Thursday, December 13, 2007

Out of the kitchen

This week has been going really well. All my cooking on the weekend paid off, and I have hardly done any cooking at all.

Clark really likes hard boiled eggs. He has two for breakfast in the mornings. If I could make some carrot pancakes in advance, he could have some variety, too.

The weird thing is...I think I miss it. I miss being constantly in the kitchen.

I keep thinking more about recipes. I never considered myself a real foodie, but maybe I am. Or all the time in the kitchen is converting me.

I was raised in the midst of cooking and food. My grandmother was half Italian, and her mother before her came over from Italy. She and her husband departed Calabria on a boat and crossed the oceans, 100 years ago.

I wonder what that was like, being young, making that journey. It must have seemed like a fantastic adventure. My great grandmother taught herself English from watching television. They didn't speak Italian around their children because they wanted to be sure they would fit in.

But my great grandmother brought her heritage along with her, recipes that have now been passed down through the generations. Her Easter bread is made by my family every year. I have been told that all Italian families have their own recipes. I haven't participated in that tradition since my gluten intolerance popped up a few years ago, and that does make me sad sometimes. It used to be a grand competition, where we would all taste each other's and decide whose was the best that year. My grandmother's salad dressing is legend in its simplicity. Only a few of us know how to make it right.

Until I was 10 years old, we lived downstairs from my grandmother. Since I was apparently an escape artist, I would leave our apartment in the middle of the night, climb up the stairs, and sleep on the doorstep of my grandmother's apartment. She would hear me and let me in. Over the years, I spent many hours in her kitchen. When we got older, she would invite each of us for dinner, like a small party, to eat with her and my auntie Karen. And of course, I would inevitably say, "Grandma, I'm full," and she would have none of it. "No you're not!" she'd say.

I remember her hands most of all. Her fingers were short and almost stubby, but she always had her nails done nicely, as was her makeup. Her wedding ring had been reworked into a fantastic cocktail style, and she always wore it. She bustled around the kitchen, and always had cookies in the cookie jar, glass with a metal lid that clanged suspiciously if you tried to sneak one. She kept her keys in the kitchen in a milk glass chicken. Every Wednesday was pasta night.

I'm told that I would sit near her while she made salad when I was very small, and she would feed me little pieces of the vegetables she chopped up. One time she gave me a piece of onion, and I ate it, no complaints, making no strange faces.

She was always there with a smooch and a tissue tucked up her sleeve for whatever emergency would arise. She wiggled our baby teeth loose when we were about to lose them because my mom thought it was too icky. :) And she was always adamant that our hands be clean before dinner. She would smell them to make sure we used soap.

We would have sleepovers on the couch, or on the spare bed in my grandmother's room, or we'd cuddle up with auntie Karen in her big bed. I would have tea for breakfast and feel very grown-up.

Christmas was always a big event. There were lists and lists of items to bake. My mother and my grandmother would both be in the kitchen, making tons of cookies, brownies, spice cake, nut cups, pfefferneuse, and more. We'd frost cookies and sneak bites of everything while packaging it all into tins with waxed paper in between the layers. We carried them down into the basement until Christmas, pounding our way down the creaky staircase, and my mother would yell that we sounded like a herd of elephants.

Christmas Eve was the big event. We'd all exchange gifts in the wood-paneled basement, which had a bar and plenty of space for treats. The large freezer served as another table as well. I always remember my mother buying herring in a jar for our uncle Kenny, who would sit at the bar eating it with crackers. I wrinkled my nose at it. The space heaters would be humming and we'd all sit around, opening gifts, and eating and talking and laughing until it was late.

It's strange, as you get older and people start to fade from your life, how those memories are still so clear and sharp. In my mind, my grandmother is eternally black-haired and smiling, as is my aunt Karen, my cousins are young and childless, my siblings are round faced and teasing. It's only with a shock that I realize that many of my relatives have passed on, that my remaining relatives are much grayer and more wrinkled, that my brother and sister are adults, and I am now 30 years old and have left much of my confused childhood behind.

I never questioned the love of my family; it was absolute and unchanging, unlike what most people experience. And now I am 2000 miles away from all of them, and sometimes family feels very far away.

Now that I am on SCD, my mother has talked with me frequently about Christmas. My parents are flying in with my brother to visit me and my sister. The question foremost on her mind? "What can you eat?" she says, her voice filled with concern.

And I smile, and explain that these early stages of limits are only temporary. I can tell she's not convinced. How can she be? She was raised to believe that cooking is an act of love, an act of God, that nourishing the body is nourishing the soul. But that's all right.

So was I.


Anonymous said...

I am in love with this post. If it's free, I'd like to take it out for drinks, marry it, and have its babies. Such is the love. Seriously, I think we have the same lineage! My Nana is so sad that my kids won't be able to eat her fig cookies, pizelle, and pingoli this year...

The SCD girl said...

LOL! Thank you very much. A better compliment I couldn't ask for.

Pizelle, I forgot all about it! Soooo awesome. *sighs*

Thanks for your comment, it rocked my socks. :)