The Chef

by Doris Wallace

Marty and I met on Henry Street in New York City’s Chinatown. We taught in the local junior high school along with Jim Lee, the ceramics teacher. Jim had written one of the first Chinese cookbooks in America. All of his colleagues bought a copy and stored it away on a bookshelf. Except Marty who, one day, decided to try his hand.

First, armed with Jim’s cookbook, we went to Mott Street to buy all of his supplies – a cast iron wok, a wok cover, a wok ring, wok chon and hok, a boning knife and a cleaver. He bought a sharpening stone. He needed ’S’ hooks so he could make roast pork. The basic equipment purchased, Marty stocked his ingredients. He needed soy and oyster sauce, peanut oil, cornstarch and the herbs and spices. He bought rice and black beans.

The next step was for me to explain the recipes and measurements – capital T for tablespoon, C for cup, small t for teaspoon. Marty had never read a recipe before.

He chose his menu and saw disaster immediately; the wok was turning black! So Marty called another amateur cook who told him that it was normal when you broke in a new wok and secondly, to pour himself a tall glass of Scotch for such emergencies. Martin sliced and chopped. He hung the pork from the S hooks. He stir-fried. He sipped Scotch. My job was to wash the rice and measure the water so that it was just above my flat fingers. I boiled the rice and set the table with chop sticks and rice bowls for four. After all, Marty had invited two guests for his debut. Chi sin (crazy)! Joyce and Pete were in for a treat!

What was the first meal? Spareribs and black bean sauce, beef in oyster sauce and roast pork fried rice. The kitchen and the apartment smelled divine. But the fried rice looked like soup. Who knew you were supposed to use cold previously cooked rice? Jim hadn’t mentioned that in his recipe. We laughed and scarfed up the delicious meal.

Dinner was a success, followed by decades of many others. The aromas from our kitchen were mind-blowing. The cookbooks multiplied. Marty’s expertise grew to include sea bass, soft shell crabs, hot-and-sour soup, and yung sing chow mein. His Szechuan/Hunan repertory led to eye burning, coughing delights. The floor would be coated with oil, the fire alarm might blast, but it was worth it. I became the sous chef, or dop mah, and chief dishwasher for these banquets. An electric rice cooker took over that job.  

When Marty’s Parkinson’s became worse, I graduated to the stove. Marty would sit in his chair and run the show. Today, as I look around the apartment, I see all the things I couldn’t part with. I have the makings of a gourmet Chinese kitchen – three woks (one electric), two rice cookers. an assortment of knives, countless chopsticks and Chinese spoons. Indeed, it took until last year, ten years after Marty’s death, that I went through his Chinese cupboard and gathered his spices and condiments to throw out. I‘ve kept his cookbooks and the Scotch. We had some wonderful times. Were that I could bring them and him back.

Doris has been a member of IRP/LP2 since 2004.  She credits David Grogan’s Guided Autobiography study group for inspiring this writing.

The Talker

by Doris Wallace

My husband loved to say that I stop and talk to everyone, whether the bagel man, the hardware store clerk, the workers at Costco. I have my own fish man and butcher at Stew Leonard’s and even got invited to a Stew Leonard’s wedding when we became friends. (The marriage didn’t last.)

And indeed, I speak to strangers all the time. There’s often something to learn. Among the joys of travel is meeting new people, strangers at first, who have much to teach and guide me. Aren’t we more open when we travel? Invariably, when I sit next to someone on a plane I will know their life story way before the flight has landed. I must give off a certain vibe that says “Talk to me. I’ll hear you. I really listen.”

“You should have been a therapist,” my friends tell me. I really enjoy talking with people. I am replete with answers to common questions. I have learned not to always offer my solutions; they are often not wanted. Often I walk with a slight smile on my face; today masks are hiding this interaction.

I’ve probably initiated a conversation with you.

Only one time can I remember that was a downer. An old woman was sitting on the steps of my apartment building. She seemed confused so I stopped to help. It was winter and I brought her into the lobby. When I got to my apartment I noticed my wallet was missing. I rushed downstairs to retrace my steps. I had been pickpocketed. She was gone.  

Doris has been a member of IRP/LP2 since 2004.  She credits David Grogan’s Guided Autobiography study group for inspiring this writing.