Some dark and stormy night in the past few months, a toddler crept into Maxine’s room while she was sleeping and replaced the baby who loved gingery carrots and garlicky hummus and heaping mashes of avocado with a tiny dictator who only eats cold toast (yes, that would be just a slice of sandwich bread–PLAIN–and untoasted), pasta, sweet potatoes, and rice and beans. (Nana (aka Janet aside): oh except for when she ate chicken that I gave her during our last visit because, you know, that’s what grandkids do as part of their efforts to annoy their parents and ensure that their grandparents are wrapped around every little finger.) For a little while there we were still slipping her carrots and beets and the like through pouches (you know those little portable food sacks in the baby food grocery aisle), but then she realized their projectile capabilities and lost any interest in putting their contents in her mouth.
I really miss my mother. And I’m surprised. She’s been dead, after all, for 11 years, and our relationship was a complicated one for sure. So I’ve been touching this rediscovered scab, thinking about how it feel when I scratch certain parts, and I think I’ve figured out where it’s coming from: This is the first Christmas where Peter and I will not see two of our three children. At all. And for the first time, I understand and feel in my very core my mother. I get why she was so (often annoyingly to me) needy at different points — “What do you mean you’re not going to spend Mother’s Day with me, Janet?” — and why she seemed so desperate at others. She saw the clock ticking and like that Salvador Dali clock knew her time was melting, ever so quickly.
Happy birthday. In the name of keeping things food-related, here’s a little something to fill you up. It’s not cake, but I’m thinking you’ll enjoy it anyway (pardon the stupid commentary).
Did I mention that I love you? Because I do…beyond measure.
Last night I got home from school at 8:30 after having been up and about since 6:30 or so in the morning. M slept awfully the night before and decided to protest her nana and pamp’s absence yesterday by having–no joke–maybe her fussiest day to date yesterday. G was supposed to watch her all day–and he was really helpful–while I read 100+ pages of Derrida (Anybody out there read Derrida? If you have, you know I was attempting the impossible). With M at fever pitch, though, I just couldn’t quite disappear into my dining room to study all day as I’d planned.
Anyway, by the time I got home from class last night I was completely exhausted and rather depressed by the fact that I had Derrida to finish up, an assignment to write on his task in his exploration of Plato’s pharmakon, and 60 pages of Hannah Arendt to read (Did you know she had an affair with Heidegger when she was 18 and he was her professor? Juicy, though it didn’t make my homework any easier). John and G had already fed themselves. Most of the time I really like coming together for dinner with my family at the end of the day, but sometimes–and this was one of those times–eating in complete silence by myself feels like such a gift. I opened the fridge, pulled out leftover burritos that you’d made, popped them in the microwave and paused to–effortlessly (thanks to you)!–tend to my most basic self for the first time that day. It felt soooo good.
I never make burritos since we live in the land of burritos so having them in the fridge was an extra-special treat (since I completely adore them). You make really simple and yummy ones. Will you share your method?
Of course, I didn’t take a picture to share with our lovely readers. Sorry guys, a photo will have to come along another day.
Obviously Rachel and I aren’t the only ones with food memories, so we will periodically feature other people writing about their feelings on Food for Thought Thursdays. Kicking it off for us is Kaja Reynolds — elementary school teacher, potter, runner and cross country skier, one of our relatives (obviously the last name was a giveaway), and a wonderful cook who was inspired by my post last week about my father and pie crust to write this.
Kaja here: I could relate to the image of the tall apple pie your dad made because my mom also made an amazing apple pie. I remember slicing the apples with her and mixing in a little of this spice and a bit of that spice. My mom rarely would measure out those kinds of things; it was all by feel and by taste. As a result, I, too, cook in a very similar way. However, when baking she would always measure the important ingredients like the baking powder, butter or the flour. My mom taught me how to make her delicious, flaky pie crust, and now I make it mostly from memory. She said the key ingredient (which her mom told her) was to use frozen butter and ice water. When she taught me, she was using a food processor and that made working with the frozen butter easier. Then, when adding the ice water to the butter/flour mixture, you only poured in one tablepoon at a time, so that you would not make the dough too sticky. I still make pie crust the same way, and now one of my favorite pies to make is pumpkin pie, which I make every Thanksgiving. I have tried whole wheat flour and rice flour, but the best is the good old unbleached white flour. I love any pie with rhubarb, too, and of course, I still love good old apple pie.
Since my mom is no longer alive, one way I connect with her is through cooking. I have such lovely memories of us cooking together in the home I grew up in, and also in the home I live in now. Another way I remember her and keep her memory alive is by sharing the way she cooked with my two daughters. Whether it is making a pasta sauce, a stir-fry, a Swedish birthday cake or baking any kind of pie, I always feel like a part of my mom is there with me. I think cooking and the wonderful aromas that go along with each dish evoke such visceral memories. Sharing recipes and memories is a wonderful way to connect to your past and to your family.
After months (okay maybe years) of talking about starting a blog on food and cooking, we are finally doing it. We both love cooking and sharing recipes we’ve discovered and fallen in love with (and every so often hate). Beyond that, though, we both see food as a point of togetherness and sharing, with coming together for a meal as a time not only for nurturing ourselves and our families literally, but also as a time in which we pause and mark our lives.
Janet here: We got the name for the blog from an essay I wrote about my mother’s cookbooks. When my mother died a decade ago, I discovered that she had written commentary in her cookbooks. “Bob [my father] really loved this,” read the one next to the recipe for horseradish meatballs in her coverless, stained McCall’s Cookbook. “Janet and Kellee [my sister] did NOT like this,” read the comment by tomato aspic. I realized as I leafed through them that these were more than simply recipes; these were my mother’s journals, her way of recording our lives together.
So Rachel and I started talking about this idea and realized that sharing recipes was one of the ways that we’ve remained connected even though we’re now living 3,000 miles apart. It made our lives still seem somehow connected, and we thought if this is happening to us, it’s probably happening to other people too.
Rachel here: When I first moved across the country from my family at the age of 19, one of the ways in which I navigated my homesickness was by making food that my mom made for my brothers and me when we were growing up. Now that I have a partner and we are growing a family of our own, one of the ways I bridge the two parts of my family is through food. As my mom and I have discovered our shared love of cooking (alright, let’s be real here–we’re pretty fond of the eating component, too), though our kitchens are thousands of miles apart, our exploits in them have become a shared space space of sorts.
Anyway, we hope you enjoy our blog and would love to hear your own tales of culinary trials and errors, as well as about the ways in which food functions in your life.