Reflections in the Kitchen

Something magical happened yesterday in a Like Water For Chocolate kind of way.  Rather than pass on a specific project or a certain recipe to you all today, I want to share an experience I had in the kitchen.

I set out in the afternoon to make minestrone.  I need something to warm my bones in this cold weather, and it is the first thing that comes to mind.  My family made “minest” a lot when I was a child, and it’s a dish that is incredibly comforting to me.  I call my mom to ask her for the recipe (which is always “a little of this, a little of that” — the Italian way), and when she doesn’t answer her phone, I have a moment of mild internal panic.  My grandmothers have passed away, and my great aunt passed away just two months ago.  Heavily reliant on my family’s matriarchs for culinary wisdom, who else is there to call?

Luckily, my mom calls back only a few minutes later.  She provides me with an outline of possible minestrone ingredients, approximately how much of each goes in, along with when to add the ingredients to the simmering pot.  I’m used to this by now, and find comfort in making it my own as I go.

I always channel members of my family when I am cooking or baking.  When it’s cookies, it’s Grandma Anne or my mom.  When it’s a hearty dinner, it’s Grandma Elisabeth.  When it’s drop-dead-amazing breakfast scones, it’s Grandpa Augie.  This minestrone recipe is Grandma Elisabeth’s.  My mind wanders and I begin thinking of what her house might have smelled like when she was a child.

These moments in the kitchen connect me to those who are no longer with me, and so I continue making these family recipes as often as I can.  Later, when I sit down to transfer my scribbled notes onto a recipe card for my new recipe box, I realize something.  I realize that I am writing down the recipe not for myself, but for others to read many years from now.  I am writing, without meaning to, a set of instructions that are intended for someone else — maybe for a child or a grandchild to mull over when they’re my age.

We have boxes and binders full of recipes from my grandparents, and I love nothing more than to flip through them to see their handwriting, read their stories, and see what types of ingredients they used to cook and bake with.  Grandpa Augie bookmarked his cookbooks with all kinds of pictures, drawings from grandchildren (myself included), party invitations, postcards, and other clippings.  It sometimes feels like he left a scavenger hunt just for me to someday find.

I lift the lid, smell my simmering minestrone after some time has passed, and cry.

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