The center of the universe wasn’t an iron ball like the scientists said it to be, it was the kitchen of every house.

“Each time the center of the soufflé fell, Lilia saw her own life. However much she tried in life, the center of her soul fell all of a sudden and life collapsed around her. Her ups and downs weren’t so much different than this legendary dessert. Whenever she felt happy just a tiny bit more, sorrow came to knock on her door.”

Marc learns to cook to deal with his wife’s death… Ferda finds the only escape from her hypochondriac mother in the kitchen… And Lilia is trying to forget the disappointments of her past by cooking for her tenants…

The story of three broken hearts who find the sharpest symbol of disappointment and the best medicine to recover in a recipe, souffle…

“When he went in the bathroom to shave, he grabbed the machine, sat on the toilet seat, his eyes closed and turned it on. He couldn’t even stand to see the shampoo his wife used to wash her hair with right now. Nor her eye cream. He wasn’t going to be able to touch her comb or her ring which she forgot next to the sink.”

“Mrs. Nesibe fainted very often, and the rest of the time she slept with the help of heavy tranquilizers. Pasiflora, the medicine, was her best friend, ninety percent ethanol based lemon scented cologne was another. She’d threaten her kids to jump off the balcony at the slightest disobedience or collapse on the kitchen floor making a big noise as the best case scenario. Everything she did was exaggerated. Her happiness, unhappiness, uneasiness, illnesses. Especially her pain. It was like the world was almost one of her limbs. It looked like her pain felt that grand.”

“He turned on the radio in their bedroom adjacent to the living room. Edith Piaf’s ‘Non Je Ne Regrette Rien’ filled the room all of a sudden. Hence Marc could think about something else aside from his wife for the first time in days. Their lives didn’t change whatever happened. He was seven years old when he first heard this song; he’s been reading the same comic books and comic magazines for years. The same TV shows with the same guests continued for years. Only the decor of the news programs had been modernized, other than that the subjects and the disputes were the same. The same group of people came together at the same spot every Sunday and did the same dances. This was a city of history and no matter what, it didn’t let people forget the past. How was he going to forget Clara when he was chained to a past like this? How was he going to let her go? When he wasn’t allowed to let go of anything?”

“A day after he’d had the shrimp casserole catastrophe, Marc had stopped by the supermarket on his way home from work and found Mr. Propre who would be one of his best friends for the rest of his life. It hadn’t been hard for him to pick this bottle with a picture of a bald man who had big arms, a white t-shirt, one earring and big white brows on it among others. This image must have been engraved in his visual memory by seeing it on television, subways, and billboards millions of times over the years. He looked at the picture on the bottle he held in his hand. Why was this man so big? Why did he have only one earring? Why were his eyebrows white? Marc didn’t know, but these were questions which had been asked by many people and there were many speculations about them. Some said Mr. Propre was a genie in a bottle. He came out of the bottle when women needed him the most and solved their problems. Some said he was a legendary American naval officer. If Marc had carefully followed the news, he’d know that the year before, the European Parliament had found Mr. Propre inappropriate since it indicated that only huge, powerful men were able to clean. If he’d paid more attention to his environment in the other countries he’d traveled, he would realize that Monsieur was incredibly popular. He had a different name in every country. Don Limpio in Spain, Maestro Limpio in Mexico, Meister Proper in Germany, Mastro Lindo in Italy, and Mr. Clean in the United States. This was the most used cleaning product all over the world since 1958, and he was definitely a revolutionary character judged by the improvements he’d gone through. Without knowing any of these meanings being attached to a product, just because the face looked familiar, Marc had bought that bottle. Only when he saw how well it cleaned the oven did Marc respect the Monsieur.”

“Lilia realized the path she’d drawn for herself all her life only now. She’d lived the lives of other people when she thought she was living hers, and built her life around them. She couldn’t blame anyone for that. Every decision she’d made was hers. In fact she’d waved away the warnings coming from some of her friends before she married Arnie, and believed in only what she’d seen. She’d also chosen not to hear what her siblings had to say before they’d adopted Dung and Giang. Now she vaguely remembered a conversation she had with a friend on the subway in Manhattan. She’d recently stopped working and decided to dedicate herself completely to the kids they were going to adopt. Her friend had said,“I hope you won’t regret this one day. A woman has to make her own money.” However Lilia had been always too full of hope not to be able to see the next step.

