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First pages

Prologue

I’m alive. I’m dead. I’m in-between. In that limbo where my vital signs hover just above death. I rise above my body and look down on it, lying on a gurney. Hospital staff are rushing me along the brightly-lit hallway to the operating room. One of them holds an oxygen mask on my face. Another, a bag of intravenous fluid connected to my veins by a tube.

I’m not ready to die yet. These good people anxious to rescue me don’t know that my resolve is the only thing that is keeping me alive. No, I’m not ready to die—I’ve only just begun to live. I have yet to prove to myself, to the world, that I have what it takes to prevail.

My family—now on their way to the hospital—doesn’t know yet exactly what happened to me. And except for one detective, neither do the police. I see him now by the foot of the gurney, keeping pace with the nurses. He’s scowling, his lips pressed into a grim line.

A tall, taut, and solitary man, he has deep-set gray eyes clouded by too many images of violent death and a lower lip that hangs perpetually open in disgust or despair. So much darkness he has already seen in his thirty odd years in this world. He needs to piece together the facts that constitute the attempt on my life, events that may have led to it, and various fragments of my life to understand what brought me to this point.

The first time I met him, I fell in love with him. There was something primal about him, some paternal, animalistic instinct to save hurt or fallen victims. Like me, maybe. It gave him power and it made him irresistible to me.

But fate is fickle. It teases. It entices. One day, something quite ordinary happens to you. Yet, you sense that that ordinary something can change your life. Not necessarily for something better, but for something new. Fate is dangling before you the promise of a world that, before then, was totally out of your reach. How can you not seize it?

Now, of course, I see the end of that promise. And it’s not where I want to be.

It’s tragic, don’t you think, that the end of that promise should be right here on a gurney, with me fighting for my life? It certainly is not what I hoped for.

How could it end this way? I embraced life, took chances, but half-dead on this gurney, I wonder: Am I paying with my life? But, like I said. I’m not ready to die yet.

 

I

Sous chef Guy watches to my left, his hands clasped behind his back. He’s tense, struggling not to reach for the bowl of crumbled nori on the counter to my right. The part-adult, part-adolescent strawberry blond with a pointed chin—bright eyes darting between me and Guy—watches from behind us, waiting to be handed two plates of the course I’m preparing to garnish.

I take a pinch of the nori, sprinkle it over raw tuna on one plate. Another pinch over the tuna on the second plate. I look up at Guy.

Hands finally unclasped off his broad back, he picks up one plate, thrusts it to me. “Okay Gina, your turn. Take this to table 29.”

My mouth opens to protest. Just as quickly, I close it again. I’ve learned the ritual, but this is the first time I’ll be participating in it. I’m frazzled enough and going out to the dining room will make me jumpier.

Guy hands the second plate to the strawberry blond. He’s only been serving a few weeks. His bright eyes, even brighter smile, the spring in his steps still reek of his gratitude for being lucky enough to work at Du Cœur.

On each of the large plates, the two ounces of red tuna seem to float on a wide expanse of white porcelain. I still don’t get why our plates have to be ten times the size of the portions we serve. Well, maybe, not ten times. Extravagantly large, anyway.

Strawberry blond follows me out of the bustling brightly-lit kitchen. Laure, the owner and chef de cuisine, thinks all her cooks should occasionally go out to the dining room and serve customers. I’m not quite sure why. Something to do with the buzz between cook and customer when creator and consumer meet. Plus comments you may get can tell you a lot about what customers like (or don’t like) about your dish.

The original idea for the dish I’m serving is mine. Guy played with it and we all taste-tested the many variations he and I came up with until we found the combination that made our taste buds sing.

But a new dish isn’t ready until Laure says so. She tastes it, squints at it for presentation and color and when you see her smile and wink at you, you know it’s a go. If not, you try again. She’s easy, though. Many times, she herself tweaks the dish a little, before she rewards you with that wink and recites her culinary mantra: Dining isn’t just about flavors; it’s also textures, color, and context. Context to her is anything from the layering of flavors to the ambiance in the dining room.

