in at this point and asks us what we are making. Almost immediately upon my answering, she walks to the cupboard near the window and takes out na-na, or dried mint leaves, and sprinkles it on the salad. I realize this is beginning to become a family affair so I usher both my parents out of the kitchen and tell them to wait patiently.

The meal is almost done.

My grandma measures the salt and Bulgar while I squeeze a whole lemon into the bowl- all key ingredients in this dish. The olive oil goes in next, and the creation is ready to mix. I do the honor. In the end I made quite a mess in the kitchen, the
greens flying about with a mind of their own. I'm surprised at how large the salad actually is, and can see almost through a culinary artist’s point of view that making food-even if it is just salad- can be rewarding, especially when done with a family member. My grandmother is proud as well, for this moment in time and for all the times before this.

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