Thursday, September 26, 2013

Cooked with love.

Creating each dish links me to a long line of mothers and grandmothers who, often unacknowledged, bound their families together with the ritual of food. (Kathy Seal)

I feel like food is one of those multi-sensory experiences that becomes inextricably wound into the stories of who we are. I can tell you about my Gramp's favorite summer meal or my dad's favorite pie. I can talk about the days I spent in the kitchen with my Gram, helping her to measure or stir. There are funny stories, like the time my high school boyfriend's mom (dear, sweet lady) experimented with a grits quiche. (Seriously, the only inedible thing I ever remember being served during the many years I was a guest at their family dinner table.) There is the inexplicable appeal of The Christmas Tree Cookies. The orange Jello salad with the crushed pineapple and shredded carrot that Gram always made for Easter. And a hundred other snippets I could include, and then this would be a cookbook without actual recipes.

For months now, I've had a taste for something that I couldn't shake. My Gram used to make pickled beets fairly regularly. I hadn't really thought about them in ages, but once the memory surfaced, it hung on like a burr to a woolen sock. You know the kind of craving: the kind that won't go away until it's been satisfied.

So, after much procrastination, which I later realized was a concern that I'd fall short, I set to work in an attempt to recreate Gram's pickled beets. (Cue the flood of "Why didn't I pay better attention and ask more questions?" self-berating.) New recipes can be intimidating at best, if only because you have no idea if the actual recipe itself will be to your liking, no matter how well-executed, but add in that emotional rider and I still had to eye those beets in the refrigerator crisper drawer for a week before I actually put them on the kitchen counter with intention.

As I chopped and boiled, poked and sliced, measured and stirred, I thought of her. I thought of thousands of meals at her table. Dinners served that reflected the seasons and the produce readily at hand. Dishes made because someone she cherished loved them best. The way she knew I liked my veggies a little more firm than she served, so she'd pull mine out early and set them aside, special, for me. As I moved methodically through the recipe's instructions, I communed with my memories and I smiled, knowing, *feeling* that she loved me as much as I do her.

I still feel like the recipe needs a slight tweak (perhaps a different type of vinegar?) but when I took a bite of the leftovers, it settled over me like a cozy blanket: it was close enough to make me feel linked to my Gram through the ritual of food. Even though I could have asked her a thousand specific questions I never thought to, she imparted to me the Golden Rule of her kitchen: cook with love.

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