(5:40) What Do You Do Best?

This is a list exercise that I do with my students. Step one: List 10 Things You Do Well

1. Write a syllabus for a college class
2. Write bad poems
3. Drive a mini-van
4. Play Spider-Solitaire
5. Shop for blue jeans for my daughters
6. Arrange chairs in a circle for class
7. Laundry
8. Make cabbage rolls
9. Read a novel
10. Iron a blouse

Step two: choose one item from the list and write about it for 10 minutes. I'll give you three minutes here (to keep it short).

My recipe for cabbage rolls came from my Aunt Violet, who married into a Polish family. Hamburger and rice rolled into cabbage leaves (leaves first softened in hot water), then layered into a pot with brown sugar. Lots of brown sugar. (I can't vouch for the authenticity of the recipe, as my own grandmother never cooked anything without putting sugar into it.) When I mix up the hamburger and rice, I salt and pepper it, and I add garlic and grated carrot or zucchini. Bake at 400 degrees, uncovered, for about 30 minutes; then bake at 350 degrees for an hour or so. I'm not great at describing smells, but it smells wonderful. And as a bonus, I never make this dish without thinking about my Aunt Violet, who -- many years older than my mother -- was one of the great matriarchs who presided over my childhood. In my memory, she's in her late thirties or early forties. Her hair is in a hairnet (later her daughters talked her into cutting and perming it), her round face is red from the steam of the kitchen. She's wearing an apron. On the windowsill of her kitchen is a little woodpecker that, when I tap his head, dips into a bin of toothpicks and pulls one out.

Okay, that was more than 3 minutes. The woodpecker surprised me. (I found the picture on EBay.)