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Recipe for Life (With Butter and Sugar)

Recipe for Life (With Butter and Sugar)

– Nonfiction by Dana Foley –

Spring – 2006

The room is yellow. The whole apartment is, really. Soft rays of sunlight filter through the yellow curtains and cast shadows on the yellow carpets that stretch to meet each yellow wall. Everything glows in the afternoon sunlight. Yellow flowers – daffodils, I think – sit on the table with a yellow tablecloth.


Yellow is her favourite colour. She tells me this as she shows me how to make pie crust from scratch. Her wrinkled and age-spotted hands knead the dough, never breaking from the rhythmic motion. 

She tells me we don’t want the butter spread all the way through. We don’t want it perfect.

That’s the key to a flaky crust, she says.

I nod. Now it’s my turn. 

My hands are small. They are not strong. Not like hers. I press but the butter is still hard and lumpy, and I can’t do it. 

I won’t do it. I don’t want to. I want to watch cartoons. 

She laughs. 

I curl up on the yellow couch as she kneads and kneads and kneads the dough. I feel safe and warm, and I drift to sleep with the smell of apples, sugar, and butter gently filling my nose.

Winter – 2017

I am visiting. Home again after being gone for too long. Snowflakes cascade past the kitchen window and a sad sounding voice sings about silver bells on the radio.

She ties a yellow apron around my waste and tells me to get the flour from the cupboard. I don’t have the heart to tell her that I am tired. First year exams have left my nails bitten to the nub, my heart still palpitating, and my mind fuzzy. My head feels light.

She mixes apple slices, brown sugar, and cinnamon together in a bowl with her bare hands. She picks up half a lemon and effortlessly squeezes out the juice, letting it run through her opposite fingers so she can catch the seeds.

I ball the dough mixture up under my hands, lock my shoulders, and bring all my weight down again and again. I’m being sloppy. I can’t get the butter to spread evenly. I push my fingers into the dough with frustration. My hands are moving but my mind is somewhere else. 

Now her hands find mine. Her leathery fingers against my smooth skin.

Don’t spread the butter too much, she says. Nothing can be perfect. 

I smile weakly. Her hands feel so strong on mine.

You’re tired, she says. Why don’t you rest?

I nod.

She takes a kitchen knife and cuts the dough down the middle. 

She tells me to take one half back to my apartment and put it in the freezer. It will keep for a long time.

That’s good. I’m not sure when I’ll feel like pie again.

Winter – 2018

Visiting again. A different kind of visit.

I tuck a thin yellow blanket around her legs and adjust the daffodils on the windowsill. 

The harsh light washes everything out and makes her look pale. It must be the light. It has to be.

I am going to stay with her for a week once she gets out of the hospital. When I say this, the corner of her eyes crinkle.

Her feet are cold. In her suitcase I find a pair of yellow knitted socks and pull them over each foot. 

Now I have to get going. It’s almost time for dinner. I’ll be back tomorrow.

I lean over the bed and hug her. Tighter. Before I can leave she closes my hand in hers. Still — so strong.

You are a perfect granddaughter, she says. 

I smile. Nothing can be perfect.

I’m cleaning up mom’s roast chicken dinner when the phone rings. It’s the doctor.

I’m not even sure how we got here, but I am the first one to reach the doorway of her hospital room. Nurses gather around her bed, talking in hushed voices. 

All I can see are her yellow socks.

Spring – 2019

Six months go by. Another year of school finished. 

I ride my bike to the store and pass by a garden of yellow flowers. I adjust the yellow scarf around my neck and peddle a little slower.

At the grocery store I fill my basket. Bananas and oranges. Some fresh blueberries. I am about to move onto the vegetables when I spot some green apples that look fresh and ripe. I begin to imagine the air growing thick with the smell of melted butter and sugar.

Back home, I unpack the groceries and place the apples in a fruit bowl on the kitchen table. Late afternoon sunshine pours in through the kitchen window and makes the white walls glow.

Something draws me to the freezer. I am looking for something. Reaching deep inside. It must be all the way at the back. Then I see it, wrapped in wax paper and sealed in a plastic bag. 

As the dough defrosts, I peel and slice the apples. I mix the slices with brown sugar and cinnamon. I squeeze a lemon with my bare hands and let the juice run through my fingers.

Then I knead the dough, my hands never breaking from the rhythmic motion. They feel strong. 

I knead until the dough becomes smooth under my fingers, but then I stop myself. I won’t try to make it perfect. 

That’s the key to a flaky crust.

About the Author – Dana Foley
Dana Foley

Dana (she/her) is an avid writer, reader, and cupcake-eater from Ottawa, Ontario. She received her English degree from Carleton University with a concentration in creative writing in 2021. Lately, her writing tends to focus on female and adolescent perspectives. Her short stories and poems have been published in The F-Word, Montreal Writes, Blank Spaces Magazine, and others.

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