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My sister Ellen likes to tell me I am a good plain cook. Rather than be offended by this, I take a pride in getting the basics right. It doesn't matter how fancy you are if it doesn't taste good. 
 
Since my mother died a few months ago, our relationship has been strained, but tonight she is coming over for dinner. This is my attempt to pour oil on troubled waters, so to speak. Cooking has always been my way of showing love—plain or otherwise. 
 
It's hard going through the belongings of the dead. As ever, Ellen took a practical approach. I realize some people feel that they need to move on and clear things out quickly. I, on the other hand, found it hard to let go. 
 
"You can't just sweep people's memories away like that, Ellen," I told her.
 
She stormed out of our mother's tiny, terraced house, slamming the door so it rattled in its frame.
 
Which is why I brought mother's box of letters and keepsakes home with me. There is a certain fear when you read other people's letters. What if you discover something you would rather not know? It was overwhelming, and I took a piecemeal approach—one letter a day. Reading my parents' love letters felt like a terrible intrusion, but I felt compelled to read them nevertheless. The love they had for each other was cruelly cut short. Father died young, leaving his wife to bring up four young children. 
 
I open the box this morning and come upon a handwritten recipe on a scrap of paper. Mother had always found cooking a chore, though she cooked for us all diligently every day. She was the one who taught me all the basics of cooking—how you needed cold hands for pastry making, how to make a proper gravy with the meat juices from the Sunday roast. The recipe wasn't hers, though—it was father's handwriting. Eggs Mornay, it says, and I feel a little prickle, remembering.
 
I can't remember why he'd decided to cook the dinner that evening. Maybe mother was tired from looking after us all day, or maybe she'd felt despondent that the only thing we had to eat was eggs.
 
He always had the ability to make things fun. Ever as spontaneous as his wife was cautious and considered. 
 
"Guess what we're having for dinner tonight?" he said, rubbing his hands together.
 
We all shook our heads. 
 
"Eggs Mornay!" he announced.
 
The fact that he'd made it up on the spot didn't occur to us then. He made it sound like something so exotic and exciting that we never thought to ask.
 
"Very razz á chez!"
 
We had no idea what any of that meant, or indeed what Eggs Mornay, was but it definitely sounded good.
 
As he clattered around the kitchen, every now and then he'd call out to us,
 
"Mmmmn, very razz á chez!" 
 
We caught the mood and began to copy him, dancing round the living room, chanting,
 
"Eggs Mornay, very razz a chez!" with Ellen leading the charge as ever.
 
When he presented the dish to us at the table, we all marveled at it. Golden billows of creamy cheese, the hidden treasure of the eggs beneath and fluffy mashed potato to mop up the sauce. We all thought it was heavenly.
 
 
When Ellen arrives that evening, we hug stiffly and avoid eye contact.
 
"Well, what's on the menu?" she asks as I fill the wine glasses.
 
"A surprise," I say.
 
I had followed the recipe exactly. No continental cheeses, just plain cheddar. No soupcon of wine or sprinkling of breadcrumbs. No pinch of herbs or spices, and definitely no indulgent cream.
 
I place the dish in the center of the table with a flourish and announce, "Eggs Mornay!"
 
There is silence as she stares at the dish in disbelief. Then she looks up at me with a smile and her eyes are shining.
 
"Very razz á chez!" she says.

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