Thursday, January 14, 2010

Recipe for Love

With all the devastation in Haiti it's hard to really get my mind around idle chit chat about decorating.  I know that life goes on and I can't undo the earthquake and all it's destruction, but it really brought home how very fortunate I am to have so much and to have those I love happy, healthy and safe.

My parents are both deceased, my mother died over 5 years ago and my father just over 2 years ago so I understand loss in a way I didn't before their passings.  Although I miss them dearly, and there isn't a day that goes by when I don't, I feel their presence around me constantly.




This past Christmas I had Mason jars filled with little white lights with greens tucked around them on the windowsill in my kitchen and every so often a tiny bit of one of the strings in the bottom of one of the jars would go "off" and then "on" for some unexplained reason.  Now, common sense says the darn things were overheating but my heart told me otherwise.  My sister has had similar experiences with the candles in her windows that will only go off and on when she enters a room, then they magically turn on again, like they are winking hello to her.




This was the first year in our new, nearly completed kitchen and it's a kitchen that my mother and my father would have loved.  It's timeless and and light filled, which my mother would have loved, and it has quality craftsmanship, good flow, and lots of practical storage, all features my father would have admired.  So I think they were using my little lights as a way to convey their approval  of our new digs.

My mother was a wonderful cook, not an elaborate gourmet cook, but a solid consistent sort of cook who made dishes that became family favorites over the years.  She inherited her abilities from her mother and I hope that I was able to get a smidgen of their talent and pass it on to my own children.  The mason jars I used for my holiday decor were actually those that my "Nana" used to can vegetables, house her famous pickles, and to hold her yummy homemade ketchup for which the recipe is sadly, hopelessly lost.

We still own the house I grew up in, (long story!!) so as caretakers, my sister who lives close by and I have watched over it since my father passed.  We haven't really removed much except the more valuable items such as pieces of furniture, china, crystal, and some holiday items we inherited.  Our two older siblings have left it to us to keep vigil over the house for over 2 years now and we are growing weary of the task.  So she and I have decided to move some of the most treasured items to our own homes, in case someone would break in, until everyone can get together and decide on who gets the remaining items not designated in the will.

So imagine how excited I was the other day when I brought home my mother's entire recipe box and began leafing through it.  These are the sort of items still left in the house.  They don't hold great monetary value, but if someone were to break in they would undoubtedly be tossed about, or worse...destroyed, and their sentimental value is priceless.




Like a child with a new toy at Christmas, I sat down with the little house shaped box that always sat on top of the antique jelly cupboard in her kitchen, and began reliving parts of my childhood with each passing recipe card, slip of paper, and newspaper clipping.  There was the recipe from the Bakers Coconut packaging that held the secret ingredients to my favorite cake, German Chocolate.  I have had German Chocolate cake every year for my birthday since I can remember, my mother made all four of us our favorite cake on our special day each year, a tradition I have continued with my own children.  Mr. Tide even baked me a special transfat free version with that decadent, gooey homemade coconut pecan frosting for my birthday last month that had me reminiscing about all the yummy things my mom used to make and led me to the recipe box in the first place.  When I found the recipe in my mother's box I asked him which recipe he used and he said "the one on the bakers coconut package," no wonder it tasted just like home!

There were recipes torn out of magazines and newspapers, some of which were smudged and tattered.  Even the old operating instructions for a Sears ice cream maker.  Recipes from friends and other family.  Recipes dictated over the phone or from the recesses of someone's memory like my grandmother's refrigerator rolls.  Or the one for bread and butter pickles, a top secret blue ribbon winning recipe held closely to the chest of my Great Aunt Margaret.  There was even a shopping list scribbled on the back of one piece of paper and on the front a list of the women from her "Girls Group" who would be attending one of their monthly get togethers at our house.



 





One recipe made me smile the instant I saw it.  It wasn't something my mother made often, as a matter of fact I can only remember her making it a handful of times during her lifetime, but it brought back one of my favorite stories about when she and my dad were first married.




My parents had a whirlwind romance, they met when my mother didn't show up to a blind date and my father came looking for her at her parent's home!  That was April of 1953 and just a few months later they were engaged, and then married in November of that same year.  My father, a young Navy sailor at the time, was shipped off to North Africa and his blushing bride flew to meet him. It was her first time ever on a plane leaving behind everything she had ever known, and I can only imagine how my grandparents must have felt watching their only child winging her way across the world to start her new life.



 


My mother had studied French in high school, still the primary language in Morocco at the time, so they rented a small upstairs apartment off base from a french family.  They would often recount how much they loved that apartment and their motherly french landlady.  It sounded like such an exotic adventure to me growing up and we often played dress up in the jewelry she brought home, some of which I now own.

Cooking in a country with a French influence was heavenly for my mother and she talked about buying fresh bread from the boys who delivered it on their bikes and the bay tree just outside the house where they would pick fresh leaves to flavor their dishes.  One year during the holidays they decided to make divinity as a special treat.  This delicious white confection is a typically southern treat but has been made for generations all over the country and world for that matter, so they were excited about making some in their new home.  Apparently they were lacking a candy thermometer so they had to "eyeball" the mixture to try and get it to the right consistency.  What resulted was a tastey but nearly inedible concoction, the kind you could throw at passing vehicles and likely break a window as my father described it!  But the landlord's and other neighboring children LOVED it and gobbled down every bit.  Throughout the rest of their time in Africa the neighborhood children would frequently ask if they would make them some more, something my parent's never forgot and found amusing.

