The Kitchen Daughter

The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry Page A

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Authors: Jael McHenry
around in black pajamas like a ninja.”
    I say, “Well, maybe that’s okay if no one wants to buy it, since I don’t want to sell it.”
    “Not again,” she mumbles, almost to herself, but she wants me to hear her.
    “It’s half mine,” I say. “I get a vote.”
    “Let’s please just not do this right now. I don’t want to get in a big argument. Here’s a great question to get in the habit of asking yourself. It’s how I always make sure everything gets done. Whenever I have a free moment, I ask myself, could I be doing something useful?”
    I think of Angelica, and remember what she said. “Yes, I could.”
    First I go upstairs and change out of my pajamas as Amanda suggested. Then I go to work in the kitchen.
    I don’t really need a recipe, but I pull down one of my favorite cookbooks anyway. It’s an awkwardly large, heavy old tome called Drinkonomicon , and as Dad used to say, anything not listed on its 738 pages isn’t worth drinking. I run my finger down the list of mulled cider ingredients and set to it.
    The pot, the jug, the cutting board, first. Break the seal of the hard red plastic cap. I pour the cider into a tall pot and turn the burner up high. I hone the knife before slicing the orange into whisper-thin, windowpane slices. I pinch the spices out of their small glass jars. Whole cloves, stars of star anise. A cinnamon stick. A few black peppercorns. Lay the orange slices on top. Turn the heat down to a bare simmer, until the bubbles are only a suggestion around the edge of the pot.
    Since I’m in here anyway looking at the spice shelf, I go through the jars to determine what I need the next time I place an order online. Cinnamon, definitely. Bay leaves. Some of the more interesting powdered chilies. Ancho, aleppo, chipotle. People think chilies arejust chilies but they each have a completely distinctive heat. The sweet sear of habanero, the smoky burn of chipotle, the tart green vegetal bite of jalapeño.
    “Making yourself some cider?” Amanda says, looking down over the top of the pot.
    “It’s for the smell. Angelica said the place should smell like cooking. Have some if you want.” I hold the ladle out to her.
    “Don’t mind if I do,” she says, helping herself to a mugful. “It’s really sweet that you would do this. I’m so glad you took Angelica’s suggestion. Thanks.”
    The doorbell rings.
    When I see who comes in, I wish for the relatively inoffensive custard-skinned Warren. I look back, almost fondly, on his stupid suit.
    Besides Angelica, there are two adults, and two kids, little boys whose age I can’t possibly estimate. They are older than Amanda’s girls and younger than teenagers. I take several steps back as soon as I see them. One is very loud. The other, even louder. They dash around the ground floor and I stand on the stairs in the hopes my body will block them from charging up to the second floor as well. Their parents don’t seem to make any effort to keep them in check. Confining them would be like confining race cars, weasels, tornadoes.
    Angelica claps her hands and says, “Okay, everyone? Let me show you this gorgeous parlor to start with! This way!” Most of the family tracks her, but the mother comes my way.
    “You grew up here, right?” says the mom. I back up to keep a decent distance between us. The heavy carved banister of the stairs works as a natural barrier. I grip its solid bulk with both hands. I should always talk to people with a stair banister between us. I might lead a happier life.
    I answer her. “Yes.”
    “Was it a great place to grow up?”
    “Sure,” I say. “I broke my leg falling down the stairs, but it was just the one time.”
    “Oh.” She asks, “But the neighborhood’s safe, right?”
    “Yes. There aren’t nearly as many muggings as there used to be.”
    Suddenly there’s a clatter and a howl, and it turns out that one of the children has burned himself reaching into the pot of hot cider, and the other one

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