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A stirring rendition

February 9, 1981



"On impulse," Cousin Henry bursts in, "I've invited the quartet to supper. You don't mind?" "Of course not."

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No food in the house, all day I've tried to write, and now the phone --.

"Send me your lentil soup recipe," pleads my friend Lynn. "They're publishing my cookbook of Russian recipes handed down by grandmothers. Your Babushka surely taught you chechevitsa?m But make measurements American and exact , cooking time precise."

"Each time it's different."

"Just jazz up the package directions," comes Cousin Henry's muffled voice from the nearly empty cupboard. He emerges with onions, garlic, an unmarked jar of lentils. "We'll use your grandmother's recipe for the quartet tonight."

Trouble is, my Russian grandmother, my Babushka, was as a countess's daughter , then as wife of a czarist general, not allowed in kitchens. My American mother also barred me. Only years later did I concoct a pot of lentils when Lynn chanced in. Even now -- at this moment -- Babushka sits in my kitchen like a queen, not a cook.

Cousin Henry, for years also banished from kitchens, is now tyrannical in mine. "Where's the recipe? How much water for how many lentils?"

To feed a multitude of people, we'll need a multitude of lentils. But how many? Will the musicians bring spouses? Boris always invites some other artist, one Indian leads to another, Alexander expects his Salvadoran pal Mauro, and today I met this lonely Maldivian, and by dinnertime . . . .

Babushka is humming an old Caucasian song with the line: "Each guest is sent to us by God." Today God seems particularly generous. Fortunately the caldron is enormous.

"All the lentils, and twice as much water," I murmur.

Only Muhammud can cut onions without weeping. He orders me to go finish my story. "But first where's the cleaver?"

"Where's the new A-string for my violin?" demands Cousin Henry.

I near my typewriter, but the quartet arrives. The Hungarian bass fiddler's sister presents us with her harvest of bursting tomatoes and zucchinis as big as baseball bats. The cellist's wife brings celery, the pianist, carrots. We'll chop them all for the pot.

"I hate carrots!" Boris complains.

"But carrots we need for color and taste."

He sulks off to his canvas, paints out an orange sun, says he's not hungry.

Alexander grates the carrots into the pot. "Now the soup is flecked with marigold and Boris will never know."

Mauro brings a red chili pepper he says his grandmother brought from Salvador , and bay leaves from Greece. He and Alexander disappear outside.

Ashoke the Tamil arrives with curry powder and other fragrant bits of bark and seeds and leaves, and six brothers and sisters and their grandmother. She brings a pot of yogurt as a fire extinguisher.

The pot simmers, the musicians play, Muhammud composes a pantunm on bay leaves and Mozart, and I may reach my typewriter . . . .