Our author and her friend have a long-distance relationship. Their rituals include cooking with and for others.

A person on a moving train holds one of his or her hands against the train window.

The memories come Photo: Rajkumar Singh/plainpicture

It's seven in the morning and it's still dark. I'm just wearing a towel around my head, makeup, and long earrings that almost reach my shoulders. The smell of fried onions and garlic had already reached me in the shower, now I stay behind the door frame and watch them. She stands by the stove and cooks. When she sees me, she says I look like a naked version of Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring.

It's cold outside, it's February, the Leipzig weather app reads -5 degrees Celsius. About 100 miles away, in Berlin, where I have to return soon, things won't be much different. She insists on getting up with me to make me my favorite breakfast.

With her black-painted nails, she peels each chickpea and throws them into the hot oil, along with the onion and garlic. Next in the pot are the red peppers and mushrooms. Spices are her secret, as is the time she takes to create them herself. The stove should be set to low heat; the slower it sizzles, the better, she says.

I get dressed and tiptoe towards her, hugging her from behind and whispering in her ear how good she smells. This is part of our rituals. How to cook for each other and with others. We did it before we got together, when we were “just” friends.

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When she was still living with her boyfriend at the time and I would stay with them after long nights of beer and conversation, she would wake up with me. She liked to make me coffee and she also offered me what she had for the first meal of the day: sometimes fried mushrooms, sometimes lentil soup, sometimes chickpeas, which today I can no longer resist. Back then everything was too intense for me at 7 in the morning. But obviously the perception of taste can change, just as human relationships can change.

When we cooked together for the first time in that apartment in Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg, I felt feelings for her for the first time that I couldn't classify. We chop the vegetables side by side in silence. Our arms accidentally touched each other from time to time, and suddenly a great calm and an extraordinary familiarity came over me. That night we really enjoyed the vegan version of Argentine empanadas, traditionally dumplings filled with minced meat.

Afterwards we cooked together often and tried many dishes. When she moved to Leipzig, I thought she would miss our cooking together, not realizing that this friendship would become the first long-distance relationship of my life.

She also still remembers our first empanadas. But today she prefers other recipes from my culinary repertoire, perhaps because I cook them just for her and they evoke a moment of intimacy, like our breakfast. As an example: Mexican red beans with bacon and homemade tofu. Or Spanish vegan tortillas with turmeric and chickpea flour as an egg substitute, which she says taste almost like the real thing.

If we don't have to run to the train station, sometimes there are vegan pancakes. We alternate with beans and chickpeas. Most of the time, the person who stays home cooks for the person who returns. Meanwhile, she runs around the house with a cup of coffee in her hand and continues collecting her things or packing her backpack. Sometimes the radio plays in the background, sometimes music comes from the record player.

Although the chickpeas taste delicious on this cold morning, as always, I am a little sad before we say goodbye. Capitalism is to blame for everything, we realize and we laugh. Also because it's Monday and I have to go to work very early. I would prefer to go back to bed with her after breakfast and stay in her warmth, with the cat sleeping at our feet.

But I gather strength and set off. For the hour-long train ride, he places a package of food decorated with hearts in my hand. Just in case I'm hungry again.

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