She still did the same thing. She still based her life upon others’. The continuation of her mediocre life depended on how people in her life lived theirs as they wished. They had to eat so that Lilia had a reason to live during the day. Arnie had to go to the bathroom under her supervision so that she had a reason to wake up in the morning.”

“The more the Americans tried to make her Filipino, the more she’d become American. That was why she kissed her friends only on one cheek, didn’t stand up to see them out at the end of their visit at her home, and that was why she asked about people’s jobs even though she had no interest in them. At the beginning she’d really had to restrain herself from turning her plate upside down when somebody left the table early, as Filipino culture dictated doing that would prevent famine from finding the house, but she’d gotten rid of all her superstitions at the end. Even though she’d wanted to warn her friends who dumped the remaining rice in the trash, saying that this would make them poor, she hadn’t. In time she’d come to see that nobody became poor in America for dumping the rice, there was no evil eye, the virgins didn’t have to marry old men just because they sang while they were cooking, women didn’t have twins because they had bananas during pregnancy and she’d decided that those spirits they believed in didn’t exist in this continent. She was going to wonder about the reason for this all her life, and only talk about it at a dinner table she shared with her sisters years later when they were telling stories from the old country. Then her niece who was born in the United States but was more Filipino then any of them was going to say: ‘The spirits from the old world couldn’t cross the ocean, because they were scared of the water. That’s why this continent is empty.’ ”

“Going to the farmers’ market meant something special to Ferda. To go from one stand to another meant taking short trips to those small villages she had never visited. She’d find what she was looking for following the smell that lingered on the tip of her nose and would be highly inspired by the colors of the vegetables and fruits. A plate, according to her, had to be as well planned as a still life painting. The stuffed grape leaves had to shine like they were polished; the parsley had to look vigorous. The harmony of the tastes, on the other hand, had to resemble a unique symphony. No ingredient could enter a food casually. They all had to serve a purpose. The tomatoes had to complete the bitter taste of the eggplant, and the subtle taste of cinnamon in the meat was there to calm down the nerves of one, which were strained during the day. The cumin in the meatball wasn’t only for the taste of it; it had to be put on the ground beef just the perfect amount to help the stomach digest the food afterwards. Too much tomato paste in the dish would be like too much make up on a beautiful face. The display of the food would look just as simple as those who used their lipstick instead of a blush on. No, there was nothing extra in the bread Ferda baked; her friends were wrong. The taste came from the organic whole-wheat flour, which wasn’t purchased from the supermarket but came from the countryside. Her tarhana soup of course smelled different, the pepper in it had come from Urfa, one of the Eastern cities. What made her meat stew more delicious than others’ was the leaf of a lime tree she put in. Whoever had this stew relaxed in an instant and went to discover the love in their souls. Ferda tried to stay away from the unhappiness her mother had brought to her home by going to the farmers’ market whenever she found time.”

“The retinning of the copper cups had had a big importance in their lives back in the day. She could still hear the voice of the local retinner who walked around in the streets pushing his cart. Her father’s mother used this word also to scold someone. She would say, “I really retinned Mrs. Leyla this time,” and then she would heartily tell at length how she did it. Even though Ferda loved this word, she had never used it in that sense once in her life. This made her think which words she was going to hand down to her only granddaughter? Which words would remind Naz of her grandmother years later? What was her cachet? She searched for them, but couldn’t find. Why wouldn’t she borrow retinning and pass it along to another generation? She placed the word just at a spot where it was needed. Naz was telling about a friend at school who pushed her.

‘You could have retinned her.’
‘What could I have done Grandma?’
‘Retin her. Meaning scold her.’

Naz put her tiny hands on the counter and started giggling. Ferda smiled pleased too. She had done it. She was sure that she had passed the word along.

‘You’re very funny Grandma. Is retinning kind of like retimming?
‘No honey, there is no word such retimming. There’s retiming, which means something completely different. Retinning can mean to reprimand. To… Censure angrily.’
‘For example, our teacher yelled at Sinan the other day. Uhm… Because…uhm… He didn’t know something… So, did she retin Sinan?’
‘For example, the other day mom retinned dad.’ ”

“Marc reached such a point grieving that he started to question if he wanted to get rid of this feeling anymore. There was a philosphy to this sentiment which fed him. Maybe it was the need to experience the deepest surrow as someone who had experinced the happiness to the fullest. Something about not being able to be content with the mediocre.”