Before I can walk into the dining room, Marcia, the easy-going pastry chef who’s become my best friend, steps away from her station, whispers as I pass by. “Be the best you can be. Guy at 29 dines here about twice a month, a Du Cœur favorite.”

Eyes round and incredulous, but also amused, I say, “No way twice a month.”

“Yes, way. Filthy rich, you know. Old money from the California Gold Rush that his family invested profitably.”

At this restaurant, the second one I’ve worked for, the clientele comes from the moneyed class. Privileged with money to spare. Money to put aside for a full-course dinner costing hundreds for two people. And that’s without the wine. I could never dine here unless I gave up my apartment, banked all my earnings, and slept in my car or a homeless shelter for a whole week.

Our regular customers are often fifty years or older and established, and come twice, sometimes thrice a year for special occasions. Dining here twice a month? The guy at Table 29 must be worth diamonds to the restaurant.

I get shivers in my spine entering the dining room. I’ve only been in it when it’s empty, quiet, and bright from lights and white tablecloths. This evening, the lighting is subdued and—yes—romantic, warmed by candles and small vases of bright yellow chrysanthemums on tables. Nonintrusive, soft music plays against the hum of voices from every table.

Table 29 usually sits four, but tonight it holds only two people. I’m surprised to see that they’re quite young. Maybe about my age or a little older. And attractive. Now I’m even more curious. And intrigued. Mature and rich or nearly rich, I’ve seen a lot of. But filthy rich and young? Well, I must at least sneak a peek at what this priceless diamond looks like.

For now, though, I’m a willing peon, as grateful as strawberry blond is when I started learning the ropes in this exclusive eatery. So, I focus on the course I’m serving Table 29. How I perform at this restaurant decides whether my career goes haute cuisine or a la Burger King. But that last choice is really no choice at all. I’ll work my butt off to make sure it stays that way. It’s my future, after all, that I’m slaving for.

I recite to myself the script we’ve been trained to deliver. The script is quite simple, but this is my first foray into a dining room full of privileged clients. And hives are sprouting on my arms just thinking that I’m serving my creation to the restaurant’s most valued client. If this guy doesn’t like my dish and blabbers to Laure about it, I can kiss my future in haute cuisine goodbye. Laure is well-loved and well-known, and a word from her can make or break culinary dreams.

I quickly glance, first at his date then at him, vaguely taking in how they look. I take a deep breath, smile at neither one in particular and say, “Medallions of raw ahi, wasabi hollandaise, on a bed of diced cucumbers, vernissage cherry tomatoes, and capers, finished with a sprinkle of toasted nori. Bon appetit!”

Distractedly, my fixed smile still on, I wonder if “filthy rich” Table 29 guy holds my cooking future in his manicured hands—or, more likely, on his pampered taste buds. I take a couple of steps back, so they can start eating. Maybe I can catch a glimpse of whether he likes my dish or not before I go back to the kitchen. I’m also waiting for that “buzz” I’ve been made to expect. Nothing yet. Anything to say about my creation? Maybe that’s what it takes.

But I’m new in this game and still a coward, so I chicken out as he picks up his fork. I control the urge in my legs to run backward to the kitchen. Be at your best, Gina. Be cool. But my ego will be in tatters if Mr. Filthy Rich doesn’t like the dish.

A familiar voice, an excited voice, a voice I’ve not heard from in three years halts my step. “Gina!”

I turn to the woman in surprise. A face I never expected to see in this hallowed hall. I smile, sincerely, but I try to suppress a wide grin at seeing someone I’ve known since childhood. She’s matured nicely—more womanly curves and dark eyes, expertly accentuated. Extra shine in the red-brown hair. Gorgeous in a green dress with a décolletage just low enough to provoke male hands.

My training at this restaurant includes pleasing but sincere decorum with clients—not bright, put-on good cheer. “Cristi, how nice to see you.”

Cristi and I grew up in the same neighborhood, but now live in different parts of the city. We see each other only when we happen to visit our respective parents at the same time. My last visit home was two years ago.

She says, “I didn’t know this is where you worked. Wow, I’m impressed. Real classy, this place. You must be good.”

