Upon breaking up with my first true love, a delightful young gentleman whom I still affectionately refer to as "evil incarnate," I invented the ultimate my-boyfriend-has-just-dumped-me food. Prehistoric man came up with the wheel, Steve Jobs created the iPod, but let the record show that it was I who brought the world the dessert potato. Yes, the dessert potato, because nothing says "I'm hurting" quite like a woman who hasn't showered in nine days chowing down on a Yukon Gold that's been slathered in sprinkles and marshmallow fluff while the greatest hits of Janis Ian play on in an endless loop of sheer misery.
I like my pizza like I like my men: hot, no-nonsense, and covered in melted mozzarella and fresh mushrooms. And though I've never been especially religious (this despite the fact that I once saw a yam that was an absolute dead ringer for Golda Meir), I'm telling you that as transcendent experiences go, it's pretty hard to beat Buddy's Pizza in Detroit, Michigan. I could rhapsodize about the pure perfection that is Buddy's pillowy yet crackly crust with its ever so slightly fried edges and almost golden center. I could gush endlessly over the harmonic convergence of sauce and cheese, the hint of garlic and oregano, the touch of provolone, but for reasons that will never be entirely clear my editor has refused to provide the 33 extra pages I requested. Just know this: Despite everybody saying that when the country gets a cold, Detroit goes straight to bed with the flu, that it's got the highest unemployment rate, the most messed-up housing market, that the last one out should be sure to turn off the lights, I still believe in the Red Wings, the auto workers, and Smokey Robinson. I had Buddy's on my first date, I had it at my sweet 16, I had it the night before I moved to New York City, I have it every time I come home, and I can assure you that where there is Buddy's Pizza, there is hope.
I own a food processor that slices and dices, shreds and minces like nobody's business. But it seldom sees the light of day, because I have this other gadget, an ancient hand chopper consisting of two curved metal blades attached to an ordinary handle; also attached are some of the loveliest memories I own.
We are standing in my mother's kitchen. We are both a little eccentric, a little complicated—my grandmother and me. I am 5, and she is 70, or I am 31 and she is 96, it doesn't matter, the ritual remains unchanged: Into the biggest wooden bowl I've ever seen go whatever peppers, red and green, can be found in the fridge. Carrots and parsnips are peeled and tossed in, too, along with celery stalks, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, and the odd bulb of fennel. Next my grandmother takes hold of the chopper that her mother and very possibly her mother's mother once used, and begins the serious work of bouncing the blades up and down till the bowl is filled with chunks and cubes and a green, earthy fragrance. Now it's my turn. The paint on the handle may be chipped, but the blades are as sharp as ever. I rock them back and forth until a bright confetti of fresh vegetables is ready to be added to the beef bones simmering on the stove.
We made this soup a hundred times but I can't recall a single conversation we had while we did it. I know she taught me to clean up as I go along. I know she believed it was sinful to waste even a scrap of food. I know she missed her mother till the day she died. And I know one day my daughter will learn to make soup with an old-fashioned handheld chopper that's missing just a little bit of paint on its antique handle.
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