D*S Essay Contest: Domenique Osborne

by Grace Bonney

[Editor’s note: All week we will be posting the finalists for our first D*S Essay contest. The theme was “HOME”. Voting will begin on Friday after all finalists have been notified and posted. Thank you so much to everyone who entered this year’s contest! -Grace]

Home Is Where You Lay Your Fork

My grandfather was a bricklayer and a baker.

One by trade, the other by passion.

His huge, work-scarred hands would massage and knead and stir, as though he were working a massive drum of mortar. No dough or frosting or sweet, berry filling was safe from his constant ministrations.

Each family gathering starred one of Nonno’s creations: a shimmering blueberry tart. Tins of powder-flecked cookies, piled high like jewels. A kugelhopf, studded with bits of dried fruit. But the grand dame of any gathering was his tiramisu with its extravagant layers of espresso-soaked ladyfingers luxuriating on feathery beds of egg and mascarpone.

When I finally left home for a lovely college on the other side of the state, he was so disappointed that I hadn’t chosen something closer to home.

To him.

The man who had packed up his wife and baby and left his parents, siblings and the sugar-capped peaks of Northern Italy for a new life in the creeping sprawl of Detroit was upset that I was going to college 130 miles away.

[continued after the jump..]

I had actually intended to run a little farther, but the school’s velvety green quad, ivy-choked buildings, and the English professor with framed photos of Emily Dickinson AND Janis Joplin on her mantle had convinced me to stay in state. At least for a while.

My junior year, I decamped to Italy for 6 months and the motherland welcomed me with open arms and cobblestone streets. Excited to finally have a kitchen of my own, I ceded a valuable plot of suitcase real estate to recipes.

My roommates and I cooked lavish family dinners in our tiny kitchen and ate them on our balcony that was as sprawling as our kitchen was tiny.

I’d sit on a stool with a bowl full of egg whites and whisk with as much speed as I could muster. Whip-whip-whip-whip-whip. My arm going numb, I’d try to remind myself that old ladies in villages all over the country could do this, and so could I. Finally, I’d have a bowl of frothy white to combine with the mascarpone, sugar and liqueur. I’d bathe ladyfingers in fresh-brewed espresso, scalding the tips of my fingers. Then I’d layer the cream and the cookies and coat it with a soft blanket of chocolate.

It wasn’t the big, pink sky. It wasn’t the snippets of Italian creeping through the cracks and up over our railing. Slipping a fork into that tiramisu was the only thing I needed to bring home rushing over me in a flood. To invoke the comforting brightness of my family.

Since that time, in all the places I’ve called home, the tiramisu recipe has been by my side. It helped me welcome in a whole new group of friends when I went to graduate school across the country.

When I moved to New York City, it became the shorthand for closeness when I cooked for a new man I liked. Nothing says “this is who I am” like a treasured family recipe. And when I finally fell in love, I made the tiramisu for my first holiday with the in-laws. Hoping that they loved it, and by extension, loved me, I could barely breathe throughout dinner.

For me, home isn’t a place.

It’s the glossy peaks and valleys in a bowl of egg whites.

Home is too-hot espresso with an archipelago of ladyfinger bits floating on top.

It’s the storm of cocoa settling on every inch of luminous white.

Home is wherever I go, because my Nonno’s tiramisu is there too.

Domenique Osborne

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