Jan 17, 2023Liked by Gabrielle Ariella Kaplan-Mayer

Stir Fry

There is only one recipe I know. I am dead serious about that. I learned from a woman that I used to be in love with. Her name was Molly. Molly from Ithaca. She effused a kind capacity for self-care and nourishment that left me feeling horribly jealous whenever I was adjacent to it. To her. She had a way of making food feel like nourishment in a way that I have never been able to imitate. And have certainly never been able to experience.

Every morning, when we were together in New York City, she would have a huge grapefruit and carefully unpeel it with her fingers. The rest of day would smell that way.

Because I don’t know any other recipes, this one from her, I follow it exactly. My wife, not Molly, hates the recipe. So, I can only eat it when I am alone. My wife, who is not Molly, doesn’t ever make me feel jealous in the ways that Molly did. But she hates the recipe and she feels like the ingredients make no sense together.

This is the recipe: it’s a stir-fry. I call it, my stir fry. But it is belongs to Molly, really. Or me and Molly or a part of myself that existed more fully then. You need a red onion (but the truth is that they are purple), very well diced. You need three different colored bell peppers. It has to be three. It is much better if orange is one of the colors. The knife needs to be expensive, this helps the whole thing. When you cut these things, you are slicing or dicing them (I can’t remember the word) and you have to pull out the middle seeds. Remember, I don’t know how to cook, so none of this was obvious to me to before Molly. The fact the middle seeds need to be extracted before cooking. I needed to know that. This is how I learned that.

Now you are left with these four bright colors: green, red, yellow or orange and then the purple from the what gets called a red onion. Next, you need firm tofu. Soft won’t work. I know that part. But, this is the part that I don’t know. I don’t know if you need garlic or not. I just can’t remember. I will never ask her because that chapter is over.

Molly is in the past. Sometimes I let her into the kitchen.

I generally proceed without the garlic, but I know that I am leaving something out. I am pretty sure, at least. There is a flavor missing. With garlic, I start with a frying pan and olive oil. I don’t know how much olive oil because I don’t know how to cook. It is different every time. Then I add the onion, then I add the pepper, then I add the tofu. Now this is the complicated part. I am sober and the next ingredient is wine. I used to drink with Molly a lot. It made things possible between us. Good things, bad things. Things I remember, things I forget. But I don’t drink now. It has been over 22 years since then. But for this recipe. I buy a small bottle of red wine. Small.

I pour only one cup (precisely), because in my sobriety that is what I will allow myself. That is the amount that means that I have not lost my clean time, that the presence of mind that I have worked so hard to maintain; since Molly, remains intact. I add the wine in a while after the olive oil. The other ingredients are already in there, in the olive oil, I mean. Cooking. I have put the flame on. I do know that part. They are cooked and anticipating the responsibility of taking on more flavor. They do that for me. They split the wine with me, so I can feel better about the whole thing.

The vegetables and tofu absorb the wine until they are all a very light purple, maybe reddish, maybe maroon, maybe wine colored. It is kind of a see-through purple, light and gentle and evenly distributed.

Then I need to make two cups of brown rice. I microwave instant Uncle Ben’s. It only takes 90 seconds. The rice used to feel like the most complicated part to me, but I don’t make complicated rice anymore. Only instant, only simple. I can’t be in the kitchen for too long, really.

After the brown rice, I need to grate sharp, white cheddar cheese and mix it in. It’s weird, my wife thinks this is just a variation of some sort of macaroni and cheese after all this work. But I don’t think so. I think it’s stir-fry. My stir-fry.

Once it is all mixed together, each part of absorbs another. All of the ingredients work to calm the wine down. To dilute it, but not erase it. The vegetables, the tofu, the rice. Then I don’t feel as bad about that part. Even though the truth is that I can taste it and everything that it reminds me of. Everything it brings me back to.

The recipe, the truth is, gives me a stomachache. It’s worth it. I make enough for leftovers. This is the only recipe that has leftovers that I will eat. I don’t eat leftovers much. They all bother me in some way or another. But this, this stir fry, it can really last and deepen. This happens over the days because the flavors are all still working on each other; even without the garlic. The garlic that would probably make it taste a bit strong, a bit better. I don’t really want to know.

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