With hands still sun-kissed in winter, my father would stand in the kitchen, open his palm, and say, “Hand me the finocch,” using an Italian colloquialism to indicate the bulbs of fennel I retrieved from the basement refrigerator and cradled in my arms. Clutching a paring knife, he carved the rounded bulbs and laid the fennel on a platter as if he were Prometheus delivering fire to the mortals.

In Greek mythology, Prometheus was the son of a Titan who traversed the worlds of gods and mortals. Cloaking fire within fennel stalks, he dropped down to earth to present humans with the hidden flames to ignite the blazes that would keep them warm. Fire offered humans the ability to overcome their everyday struggles and develop a civilized culture, and inspired them to gaze up at the sky to dream.

During the tight confines of life in the pandemic year of...

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