“I’m just a line cook, but it’s great experience. Been here more than a year. How about you? You’re looking great. How have you been?”

She beams. “Wonderful, just wonderful. You … ” Her bright smile dims a little.

“Look a little harassed.” I chuckle as I finish her sentence. I used to do that a lot for her.

“No, no. You look good. It’s just … ”

“How about I call you later, catch up. If you like?”

“Yeah, sure. About time. Same number. You still have it, right?”

“Won’t you introduce me to your friend, Cristi?” The male voice turns our heads towards its source. It’s deep, relaxed and one you can’t ignore.

He’s staring at me with a pair of very blue eyes on a well-tanned face crowned by bronze, wavy hair. I bet he’s also tall, judging from his long arms. I can easily believe he’s filthy rich, as Marcia says. He has that polished, fussed over look you’d never see among the guys in my old neighborhood. Lucky you, Cristi!

I don’t feel envy for Cristi—at least envy I will admit to myself. I like guys who are a little more tousled, who clean their fingernails without bothering a manicurist to sculpt them every week. Besides, I’m a realist. This one is way out of my league.

He has a sticky gaze that seems to take in all of me, although his eyes focus on my face. It’s been a while since I’ve had time to go out with men, and I squirm a little at the interest glowing out of Mr. Filthy Rich’s eyeballs. In a louder, more insistent voice, he says again, “Introduce us. Cristi?”

Cristi says, “Yeah, sure. Gina, this is Leon.”

From the look on Cristi’s face, she isn’t too happy to introduce me. It had become familiar—her unhappy look. A resentful look I first saw when boys began noticing us.

When she was seventeen, Cristi had her first boyfriend, Paul, whom she met at community college. Confident that a twenty-year old won’t take a girl of fifteen seriously, she introduced him to me. She was wrong. More garrulous and less shy, boys preferred talking to me, and Paul was no exception. Several weeks after I met him, he turned his attention to me. But Cristi said she forgave me.

When her second boyfriend, Bart, dumped her to pursue me, she shed inconsolable tears, wouldn’t talk to me for months. I felt bad when she cried and worse when she avoided me. I never hooked up with either Paul or Bart, but that seemed to be beside the point for her. Shifting their attention to me was fault enough. We reconciled on account of our parents being friends, but we couldn’t get over that unspoken gulf that sprang up between us.

For the sake of whatever is left of our friendship, I should retreat to the kitchen straightaway, but my niceness training holds me back. Especially because of what this guy means to the restaurant.

Leon rises from his chair and extends a hand to me. I take a couple of steps forward, hesitating a few seconds before I take the proffered hand.

He doesn’t shake mine, but covers it with his other hand, squeezes it gently, and gives me a wide smile. “How do you do, Gina? I can’t wait to taste your tuna. I’ll be sure to tell Laure how I like it.”

“Hello, Leon. Nice to meet a friend of Cristi’s. I hope you two like the ahi.” I withdraw my hand and cast Cristi a surreptitious glance. She’s looking down on her plate of sashimi.

More for Cristi’s benefit than Leon’s, I point to the kitchen, “Gotta go back. Busy, you know. Nice to have met you, Leon. Good to see you again, Cristi. Enjoy the rest of your dinner.”

Cristi nods and glances at me with accusing eyes and a forced smile. She picks up her fork and turns her full attention on her plate of sashimi, dismissing me.

Sorry, Cristi. Maybe your guy is a jerk.

Leon sits down, amusement crinkling his eyes. With a small shrug, he also picks up his fork, his sticky, unwavering gaze still on my face. I can feel it following me as I walk back to the kitchen.

II

On a lark, I applied to apprentice at Du Cœur after the manager at the chain restaurant I previously cooked for made a mocking joke—the fry cook had grumbled that orders were coming in too fast. Smirking, the manager said Maybe we’d rather work for Laure Lenoir. He’d heard she was looking around for kitchen peons. He didn’t expect any of us to try, much less to be chosen. But he stirred my interest and I thought: What have I got to lose by trying? I’m used to disappointment. Another one—especially one I’m expecting—can’t hurt. It can’t stop me from dreaming. So, I applied.

