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by Kate Blakinger

April 2024

     Cooking at the house where my date rented a room was not necessarily the better option. There was no privacy, and the house had a feral quality. Local musicians knew it as the Vile House. In its weirdness and filth, it had become a proper noun. The slumlord who owned the building never lifted a finger to maintain it, but even more than the disrepair, the hoarder-style décor created a peculiar ambience. My date’s roommates had a passion for collecting broken toys and thrift-store oddities and nailing this junk to the walls. In every common area, inanimate objects stared from painted eyes.

     The night of this particular dinner, my apartment had won out. My date layered rice and vegetables in a Pyrex dish. Overtop, he poured golden broth swirling with strands of saffron. He covered the dish tightly with foil and tucked it into the heat of the oven. We checked the paella after twenty minutes. We set the timer for another twenty. When we checked again, the rice was still crunchy. The cooking time doubled, then tripled, and the angry panic that possesses me when I’m famished began to show in my clipped words.

     We turned up the heat. We added more broth. When we ran out of broth, we added water.

     Despite the rich aroma enveloping the room, it began to seem as though all these efforts might not result in something edible. Finally, after hours, the rice cooked through. With food on our forks, the tensions of waiting melted away. Each bite was delicious. Fortifying. That paella was a kind of manna, lifting me from my ferocious grief, if only for a time.

     A single dinner didn’t change everything, but it marked the beginning of a change. I would fall for my date. When I was accepted into graduate school, he would move with me to Michigan. He cooked for me and I cooked for him. I discovered I loved cooking. There was solace in the rituals of chopping and stirring, and joy in the minor miracle of the finished dish.

     Eating a meal prepared with care, however simple, encompasses what my friend lost in death, what we all will lose: the fellowship that springs up around a table, the satisfactions of taste and smell and touch, the here and now.

     I still eat with the man who made me paella. We’re married, and our son sits with us in his booster seat, ready with his small spoon. We are hungry. Some of what we hunger for is on our plates. The rest of our hungers, the deeper ones, are more difficult to soothe, but sharing a meal helps.


Kate Blakinger

Kate Blakinger is a writer and editor. Her short stories and essays have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Epiphany, Iowa Review, Gettysburg Review, and The Offing. MacDowell, Jentel, and the Elizabeth George Foundation have supported her work with fellowships.

"“I wrote this essay for my husband, whose strength of character has always been clear. I was thinking about loss, healing, and love, and reading M.F.K. Fisher’s meditations on food and life.”


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