Alyssa D. Ross
Waiting for the Yeast to Rise
Summer called for baked bread and preserves.
Berries everywhere, engorged on the vine,
the sun feeding them full and sweet.
I’m in the backyard picking muscadines
and blackberries, prickling off the dissolving fence.
My grandmother, kneading dough,
calls me into the floral kitchen
to smell steam rising off the vats of fruit.
She sets a bowl with a floured mound
in the center. We knead together until
we each have a glossy, yellow ball.
“Reshape it into a loaf, a bit rectangular, like this,”
she says, patting her hands back and forth.
I copy her, then we wait.
Grandmother’s Cheese Wafers
It’s a rainy December and I can’t bring myself
to look in the mirror or write anything meaningful,
so I cook instead. The only words I commit to verse
are my family recipes, etched across the pulpy pages
of a handmade pink-and-gold notebook, falling apart,
given to me by the pink-and-gold hands of my oldest friend.
2 room-temp butter sticks
2 cups puffed rice
8oz shredded cheddar
Salt to taste
Paprika for color
I find it soothing to make the rudimentary foods
that I remember touching, squeezing as a child –
the sticky butter-cheese and porous rice clinging to my skin,
crushed hard between my clean fingers. Cooking,
it was important, forcing me into the immediate moment
when the crisps turn from faint yellow to golden brown.
Snow Cream Made by Mother in Winter
The entire family is trapped, but not stationary,
in a thick Virginia blizzard.
School is cancelled for who knows how long,
so my mother decides to teach my sister and me
the valuable art of mixing a quick snow cream.
This recipe is about timing, the right season –
the coldest moment must arise
with frozen precipitation imminent.
5 cups of freshly fallen snow (avoid yellow)
Scraped guts of one vanilla bean
1 spilling-over tablespoon vanilla extract
Forth a cup of cream
Sugar to taste
She let “us girls” swirl the concoction
together with a wooden spoon.
As we stir, the snow condenses
and the bowl is no longer overfull.
The pile of snow slims just below the rim
of a massive glass Pyrex dish
that my mother also uses for mashed potatoes,
which she purees by hand.
We watch the news each night, each morning
and hope to make snow cream again.
Stepfather’s Soupe Du Jour
When mom went away for work
there was only one meal to look forward to:
my stepfather’s special soup.
Even though it was a basic bag,
just some 30 cent chicken ramen
from the poorly-lit 7-11 on the corner,
he passed it off as important with a little pepper
and we believed him and slurped our noodles,
licked our bowls and thanked our stars
for a pink room with separate beds and a bay window
where we watched our neighbors play kickball,
which was more than our own father had ever offered.
Our trust was rewarded with X-Files,
followed by the ever-impressive Cookie Cake,
which was really a roll of basic cookie dough
spread across a small, circular cake pan.
His little tricks to look accomplished in the culinary arts
had us convinced that he was a keeper.
Courting with Curry
Dry fried spice starts it out,
then stock and milk trickled in,
with cut vegetables set to simmer.
Layered cooking first occurred to me
when I made Vietnamese sweet
potato curry that was based on a dish
I’d once eaten with a half-Korean guy
named John in Richmond at a restaurant
with a symbol for a name that I could not understand.
We drank sweet rice wine and he never
poked fun at the way I used chopsticks.
Back then, a failed attempt at parmesan chicken
was still enough to get me by on the dating scene.
But this time I was trying to impress
a new man in our new house
with something exotic. The unfamiliar
smell of turmeric and coconut
thickened the kitchen as sticky as the jungle air.
As I poured such a stew
over rinsed, steamed rice,
I felt proud at the process of feeding
foreign matter to a trusting new mouth.
About the Author: Alyssa D. Ross was born in Guntersville, Alabama, but spent over a decade in Metropolitan Virginia. After abandoning art school in Richmond, she went on to pursue writing. She now holds an MFA from George Mason University and a PhD. from Auburn University where she teaches World Literature. Select readings are available here.