Nothing exciting ever happened in the kitchen of that chain restaurant. Its menu probably gets a once-over every twenty years. You could say it’s reliable because it’s unchanging. It gives customers what they expect year in and year out. For me, though, working there was mind-numbing. I persevered so I could show future employers that I can stick with a job for a while. I was also able to add lines to my resumé, which only filled half a page at the time.

Du Cœur inhabits a totally different world, serving the best of California cuisine. It catapulted to culinary heaven in its first year by capturing the magic of Michelin stars; and for some years now, no other restaurant in the Bay Area east of San Francisco has been able to match its top billing. Its owner, Laure Lenoir, born in France, earned her chops training and slaving in the Charente-Maritime, an area in the coastal region of southwestern France. She came here in her mid-twenties.

Unlike Laure, I’m a nobody from one of those neighborhoods the government chooses to ignore. Rarely does one of us nobodies succeed enough to get to one of those hills where houses have a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. My credentials are limited to a year of culinary arts training at a local community college and one cooking job at the aforementioned chain restaurant.

It’s unfair that you can’t put home experience in a resumé. I learned everything I truly know about cooking from my mother, whose credentials you can’t cite in a resumé, either. But she learned from the best—a French chef who was, in fact, her father. He owned an artisanal French delicatessen where he cooked, vacuum-sealed, and sold ready-to-eat chef’s meals you only needed to dunk in boiling water or microwave while still in their packages. It made for gourmet eating in a jiffy. He also made patés and pastries. It was, my grandmother says, a successful venture.

But all the good things of my mother’s childhood ended tragically when a gunman went into the delicatessen one night, minutes before closing time, and killed her father.

*****

Not long after I sent Du Cœur my application, I was asked to come in for an interview. The next day, the sous chef called to offer me an apprenticeship, along with two others. They said one of us would be offered the job of a prep cook. Nine months later, I learned that one was me.

Why me? Because, the sous chef said, they want someone they could shape, but who had a natural knack for mixing flavors, a passion for cooking, and an acute sense of smell. He added, with a twisted smile, “and is willing to work their butts off. Laure likes your hungry look.”

Later, he told me confidentially that the owner/chef de cuisine wanted to give other women a break in the profession. Laure’s attempts to help women may have been what clinched the job for me. The other two apprentices were men, but just as passionate about cooking as I was.

But no matter. I’m in a place I never thought I’d be. I realize I’ve been luckier than most, and now my future prospects are more than I’ve dreamed of. All within three years. Who knows if sometime in a not-too-distant future, I can run my own restaurant, like Laure does? Or maybe open a food place of the sort my grandfather operated. But it will be more “fusion” than French cuisine, to reflect my own mixed heritage.

Three days after Leon and Cristi’s dinner at the restaurant, I haven’t yet called Cristi to catch up. Though I love working at this restaurant, my time is no longer my own, and socializing, except during breaks with Marcia, is next to impossible.

Tonight, I drag my aching limbs out of the restaurant, the last of the line cooks to leave. As usual, although drained of energy, I’m still wound up.

“Hey, wait up.” I hear Marcia’s voice behind me.

I stop and turn toward her. She’s pulling an envelope out of her handbag.

She says, “I almost forgot. Someone gave this to me when I was coming in today. It’s for you.”

“Me? Who was it?”

Marcia shrugs and hands me an envelope. “Don’t know. A secret admirer?”

I return her shrug, refusing her bait to gossip a little.

Before she opens the door to her car, she says, “I guess we’ll do this all over again tomorrow. Open that envelope and tell me about it later, okay? Inquiring minds want to know.”

I chuckle as I turn the key on my car, an old Nissan my father owned and gave me when I moved out to my own tiny one-room apartment. “There isn’t anthrax in it, is there?”

She laughs, shouts back. “Yeah, someone didn’t like your ahi. Throw it out, I say.”

