Merle Hawkins and Penrose Cooking

At first glance, this faded snapshot simply shows a young girl focused on the oven before her. But look closer, and you'll see it captures something infinitely more precious.

It captures the friendship between Merle and Penrose, forged over simmering pots, and the delicious alchemy of food's comforting magic.  

Though Merle's back is turned, you can vividly imagine Penrose stationed by her side, that warm, paternal smile crinkling the corners of his eyes as he patiently guided her through another culinary lesson.

But this all started long before this moment. Penrose taught Merle to cook before she reached her teens. No doubt he looked on with amusement as young Merle, tongue poking out in concentration, zealously followed each instruction to the letter - even if it meant wearing more ingredients than ended up in the bowl.

In that sunlit kitchen, amid the dance of aromas and the clatter of well-used pans, their family bond blossomed. Particularly after Penrose's deep chuckle inevitably broke the tension when an overenthusiastic whisk sent splashes of batter painting the walls.

You can almost catch the echoes of Penrose's gentle voice murmuring instructions, mingled with the occasional joyful chuckle, no doubt triggered by Merle's signature pout after an overcooked experiment.

Watch for a similar scene in the book, when Penrose uses a pressure cooker for the first time. Only the book will reveal what happens, as this scene hasn't made the script - only due to the script being shorter than the book.

No matter the ingredients, Penrose cooked up far more than mere sustenance. He infused each offering with the spiritual seasoning of unbreakable belonging.

It's no wonder that to this day, Merle's loved ones still gather around her table in anticipation and pride whenever she serves up one of "Pennie's" specialties - while exchanging playful jabs about whose turn it is to wield the mop after her culinary wizardry. The aromas unlock treasured memories, while the familiar flavours still radiate with both of their generous spirits and unconditional love.

This may just be a fleeting glimpse of two people sharing kitchen duties. But for Merle, it was the start of her own beautiful legacy - learning at Penrose's elbow to alchemize nourishment into the language of unwavering devotion, acceptance, and found family.