Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Making New

I grew up in a family with a strong culinary tradition.  We ate real food, lovingly prepared by my mom.  We sat at our old, dented kitchen table every single night to plates of warm casserole, savory pie, chicken, rice, spaghetti, lasagnas, piping hot bread, soup, and perfect baked potatoes.  We'd tell stories over desserts of cake and ice cream and cookies of every imaginable kind.  My mom made the simplest of dishes seem elegant.  Every one of them was special because she made it.  She didn't just go through the motions to get food on the table.  Homemaking was and is my mother's job, and she did and does it (like she did and does everything) eminently well.

I started keeping a cookbook in middle school.  I created a huge collection of photos and memories that I planned to carry with me my whole life, my culinary heritage if you will.  I carefully documented each experiment, each hand-scooped cookie, each soup.  I rated and noted and described every dish.  I soaked up every cooking lesson as I watched my mom crimp piecrusts and frost cakes and brown meat.  I made those recipes my own until my hands deftly mixed fat into flour and dabbed ricotta into lasagna noodles and picked every last scrap of meat off of roasted chickens.  I added my own notes to the margins.  I dreamed of a long future making cheeseburger for my college friends, coming back to my first apartment at the end of a long day to chicken divan, and someday making fried chicken for my kids.

I know now that that's not going to happen.  As the holidays come up, I'm realizing more and more just what I'm missing.  My relationship with my mom is strengthened by food and the love and care and joy that we've shared over loaves of bread and cookies and delicious piping-hot pies.  I miss that more than I ever could have anticipated.

So I'm suddenly in a position I was never prepared for.  It's daunting and strange and filled with crumbling piecrusts and overly dry muffins and rubbery eggplant lasagna.  It doesn't taste or smell or look like my childhood.  It's full of ingredients and flavors and cooking tricks that my mother has never used.  Wallowing isn't going to solve it, though.  I'm researching new Christmas cookies.  I'm making new flour blends.  I'm learning to roast my own chicken and to remember to buy xanthan gum.  I'm creating my own culinary history from scratch, and I think it's going to be ok.

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