I don’t throw it out. I shove it into my backpack and forget it. At two in the morning, all I can think of is my warm bed. But I’m too hyped-up to fall asleep right away, so I get into the shower over the tub, turn the water on as hot as I can endure, and stand still, waiting for the tension and fatigue to drain out of my muscles and my bones. Out of the shower, I dry my hair a little and crawl into bed for five hours of sleep.

In the morning, I fish for my cellphone to check messages and email. It’s all I have time for before I have to get ready to return to the restaurant. I see the unopened envelope buried in my small backpack next to the cellphone.

Those messages and emails are often my only contact with friends and relatives. I religiously start my mornings with them because I know I won’t have the time, energy, or even interest to look at them once my workday starts.

But this morning, curiosity about what’s in the envelope and who it’s from gets the better of my sense of obligation. Relatives and friends can wait. My curiosity demands to be satisfied.

Inside the envelope is a card. It’s plain white except for a golden logo at the top, below which is a phone number. The note is short, written in bold strokes with long graceful lines on the tails of letters like “y” and “f”. It’s beautiful handwriting:

Fancy a cup of coffee? Call me. Please. Laure won’t give me your phone number. Love your ahi, btw.

It’s signed “Leon.”

I can’t ignore the fluttering of excitement in my breast while I’m reading the note, and I remember the look Leon gave me three nights ago. Although he was more suave about it than most men I’ve met, I still felt like he was caressing my body with his eyes. What about Cristi, Leon?

I’m aware that the decent thing to do is ignore the card. Better still, toss it in the trashcan. He’s dating a childhood friend I was once very close to, and who I almost lost after her second boyfriend ditched her to pursue me in earnest.

But I can’t throw out Leon’s card. First, there’s the fluttering in my breast. I’m not quite sure what it means. Then there’s what the sous chef calls my “curious nature,” which he thinks is an asset, but which I sometimes wonder about. Could it work against me one of these days? After working at Du Cœur for nearly two years, the “me” raised in a marginal neighborhood is now curious about what it’s like to live with too much money, especially the kind of money Leon is supposed to have.

But what about Cristi, Gina?

What about Cristi? I tell myself she needn’t worry. I’m either too busy or too tired for anything but my work at the restaurant. How can you act on a temptation when you have no time for it?

Still, as I drive to the restaurant, the card is all I can think of. At the restaurant, I push it out of my mind as soon as I start work. You can’t keep up with the usual anxious frenzy of a high-end restaurant if your mind wanders away from what you’re doing.

At break time, Marcia reminds me again about the card as soon as we start our usual, leisurely walk around the block. “You promised to tell me who the card is from.”

I don’t remember making a promise, but I can’t think of any reason why I shouldn’t tell her what she seems eager to know. We’ve been open with each other from the beginning. This time, though, I fudge a little. “Oh, just a customer telling me he likes my tuna dish.”

She nods. “That’s nice. In the five years I’ve been in this restaurant, I only got a card like that once. As you know, Laure’s the one who gets the personal compliments since customers just post on Yelp. It’s nice, though, that she shares it with all of us.”

A few paces later, I say, “You remember who your card’s from?”

“Guy on Table 29. The first customer you served your tuna to.”

“Oh!” I can almost hear myself deflating—the ego that thought Leon found me special. The upstart who hoped her tuna dish was just the beginning of bigger things. But more than those, the dreamer who thought heaven might be within her reach.

“Yeah. He’s kinda nice that way. Did yours come from him, too?”

“Yeah,” is all I can say.

Back in the kitchen, turning sea scallops on the grill, I begin to feel relief that my card is not special. At least now I can shove it in a drawer without wondering if I’ve missed something.

I have trouble throwing things away so I’ve reserved a drawer in my closet for things I’m not quite sure what to do with. When the drawer gets full, I go through the items and throw out those which have lost either their meaning or their usefulness, like the coupons Mom taught me to collect.

Still, I can’t help asking Marcia before we part that evening, “Did you answer the card from Table 29?”

“There’s a phone number on the card so, yeah, I called to say thank you.”

“I guess I should do the same.”

“Up to you. Leon is cool. He won’t hold it against you if you don’t. He knows how stressed we get in our job.”

