I went through one of my favorite boxes today…full of cherished memories and bits of goodness from those I love. Their brilliance, their personalities, their talents…their recipes.
Master recipes…after tasing food that is so good, you must get the exact details from the cook. Proven and tested. Hand-written, copies of copies, scratched down notes taken over the phone, personalities on display. Folded and refolded, dripped on, burnt, these bits of history are the stories of our lives…the tastes, smells, warmth. To be shared with our own kids, and hopefully their kids. Swoon.
My dad was a complex man…happy to be quietly reading one minute and throwing a huge party the next. A recovering alcoholic, he was know for his amazing margaritas (always in a chilled glass), never letting on if he was sad he could no longer have one himself. I had just moved into my first NYC apartment, my roommate and I were going to throw a holiday party. Old school…dress up, cocktails, cheese cubes and salami. We bought our late 80s off the shoulder little dresses on sale and were completely floored at the cost of “grown-up” alcohol. In a pinch I called my dad for advice, he replied with the magic word…sangria…get some cheap wine and you are good to go. The recipe showed up in the mail, his handwriting, his cryptic and confusing notes, his love for a good party. 30+ years later, this index card is one of my most cherished gifts from my dad…a stained piece of card stock where a bit of him lives on.
My mom cooks like a real cook, she follows no rules except for the knowledge she has gained from feeling and doing. Everything she makes is delicious. Getting recipes from her can be a bit dangerous. They go sort of like this…Take one of my big serving spoons of oil and put it in a good pan, add a little bit of flour, then a nice amount of salt and pepper…but only if you think it needs it. Kit Kat, just stir til it looks right. What I have found is the best way to learn her recipes is to: one…cook with her, and two…to have her to write out the recipes numerous times, then piece them together. Mom’s recipes arrive in the form of post cards, notes on old shopping lists, typed on an IBM typewriter circa 1972, or in rambling phone messages…they allow me to visit inside her head, which is a treat in itself.
My mother-in-law bakes…like makes beyond delicious pie crust from scratch with crisco from a can and happily makes two thousand, four hundred, and sixty two different Christmas cookies each year…the woman is a machine. Growing up as one of 9 on a South Dakota farm, her chore was baking…where she earned her 10,000 hours of Malcom Gladwell practice time. The first Christmas I spent with Greg’s family in Iowa was different from my NY holidays…no stuffed grape leaves, learning that green salad might involve jello, and the nightly display of his mom’s homemade cookie genius on the molded holiday themed serving trays. One can not under estimate the power of really good cookies. I am a pretty decent baker, this woman puts me to shame.
My friend Maria has no clue how talented she is, she is just one of those people who bring magic to everything she touches. Her mom was French, so she grew up cooking with butter, salt, and oil. When she was the chef at a private elementary school, she regularly received thank you notes from parents who were so excited that their kids were now eating vegetables. Maria’s haricot verts recipe is beyond…it is a staple in our home and served at all family dinners. My nieces and nephews call them Auntie Kat String Beans…but I give full credit to Maria. When I read the recipe her emphasis on BUTTER and seasoning with out fear is like a pep talk. I am sure it was written as our kids played in the other room, as we drank coffee after a family sleepover…with very little sleep. Love emitted through newsprint.
I just had the best afternoon. The beauty of having little work means I have time to go down the rabbit hole of memories…to think about those who have changed my life, to appreciate the beauty of a box filled with greasy papers.
There is always a silver lining.