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Speaking (of) Recipe(s)

“How is Hebrew?” my friend asked.


“We have a cooking lesson coming up next week. Not sure why but the vocabulary is more precise.” I had skimmed through the Powerpoint slidedeck like always. I knew I had to use the verbs in my own recipe. I would spend the weekend figuring out exactly which ones to use.


I loved recipes. When I returned from Guatemala, my first project had been cooking my way through my mom’s recipe box that consisted of her preferences and likely expectations decided by mothers. The wall above the stove was full of framed recipes. Chocolate pudding chosen by my dad. A letter written to my mom from her mother that included recipes. A blank space that waited for a selection in Hebrew provided by my sister in law. I had attempted to add it myself, but when she sent a photo, I couldn’t read her handwriting.


I guess I did have something to learn about recipes. I considered exactly what. How were recipes written in Hebrew? In English we used commands. Add. Mix. Stir.


Google translate went back and forth between the infinitive form of the verb and the plural conjugation. At first, I used a little bit of both verb conjugations. Due to schedule fluctuations, Hebrew class was cancelled two weeks in a row. I continued to write recipes. I called my sister in law who used the infinitive. I would follow her lead for my practice that upcoming weekend.


“What are you doing this weekend?” another coworker asked. I usually did not have great answers but this weekend would be an exception. I was trying out my most recent recipes selected to create with my niece: mini ice cream cakes and creamcheese cakesicles.


“I don’t like to use the oven at my family’s apartment. It’s gas. I can do cheesecake no bake.”


“But don’t they just mush cake together. Make it stick with frosting.”


“Yeah. But I would still have to make the cake. Plus,” I added. “I have never seen my family use a buttercream frosting. I tried to convince my niece to use it last year on a treat we made for her birthday. She refused. With the cheesecake I can just dip it.”


“Like in chocolate.”


“Yes. Or fruit.”


“What else?”


“Well, remember the ice cream cake I made for Laura’s birthday? That was a test too. Except, my family’s freezer is really full and I don’t think that a regular size springform pan will fit, because you have to freeze it to make layers.”


“Wow. You've really researched this.”


“And,” I smiled. “If I make small ones like in this muffin like pan, my niece can decorate many and have lots to share!”


He nodded in agreement. Yes, everything sounded great, on paper. The test run was not so pretty. The weekend test rolled into Monday. Then, Tuesday, before I was satisfied with my conclusions. Despite being perfectly selected, there was still plenty to learn. First, the small, metal inserts do in fact push up. Nothing sticks. The ice cream cakes came out in layers, but, you need to let them thaw a bit first. Second, the cheesecake must be frozen to keep its popsicle shape. Pack the cheesecake as tight as you can. Put the sticks in last. Decorate the open side with something else rough to hide its uneven texture. Nuts, crushed cookies, sprinkles. Don't dip in chocolate. The temperature change is too much.


When I finally had class, my teacher congratulated me on my persistence, but cautioned that I was not being intentional with my verb conjugation. She clarified that he recipes were to be written in the third person plural. That was the point of the lesson. It was not recipe or even verb practice but to develop an understanding of the use of third person plural as a means to express what ‘everybody does’. I laughed to myself, what everybody does.


True, I had learned something about verb forms and recipes, but the reality was I always had something to learn from recipes. How to engage better. More completely. More easily. How to fight assumptions. Recipes may be translated, but not always translatable. Ultimately, as my niece showed me, cooking and language are experiments in connecting, not following instructions. Like relationships, negotiations are the constant. And, waiting for something to turn out the way you hope is always the hardest part.

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