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.

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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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  • Domenique, this is a wonderful piece and I understand why your English professor was anxious to keep your talent near for as long as she could. Your writing takes us to so many places and times and moments in a life, and that is your gift. Your folks have every reason to be proud.

  • DS—sounds like inspiration for a future recipes column! I am certain it would taste of love and home…

  • Such beautiful imagery and heartfelt sentiment. This made me remember so many things I’ve pushed aside for the chaos of life. Lovely writing!

  • Domenique, I cannot stop reading this. I marvel at your descriptions, how you paint a picture with words, and how you make each word matter. This is brilliant! I am so grateful to your mom for forwarding this to me. Don’t ever stop sharing your unique gift of touching people with words.

  • Domenique – you have crafted a beautiful recipe for all of us longing to remember and create the perfect home. There is richness in your descriptions that touches all the senses- and in my case, my heart. Wonderful.

  • Smiling contently as I think of the nooni’s that I have had the pleasure to sit at their tables over the years — and most fondly, my noona’s anise toast .