Maybe because of Cristi, I don’t call. Or, maybe, I’m afraid of what talking to Leon might induce me to do.

*****

A week later, on a Monday, when the restaurant is closed, someone buzzes my doorbell at ten o’clock. Barely awake, I slither my sluggish body out of bed, snatch the robe draped on the back of the one armchair I own, and drag my bare feet toward the door.

Through my peephole, I glimpse the thin, lined face of a man. A kindly face framed by gray hair. I open the door, but I can’t help feeling annoyed. Mondays are when I catch up on sleep; when I don’t turn on my alarm clock; when I sometimes choose to pass the day in my nightgown and robe.

He smiles at me, a man of about fifty with perfect white teeth against tanned, craggy skin. I can’t help wondering if his teeth are real.

He’s clutching a big bouquet of flaming red roses in his hands. “Miss Gina Lambert?”

“Yes?” I say resentfully.

His smile widens as he thrusts the bouquet at me. “For you.”

Maybe I look bewildered. Or suspicious. I know I’m scowling. He says, “Don’t worry, it’s harmless. Comes from someone you can trust.” He takes a bow, still grinning, and ambles away. The old guy has a sense of humor, and as foggy as my brain is, it’s not lost on me.

I smile as I watch him disappear on the stairs. I’m sorry I was zombified from a night of deep sleep and couldn’t thank him for the roses and his good humor. As I close the door, I smell the roses—beautiful but with little fragrance. Too bad. All roses should have that distinct scent no other flowers have. Sad how we now breed it out of them. Looks are mostly what we care about.

Think of where we’d be if we couldn’t smell food. We could be eating bad stuff and not know it.

In the kitchen, I put the bouquet in a pitcher of water. The only place where the roses can go is on my all-purpose dining table. I write, eat, drink, and prepare my meals on it.

I reach for the card that came with the roses. But even before I read the card, I get a sneaking suspicion that Leon sent them. One glance at what’s written on it tells me I’m right.

What about Cristi, Leon?

And how did you find out where I live?

I’m not listed in the phone book and no one at the restaurant would give Leon my address, I’m pretty sure of that. There’s a good reason the staff call Laure “Mother Hen.” She’s protective. She often says we’re like a fraternity or sorority where members must look out for each other. Our unspoken code of honor assumes that we don’t rat on our brothers and sisters. So the only way Leon would know where I live is to have me followed. Maybe, by that thin flower messenger. It’s really quite easy to do.

It’s spooky, though—the thought that I was being followed. Is that, in fact, stalking?

I suppose I should be flattered. Some rich guy, who most women would think themselves lucky to catch, has taken such interest in me that he’s going through the trouble of stalking me. Now, he’s sending me notes and flowers. But I’m not flattered. I’m angry. Mixed in with that anger is the stirring of fear. It’s scary being a victim—I know that from Mom’s experience, from classmates who’ve been robbed, from neighbors whose houses have been broken into.

Maybe I’m being paranoid. Or resentful. More likely, both. The rich think money gives them the freedom to do anything they want, even if it’s criminal, and money will protect them from being punished for their crimes. I’ve never felt that free or that secure. I’ve always just felt that being poor makes us easy victims.

III

Leon is making a play for me. He’s rich. I’m poor.

Why me? I can’t believe it’s my personality or my brains that attract him. True, I think I’m more interesting and brighter than most people give me credit for. But Leon doesn’t know me. We’ve only met once.

Thanks to my looks, maybe? I’m quite pretty, I’ve been told. More than one old guy has told me I look like Brigitte Bardot who I know only from pictures I once googled. I do have a French grandfather—that, I think, is all I have in common with the seductive Miss Bardot.

My mirror does tell me I have dark lush hair, creamy skin, large blue eyes, a generous mouth, and—Mom says—a straight noble nose like Gwyneth Paltrow’s. And a 5’7” body with curves in the right places. You wouldn’t call me voluptuous, though. Even so, I may invade many men’s fantasies. So my guess is, for Leon, it’s lust at first sight—that physical thing people mistake for love. Lust and a rich man’s predatory instinct.

