I watch her dice onions with the chaotic precision of someone who’s done this hundreds of times after 10-hour shifts.

With the backside of her knife, she scrapes them from a worn wooden cutting board. The pieces fall into the cast iron, pinging as they land.

This pan is her favorite. There are knicks in the enamel from years of sliding it in and out of the cramped pantry next to the stove. It is cast iron, and meant to be everlasting.

I look up from the stove and cast a glance in her direction, I want to be her favorite.

These are precious moments to me. I collect them and put them in my pocket to look at later, when the acrid stench of Marlboros and Milwaukee’s best has overwhelmed the sweet aroma of cumin and oregano.

She throws in a cupful of spices. She can’t tell me how much because she never measures any of it, there is just a generational knowing.

This recipe is a blueprint for survival. She’s returned to it a thousand times-

When she’s lonely
When she is proud
When the light bill is due

I know it’s important for me to remember this sequence:

Garlic, sofrito, raisins, capers
Havana, Miami, Massachusetts, Ohio

I’m mapping a way for my eager mouth and heart to be sated.

This kitchen is my compass, and she is the North star. Distant, as always, but glimmering.