Tuesday, October 23, 2018

notes on food, memory & grief

I've occasionally been wracked by bouts of sadness that my mother's specialty dishes, the ones I've tried to make the last 20 years or so with varying degrees of success and failure, are mostly lost to me now that she's gone.  When I was younger, she would bring me frozen dishes (chicken & noddles, goulash, sloppy joes) and most did not hold up after defrosting, but I did get all these things when I was visiting.  She would usually ask me what I wanted to eat while there and, add in taco salad, these were all my favorites I would list.  I've actually approximated the goulash and my taco salad is pretty good, but I've yet to get the noodles or sloppy joes right.  Wouldn't even know where to begin with a Thanksgiving turkey, or her potato salad, or her banana bread (all very simple, but their simple eludes me.) I mostly have her chicken soup down and a modified chili (she would make some without the dreaded kidney beans always for me, but I substitute black beans in my own kitchen. ) I can make a pretty tasty version of homemade pizza, but then I use pizza dough and not bread dough, so it's a little different.

My dad is funny.  He regularly bemoans never knowing what to have for dinner, but the man who excelled, when my mom was absent, in hamburgers and canned chili we hated, actually is a pretty decent cook, an underused skill not revealed until his 70's . He made the two us a tasty Christmas dinner last year, and grilled on most of my summer visits. He cooked for my mother the entirety of last year once she was limited in mobility. (though she sometimes was chopping. mixing, cooking from her chair or the dining room table when she was feeling better last summer before things got bad.)

Sunday I made one of the very first things I learned to cook on my own--stuffed pasta shells.  When I moved out of my parents and  into my grad school school studio in the pre-internet (well home internet for me) days, I had a couple cookbooks I'd bought in the B&N bargain bin--one devoted to vegetarian dishes.  I was not, nor have I ever been a vegetarian, but I soon learned to make two of my favorites (the above shells and a fried rice dish I, of course, added chicken to.)  In those years there were many failures--I decided henceforth to leave pad thai to the professionals, nor should you try to make sloppy joes with boca burgers. )

But every time I make the shells, I am immediately carried back to my tiny kitchen in Lincoln Park (when I say kitchen I mean a wall with appliances and a sink and no counter space whatsoever. )  My apartment now has a decent sized kitchen , but I pretty much only use it on weekends, the rest of the week left to takeout an microwave dinners mostly, but I briefly had a gorgeous kitchen in my Rockford apartment in the late 90's--glass cabinet doors, a farmhouse sink, tiled countertops (that in retrospect would have been a nightmare to keep clean) It didn't make me a better cook, but it was beautiful.

Last year took so much, not only my mother, but my aunt, the only person whose culinary talents matched my mother--her 4th of July fried chicken, her thanksgiving pumpkin pies, her Christmas peanut butter balls.  Perhaps its a sense memory thing, but when I mourn the people, I also develop a a sad hunger for foods that will never happen again, or at least not happen the same way. It seems silly, and obviously I'm always a a little over-obsessed with eating (to the detriment of my waistline, who has regular bitch sessions with my wallet as to what is my greatest vice.  I chalk it up to be being a Taurus.

So thinking about food also has me thinking about one of my newer longer projects that involves the hunger palace series, the imaginary daughter poems, the hansel & gretel pieces, and another series just developing.  I'm calling the manuscript FEED in my head, and somehow it fits, but much of it is wrapped up in mothers and food, mothers and daughters, and those tensions. I'm especially thinking about these things as we come up on a year of my mom being gone, and all the attendant feelings theirein.  My wariness of November, and how already I am trying to fend off the sad and distract myself with the shiny....

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