Or Best Offer
Light usage (2 – 3 times a year):
Waffle Maker (2016): Purchased at the request of Kitty, baby of the family, who was extra delightful as she helped Joan run errands one day. Unlike her brothers, Kitty isn’t blessed with Danny’s metabolism, and by age seven, she boasts a bowl-shaped belly which Joan refuses to make an issue of. Kitty’s demeanor endears her to all —thoughtful, funny, emotionally mature, a giggle that sparkles with the pleasure of being alive —and Joan enjoys indulging her.
Ice Cream Maker (2011): Birthday gift for Danny, lover of ice cream. Used by him once before Joan takes over the making of the custards and mix-ins, the supervising of the kids as they churn the creamy mixtures by hand. Fun party trick when hosting guests.
Medium usage (several times a week):
Di Dietrich Built-In Oven (2007): Purchased upon move into the new house. Womb to dozens of items lovingly baked by Joan: chocolate cakes, babkas, cookies of every variety (oatmeal raisin, fudge white chocolate, peanut butter chocolate chip, Tollhouse, meringue). Enjoyed by all members of the family, though recently Joan has switched to store-bought desserts when not hosting guests. No wooden spoons and mixers to lick; Joan is less tempted by industrial baked goods, though Kitty pays no mind.
Di Dietrich Range (2007): Perennial home to one pot. Larry and Mitchell have never taken an interest in learning how to cook (and Joan neglected to encourage); boiling water for pasta is the extent of the boys’ skills, with one exception (See: Sandwich Maker).
Siemens Dishwasher (2017): The one major household appliance that’s been replaced time and again. No one else knows how to load it, according to Joan, possibly the reason Danny and the kids seem allergic to placing their dishes inside.
Sandwich Maker, Generic Brand (2016): Producer of cheese toasts (plain or with sauce), bagel toasts, and avocado melts made by various members of the family when short on time. Comes with a sign, made by Joan: Clean after use!
Morfix Blender (2015): Great for fruit shakes, yogurt shakes and Danny’s recovery protein shakes after long runs and bike rides. He wishes Joan would not be so quick to offer Kitty shakes when she can’t decide what to eat, reminding her time and again that shakes are not for people who need to lose weight. (See both: female members of the family, above; and Freezer section, Refrigerator, below). Is it his fault that he can eat whatever he wants?
Second Fridge, Generic Brand (2018): Filled with craft beers from farm breweries, another love of Danny’s. Unclear if this is the cause or effect of his frequent retreats to the basement in recent years. Joan complains to her girlfriends that he’s become stingy, not sharing his beer, but to Danny, it’s kindness. He knows she counts calories and doesn’t want to tempt.
Heavy usage (daily):
Nespresso Machine & Milk Frother (2014):On this they agree: there’s no other way to start off the day. By mid-morning, used by Joan to stave off hunger and by Danny to stave off boredom.
GE Profile Refrigerator (1998; excellent working condition): Freezer contains healthy and non-healthy offerings from Joan’s kitchen, including: lentil soup, extra-lean chicken breasts, banana bread, pizza dough, and containers of frozen bananas and berries (see Blender, above). Fridge fully cleaned out, with exception of four logs of butter that won’t go bad.
Maytag Stackable Washer & Dryer (1998; excellent working condition): The kids seem incapable of putting away their own laundry. Why Joan never made them is a constant source of frustration to Danny. Maybe in his top five. Joan and Danny are going their separate ways, but the stackable washer/dryer still make an excellent pair.
Not for sale
Microwave (2010, generic brand): Everyone except Danny and the boys seem to know real food isn’t cooked in microwaves, which is why Joan could care less that it’s the one appliance he wants in the settlement. Nuking cold pizza turns it soggy. Chicken will dry out and get stringy. The boys will learn. Or not.
Samsung 65-inch Smart TV (new): It’s true the boys have opted to spend the summer at their father’s new bachelor pad, and sure, watching sports in high res will be better than some seats at actual games. Popcorn will be aplenty (See: Microwave, above). But silly Danny. You can’t eat a PlayStation.
Weber Gas Grill (new): What you can eat are Joan’s sticky grilled chicken and honey soy lamb chops, two recipes she’s now perfected on her new, strategic purchase. Larry and Mitchell and their friends also like to wolf down gargantuan quantities of plain old hamburgers, spicy hot dogs or anything that used to say “Moo.” She expects they’ll return to her within a week, ravenous and penitent.
KitchenAid 7-Quart Pro Line Stand Mixer (new): Without Danny hovering in the background, Joan splurges on a gift for herself, justifying the cost by saying it’s also for Kitty. Her most fervent wish is for Kitty’s sunny personality to remain intact. Delight dances in her daughter’s eyes when she spots the gleaming mixer, and Joan decrees it shall occupy a permanent position of pride on the countertop. She hugs Kitty close, inhales the strawberry scent of her shampoo, and they pour over a new cookbook, marking indulgent desserts to bake together.
Much of my writing centers around family and holidays, and nothing evokes family and holidays for me more than food. My grandmother hailed from a shtetl (a small Jewish village in Eastern Europe), arriving in the United States as a young woman of 20 in 1929; as her oldest granddaughter (after having only sons), she was keen to teach me how to help in the kitchen. If I was picky, she’d say in Yiddish, “est nisht” (so don’t eat)! She made sumptuous holiday meals, hosting Passover seders of 30 guests —family, friends, and anyone in need. My mother did the same as I do today. During the early days of the pandemic, the only time I almost wept was when eggs and matzo meal were in short supply; how could I make a Passover seder without k’neidelach (matzo balls traditionally eaten in chicken soup)? (Luckily, a friend came to the rescue and gave me her extra). In The Book of Jeremiah, my novel-in-stories, the character Rikki spends hours cooking, baking, and cleaning in preparation for the holiday. While nothing like my grandmother in personality, Rikki, too, is a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe. Writing about the foods Rikki cooks and how she cooks them gave me a chance to immerse myself back in time to my grandmother’s kitchen.
“Or Best Offer” is a hermit crab piece that tells the story of another fictional family, in which food is central to the mother’s identity; cooking and baking is the way she shows her love for her children and expects to receive their love in return. She’s determined, whatever happens, to hold her daughter close and use food as a special bond.
In fiction, food —and the way it’s prepared by our characters —opens a window into their thoughts.
Julie Zuckerman’s debut novel-in-stories, The Book of Jeremiah, was published by Press 53 in May 2019. Her fiction and non-fiction have appeared in CRAFT, Atlas & Alice, Crab Orchard Review, Salt Hill, Tikkun, The Maine Review, The SFWP Quarterly, Ellipsis, Sixfold, and The MacGuffin, among others. A native of Connecticut, she now lives in Israel with her husband and four children. juliezuckerman.com