That's how food is though.  It's a way for people to connect, a way to create memories, a way to embrace your heritage and your past.  Some might wonder if reading through the recipe box was difficult or sad, but it wasn't.  It was sentimental and seeing certain recipes made me yearn to have my mother make them again for me, but in a way she is making them for me and with me!  The very fact that she wrote them down and saved them in this box was her way of making them for me and ensuring that I would make them for my own children and grandchildren.


That's me, the baby on the right!


Seeing her handwriting on tiny scraps of paper and knowing that she must have been so harried trying to raise four active and demanding kids makes them all the more special.  Knowing how much love went in to each and every one of them, whether they were made for family or close friends only adds to their sentimentality, each one like a tiny window into her all too short 69 years on this planet.  I cherish each and every one of them, even the tomato aspic, which I dearly detested!


The three amigos, my mother, my daughter and me baking in our old kitchen.

As I keep my own special recipes tucked into a basket by my stove I feel an even greater sense of happy duty and joyful obligation to continue adding to it as the years progress so that one day...in the very distant future I pray, my children, grandchildren, great grandchildren will also find comfort in "my" comfort food.  A perfectly straight, computer generated, alphabetically organized recipe box may look pretty, but I will always prefer a handwritten recipe on a timeworn piece of notebook paper, complete with flour, sugar, and vanilla stains!

16 comments:

  1. That recipe box, what a treasure! I wonder if there is one at my parents house. My mom died last year, and my father lives in the house now by himself..., I have to ask him!

    And thanks so much for posting about the Made from Sail giveaway!!

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  2. Sorry for the loss of your mom Maya. Definitely see if there is a recipe box though, you'll be amazed at how many memories will come pouring back from such a tiny box!

    You're very welcome about the Made from Sale Giveaway post, those were great items and I plan to purchase a pillow very soon! We live on the water and my husband and I met racing sailboats so the whole concept of re-using old sails really appeals to me!

    Kat :)

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  3. I have no doubt whatsoever that the winking lights were them. Big believer here. This was a very touching post Kat, thanks so much for sharing. --Lili

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  4. Thank you Lili, it's always like having a ray of sunshine around when you drop by!

    Kat :)

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  5. I just checked out your kitchen dying here , is that soapstone??? gorgeous design , it is a dreamy kitchen

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  6. Thanks so much! And yes it's soapstone and I LOVE it! I can often be found caressing it as I pass by, but shhh don't tell Mr. Tide that! ;-)

    Kat :)

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  7. These make such special memories. I know there are so many recipes that will always remind you of your dear mother.

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  8. Hi Kat. I just found your blog this morning. I love this post. I have my mother's recipe box too.
    She also made a family cookbook with all of the favorites. It was typed on a typewriter with clip art pasted on. Then she photocopied the pages and made little books for each of us. It's such a treasure! Thanks for the memories!
    I'll be following!

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  9. Oh a family cookbook would be a great idea!

    Kat :)

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  10. Let me know if you find a recipe for rice pudding in the box - haha :) My major resolution for the new year (I usually don't make any) is to cook at least one new dish (doesn't have to be anything major!) each week. After having a rice pudding to die for in a restaurant this week, I've decided to make it myself - can't be too difficult, right??! I have no excuse not to cook now, although that may turn out to be a bad thing ;)

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  11. Hi Traci! *waves* Thanks for stopping by, but ummm shouldn't you be working my dear? ;-)

    Sorry, no rice pudding recipes, my mother wasn't a pudding sort of woman, but if I stumble across one I'll let you know!

    Kat :)

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  12. Haha - you mean working on getting some photos to you or working at my "real" job? I haven't accomplished much with either today unfortunately!

    On another note, I'm going to pick a random recipe for rice pudding online and try it tonight and will let you know how it turns out :)

    And I might finally have a few non-kitchen photos for you after this weekend - although the thought of cleaning up after a week of contractors makes me tired - ugh! But I have no choice since it's our turn to host our neighborhood supper club tomorrow night - wish me luck! :)

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  13. LoL Traci! Can't wait to see those pictures!

    How was the rice pudding?

    Kat :)

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  14. What a lovely story of your parents starting off their married life in Morrocco. I can only imagine how excited you were to find that recipe box.

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  15. I loved seeing and reading about the recipes of your mother's. I too lost my mother many years ago and cherish any recipes or handwritten lists by her. She was a fabulous cook. We also loved her cookbook, which was stained on the pages of the "family favorites" so we knew where to find them! My dad, bless his heart, threw the cookbook away without asking any of us girls if we wanted it. (my sister nearly did him in over that!) So ladies, pass your cookbooks down too and don't let anyone put them in a garage sale. Love your blog!

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  16. Sorry to hear that your dad threw out your mom's cookbook Nanci! My father would have done something like that if we hadn't been around so much and threatened him not to get rid of anything without telling us first!

    Kat :)

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