I have always been fascinated with the kitchen. From a young age, I would whip things together regardless of whether they were destined to be married or not. I loved throwing things in pots and hoping for the best. I would grab outdated garlic powder and mix in peppercorns with a splash of whatever liquid I could find. I was mesmerized by the sheer beauty of a boiling pot.
As a latch key kid, I had a lot of time to myself after school. Both of my parents worked until five and sometimes later. I always did my homework, then I would migrate from my scholastic sofa into the kitchen where the true chef showdown would begin. I prided myself on my ability to make intricate meals from the most basic ingredients. By the age of thirteen, my pallet was years ahead of my own development.
However, the boastfulness of my early-onset gifted and talented culinary prowess is not the “meat and potatoes” of this story. No, it’s not what I did, but what I learned in my parents’ kitchen that led me to write this story. I hope you enjoy this journey.
It was a cool afternoon in late October. I had just finished my algebra homework and had turned on my favorite program, Emeril Lagasse.
“BAM!” I would exclaim as the familiar theme song trumpeted through the television.
I was always inspired by his clamoring japes. It wasn’t until years later that I found out he only said this famous catchphrase because his crew would doze off during taping …. Look it up .…
That day, I made my way into the kitchen, where a familiar energy came over me. It was a feeling of anxiousness and of the unknown. Every time I set out onto the wild frontier of the kitchen, I was met with this feeling. It never quite made sense when I was younger. I think part of it was because I was afraid my Mother would murder me if I made another mess of the kitchen. I was the world’s worst at making messes and never cleaning them up. I had been cooking on and off for about a year at this point and every time I did, my Mother would always threaten my very essence when every dish was soiled just to make one meal. Yet despite this existential, unnamed fear, I soldiered on.
I always started by picking a protein. I hail from the South, so it has been ingrained in me to always choose protein first. Today’s menu called for the only thing that was thawed: tuna from a can.
“Ah yes …. The chicken of the sea,” I thought to myself as I began to feel the familiar musings of the chef Gods whispering into my ear.
I pulled down the glass pyrex mixing bowl. Yes, even as a child I was snotty about mixing-ware. As I drained the can of tuna into the sink, I remember feeling something strange in the house. A presence, a spirit, or perhaps my own sanity leaving my body as I poured over the complex flavors of processed marine life. Regardless, a power was there. Not a part of me, but with me.
I added mayonnaise, following the memories of watching my mother make tuna salad countless times. But then I was met with something new. A force guiding my hand to the spice rack. I looked over the labels and nothing popped out at me other than salt and pepper, but I still felt a force pulling me further and further into the back of the cupboard. My hand hit an unfamiliar glass bottle.
Poppy Seeds, the bottle read and I was extremely confused. I had never cooked with poppy seeds before, nor had I ever heard of them. It seemed strange, but I was so compelled to put them in my tuna salad that, without hesitation, I poured a solid half bottle in and mixed them like they belonged there.
As I toasted the pre-sliced grocery-store bread for dinner, I felt a sense of ease and strength inside myself that I had never felt before. I knew that this was going to be a top-notch sandwich and my parents were going to love it!
5:30 p.m. rolled around and my parents arrived home from a long day at work. They seemed tired and also concerned. My mom came up to me and after the normal, “How was your day?” chit-chat, she informed me that my paternal Grandmother was coming over because she had experienced a fall and broken her leg.
I jumped with excitement and also annoyance: I had to set another plate for my tuna sandwich reveal! I ran to the kitchen to prep another sliced bread duo and grabbed the remaining poppy seed tuna salad from the fridge. As soon as the sandwich hit the plate, my Grandmother hobbled into the house.
I ushered everyone into their seats around the dining room table and served each of them a plate covered with a paper towel for an extra fancy presentation. They lifted their napkins and were amazed by my creation.
“What are the blue dots?” my Dad asked, because he thought it was mold.
“Poppy Seeds, duh!” I exclaimed with glee.
Reluctantly, my family bit into their sandwiches, not knowing what to expect, but they were all pleasantly surprised. (Let’s be honest, you can’t taste poppy seeds over mayonnaise and canned tuna ….) They loved it!
Moments later my Grandmother asked, “Did you know that my leg was broken before you made this?”
“No,” I answered.
“How strange. My doctor said that I may have osteoporosis and I need to try drinking more milk and adding poppy seeds to my diet. Did you know that one teaspoon of poppy seeds has 4% of your daily recommended dose of calcium?” my Grandmother explained.
I was amazed.
I have never forgotten this day and I’m now in my 30’s. This was the first time that I listened to my intuition in the kitchen, a place where I just went to play Emeril Lagasse and figure out how to make a mess.
Since then, I’ve learned that healing from the hearth is not just following a writ or a spell, but following your intuition. Allow your ingredients to tell you what they need. Don’t get bogged down in countless steps. Enjoy the journey and listen for what comes next.
Listen to your spice rack.
Magical Tuna Salad Sandwich Recipe
Prep Time: 5 Minutes
Cook Time: 0 Minutes
Total Time: 5 Minutes
2 – 5 Oz Cans of Tuna in Water (or your favorite packed tuna!)
1 ½ Tablespoons Mayonnaise
2 Tablespoons Finely Chopped Kosher Dill Pickles
2 tsp Lemon Juice
1 tsp Garlic Powder
½ tsp Onion Powder
2 Tablespoons Blue Poppy Seeds
Salt and Pepper to Taste
4 Slices of your favorite bread (Toasted)
- Combine all of the ingredients and mix well
- Divide mixture evenly on 1 slice of bread
- Place a second toasted bread slice on top of the Tuna Salad
[Written by Shedon Slinkard.]