I think beauty doesn’t get you very far. If you’re poor, an average student, with modest ambition (or none at all)—ordinary in every other way—beauty is actually a liability. I find it downright annoying to have men constantly trying to grope me. There have been many, from men with dirty hands to men with manicured fingernails. They all only want one thing. Quite humiliating.

So, I have resolved not to dwell on my looks. I’ve kept my focus on the one thing my mother knows best, which she’s passed on to me—cooking.

My mom’s mom was too young when she married. She had a bit of money after my grandfather died, but when that was all used up, she and her three kids subsisted on welfare. My mother, the oldest, worked at fast food restaurants as soon as she was old enough and before she could finish high school.

Her father’s talent (or his passion for food) must have rubbed off on Mom, though. She had spent days at her father’s delicatessen from the age of four because Grandma was the cashier and her kids went with her. Mom began helping her father as early as she could remember, fetching utensils and ingredients. By nine years old, she was helping him cook.

Maybe, it’s natural that she’s turned into a great cook. She delights in cobbling together the best possible dinner out of the everyday ingredients our family can afford. Because her mother is Chinese, her dishes are sometimes French, sometimes Chinese and many times a mix of both. And they’re always scrumptious.

Mom’s dinners have kept our family together. How can you take offense or be angry at people with whom you’ve just shared a great meal? Even as teenagers, when we preferred to hang out with friends, we ran home every evening for Mom’s dinners. We couldn’t always tell what she’d serve. But we knew it would be delicious.

For Mom, cooking is life. She keeps her family happily well fed, for sure. But maybe more than that, cooking helps her escape the grubby, grinding realities of each day, at least for the few hours she prepares her dishes and watches us eat.

Do I have the passion Mom has—one that doesn’t ask for or expect rewards? Not money, not even words of thanks or appreciation. Like Mom, I believe I inherited Grandpa‘s desire to create something that can make people feel good. That can give not only life, but meaning to it. Starting with Grandpa, that something is food. Dishes we try to bump up from the ordinary. But can I sustain that passion like Mom does?

As much as I love Mom, though, and as much in awe as I am of her cooking talent, I don’t want to end up like her. It took me a while to realize this. Lucky for me, I came to this point just in time—a point in which I chose to take care of myself, instead of having someone take care of me.

Growing up, I bought the idea of living for love and a family. It was for them that I’d cook. And for some years, I went looking for happiness with some man. Since people thought I was high on the much valued beauty scale, I assumed I ought to be destined for something extraordinary. Like bagging some rich Adonis who would shower me with all I could ask for.

But Fate didn’t quite see it that way. For one, I haven’t seen any Adonis out there. Anyway, all he is is a character in Greek mythology hatched by someone’s great imagination.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Evy Journey, writer/wannabe artist, wishes she lives in Paris where people have perfected the art of aimless roaming. A Ph.D. allowed her to research and help develop mental health programs. She's a writer because beautiful prose seduces her and existential angst continues to plague her despite such preoccupations having gone out of fashion. She takes occasional refuge by invoking Jane Austen's spirit to spin tales of love, loss, and finding one’s way into which she weaves mystery or intrigue.

Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A.
Food purveyors in our area inspired me. A French deli selling gourmet meals in vacuum-sealed bags. Cheap ethnic as well as fancy restaurants within ten miles of us. I love food—the many ways it can nourish us. Like the film Babette’s Feast, I aim for the mood and goodwill created by a great meal.
Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
Eating is a natural function we take for granted. But before you take a bite, think of this: Cooking a wonderful meal is an act of love. An act of grace. A gift that affirms and gives life—not only does it nurture those who partake of a meal; it also feeds the soul of the person who creates it.
Q. Where can readers find out more about you?
A.
I have a website: https://www.evyjourney.com I also have a book review site where you might see a review that induces you to pick up a book: https://margaretofthenorth.wordpress.com My Artsy Rambler site: https://eveonalimb2.com

Next in:
Romance
Farraway Mist
Can she fall in love with a haunted man?
Sugar and Spice and All...
Chanterelles garnished with cream and mayhem.
Seeking Fortune
There are lies more believable than truth.