Ever since I was small, I loved stories. I adored listening to grownups recounting scenes from when they were young. Small feats that, to my ears, sounded fabulous. It was always at mealtime. When the plates emptied, when the glasses were filled and refilled, when the kids went back to playing, that’s when the best part started. “Do you remember when…” The first stories brought on laughter, the laughter singing, the singing hugs and, then, more stories. In the summers, five brothers, five families with a dozen children, we all shared the same house. In the morning, we were always roused by the smell from the oven. All the moms were in the kitchen, one washing tomatoes and peppers, another slicing onions, another preparing the meat. The singing-stew was a summer dish and a Sunday one at that. For the large formal spread. None of our friends knew what the singing-stew was. Maybe it was a family invention. “Why is it called singing-stew?”, I would ask the moms. “Because whoever eats it, sings.” The meat was swimming in potatoes, peppers and onions and the only wintery note was the feta cheese, like snow on the colorful dish. I wasn’t particularly fond of it but I didn’t make a fuss because I was thinking that the Sunday singing-stew helped the grownups sing more tales. The kitchen leader was grandma. She sat on the side and pridefully watched the daughters and daughters-in-law cooking. It was her, grandma Victoria, who had taught them the recipe. She hadn’t made it herself for years but she knew how it was done better than anyone. They’d show her the plate with the feta that was about to land on top of the casserole. And although she could neither see nor hear all that well, grandma Vic took the opportunity to start chatting. They would forget about her all through the morning. She kept a discrete distance throughout the cooking, to keep a white hair from her well made bun, wander into any of the pots and pans. “Don’t rush, has the meat boiled good and proper?” “Why, mom, it’s melted already!” “Oh, you didn’t over boil it, did you?” The first-born and best cook, Marika, would decisively take things in hand: “If we spend more time discussing this, it will soon be inedible!” She turned off the stove and sprinkled the feta on the casserole in one smooth motion. Then, she took a clean dishcloth and covered it. The meal was ready and the women could go to have a quick dip, meet up for a while with the men and children, then come back again before the others, to set the table. Grandma kept the singing-stew company until the children and grandchildren returned. I was convinced that at that exact moment, grandma put something in the singing-stew casserole, something magical, that would make her children sing tales again. One Sunday I asked my mom to not go swimming because my belly ached. “Alright, you stay quietly in your room. Grandma will be in the kitchen.” As soon as I heard them all leave, I went barefoot and took position by the kitchen door. I saw my grandmother rise laboriously and lift the dishcloth, sniff and sniff and, then, reach inside the pocket of her black house robe, pull something out and sprinkle it on the food. Then, she turned to where I stood and winked at me. That gesture always stayed with me, like a great secret. I never told anyone and never asked my grandmother what magic she added to the recipe. When she died, I went into her room, opened her wardrobe and stroked her black robe. I slid my hand into its pockets and there was the answer to the great mystery of my childhood. On the one pocket there was a dry leaf of basil and in the other, a twig of oregano. We were fairly grown by now. In the summer, us kids ran off, each with their own group of friends to the islands that lay off the beaten track. Back in the summer house, the Sunday table grew that much poorer. Still, ever since then, all my cousins agree that mine is the best singing-stew of all.