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One of the Christmas memories I have from my childhood is cooking or baking with my mom.

Here is an excerpt from To Kill the Other, in which making pastry, remembered by Marek, a Polish character in the novel, is based on my own experience.

“I like the powdered ones because they remind me of snow,” Marek said finally.

“Snow? You like winter?” Katie asked surprised.

“Snow has nothing to do with winter,” Marek answered slowly, withdrawing inward.


“You know, it’s funny how everything always somehow comes back to childhood,” Marek said, taking a deep breath.

“Like what?”

“Like the powdered donuts,” he continued.

“Hmm,” she said, waiting for him to continue.

“When I see this white powder on donuts, I see myself better.”

He wiped his mouth and continued his story while folding the napkin slowly.

Katie crossed her arms as if hugging herself, knowing what was to come.

“Somehow it always goes the same way for me.” “Why snow?” Katie asked.

“My mom used to make paczki.”

“What’s that?”

“Similar to donuts, but without the hole inside and … and just different, really … completely different, denser, not as sweet, a bit flaky, and with a teaspoon of thick strawberry jam inside.” Marek closed his eyes and tilted his head back. “First she would mix the yeast with a bit of hot water. It was live yeast. It was grayish, chalky, and cold. We would buy it in the store just a block away from our apartment. The lady in the store would cut it with a long knife and weigh it on a scale with a vertical arrow swinging from side to side. I remember we used fifteen decagrams for this recipe.

“I remember my mom checking everything twice—the weight of the yeast and the price. I loved eating it. My mom always objected, saying that I would get sick from it. But I just loved the texture melting on my tongue.

“I remember she would cover the yeast mixture with a linen cloth and put it on the radiator in the hallway for the yeast to rise. She would always tell me not to peek under the cloth because lifting the cloth could make the yeast cool off and drop to the bottom. I always thought if I did it slowly enough and just for a little while the yeast wouldn’t notice. I was sure the yeast could somehow notice things since it was alive.” Marek smiled.

“Making the dough was always fun. We would laugh and knead the dough for eternity. We had so much fun. Then she would ask me to form these dough balls with my hands. She said my hands were the perfect size for it. I was five or six. Then she would make holes in the balls with her finger and put the jam inside. Then she would close it and flatten the balls to make them look more like flying saucers. Finally she would gently put them, one by one, in deep frying oil, asking me to stay away from the pan. She didn’t want the hot oil to splash on me accidentally.”

“You talk a lot about your mom,” Katie whispered.

“Only when I see something that reminds me of her … which is … about … always.” Marek opened his eyes.

“What about the snow?”

“I still remember her hands whitened with the powdered sugar we would sprinkle on our paczki. We used a small aluminum container that had tiny holes in the bottom. It looked like snow to me. She always allowed me to do it, to use the container. And of course I would make it snow all over the table. ‘Mom, it’s snowing, it’s snowing!’ I would scream. “‘Just like outside. Look! Look!’ she would say in such an excited voice. We would look out the kitchen window to see snow coming slowly in the pools of streetlights at night. I would make it snow on her hands, on her wedding ring, on her other ring with a little pale pink stone.” Marek stopped for a while.

“Her eyes meant the world to me. I feel her so close sometimes,” he whispered. “Especially when I see Julie. My little Julie looks so much like my mom. Sometimes I imagine how much fun it would be to see them together.”

“Does Julie have the same attitude?” Katie smiled.

“Yep, she is six, going on sixteen,” Marek said, smiling back.

“And she has been going on sixteen ever since I can remember,” Katie said, reaching for her coffee.

“Since she was one year old.” Marek nodded.

They both stared at the box of Dunkin’ Donuts for a long while, not saying anything.

“You know, I just realized how much I love this country,” Marek said, breaking the silence.

“Why do you say that?” Katie took another sip of her coffee.

“This is the best place on earth. I can say what I want. I can get what I want. And more than I want!” He laughed at his own words. “It seems that just to want is enough to find a way to achieve anything.”

“It’s not as wonderful as you think,” Katie said almost sadly. “It’s not as wonderful as you see it.”

“No, you don’t see it because you haven’t seen enough in your life. It doesn’t get any better than that, believe me,” Marek defended his point.

“You are so idealistic. It’s so refreshing in a sense. But—you know there is so much crap going on … just think about politics,” Katie argued.

“Sure. Like it’s not going on anywhere else in the world,” Marek bridled.

“Well, it’s not an excuse to have it here, right?” Katie said forcefully.

“And who is the idealistic one?” Marek laughed.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Katie admitted.

They both fell silent for a while, searching for something in their thoughts.

“I told you the snow has nothing to do with winter,” Marek spoke up first.

“You were right.” Katie nodded, smiling.


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