February 13, 2006

In my father's kitchen...

Back again, having spent a good part of the weekend on a bittersweet task. For those of you who don't know me personally, a bit of background: My mother passed away last summer (after a long and difficult illness, so both my brother and I are happier she's in a better place now). We've procrastinated about clearing and selling the house we grew up in as long as we realistically can. It's amazing how very much two people can accumulate over a half century together. In an attempt to avoid being completely overwhelmed, I've tried to approach the task in small chunks: room by room. Where does this all fit in a foodie blog? This weekend's task was the kitchen...

The kitchen of my childhood home was my father's domain. The legend is that when they returned from their honeymoon, my mom made a meal of pasta with Swedish meatballs. Dad ate his dinner, paused, and responded with a critique that included the words "they would be better with..." Mom handed Dad the apron and the spatula, and the rest, as they say, was history...

My dad (Mo, to many) was first generation American of Italian descent, so every holiday meal paid homage to his heritage. Lasagna joined the Thanksgiving turkey. With the Christmas roast beast, homemade ravioli (the production of which really merits a separate post). With the Easter ham, spaghetti ala carbonara. And gnocci joined a collection of charred meats on the summer holiday BBQ buffets.

The kitchen was Mo's "happy place". A teacher, he'd come home from school frustrated and bake bread or a cake to wind down (a stress release I find I've adopted). Recipes served as suggestions, not commandments (a skill I wish I shared more confidently). A homebody, nothing made the man happier than feeding his friends and family. All of my parents friends had standing invitations to dinner any night of the week, and if a weekend passed where dinner was "just the four of us" I sure don't remember it. Many of his friends shared his love of cooking -- and his kitchen -- for various meals over the years. And the annual open house John and I host has roots in Mo's day-after-Christmas bash (again, another post to itself)...

Over the years, several of Mo's kitchen tools have migrated into my home. But for a man who believed "if one is good, three is better," there was still a mountain of things to go through. Some stuff was easy. We'll donate the three separate sets of 'every day' dishes to charity. Ditto the flatware, and most of the miscellaneous pots and pans.

What I wasn't prepared for -- what was the most meaningful and at the same time the most difficult part of the day -- were the stupid little items that brought back floods of memories, some long-forgotten. And it's these stupid little items that now find a home in my kitchen, and a place in my blog. What did I bring home with me Saturday? Among other things:

  • The jumbo-sized "female spoon" - so named by Henriette, a retired short-order cook who became our babysitter when my brother inconveniently got the chicken pox and my parents couldn't stay home with him. "Henri" entered my world in the first grade (long before I knew what she meant by "female" spoon), remained a part of our lives through the remainder of hers (I figured it out in my teens) -- and taught me that one could be a 'lady' without being a doormat. I've probably got a dozen female spoons in my kitchen already, but now I have Henri's...
  • The avocado-colored, slightly misshapen clay platter on which every 30-some pound Thanksgiving turkey between 1970-something and 1990-something was served. I'll likely never serve a 30-pound turkey and avocado doesn't complement my kitchen, but I just couldn't part with it...
  • The stained "Snoopy" coffee mug I gave my dad for father's day in the second grade...
  • The "jelly pot" -- a saucepan permanently stained from endless batches of strawberry, rhubarb, grape and pomegranate jelly that dad and his group of little old ladies (and I) made every fall. I'd forgotten how very many brand new uniform shirts I'd freckled with fruit juice until I unearthed the jelly pot...
  • The binder -- a hodgepodge collection of handwritten recipes in a Castlemont High School binder -- Mo's, Mom's, some from both grandmothers, several great aunts, and countless friends. In many cases nothing I'll ever make (pistachio fluff?!?!?)... but having it in their handwriting is priceless...

So for those of you who've stuck with me through all of this, there you have it... a tour of the best of Mo's kitchen. Thanks for allowing me the opportunity to indulge in some wonderful memories!

2 comments:

Kathy said...

Hello there; your post on your fathers kitchen was particularly good. I am enjoying your new blog. I know it is difficult to keep a blog interesting for your readers and as good as say the "domestic godess". I know, i have tried. All the best and keep up the good work. Do you have a "get notified list"?

Tea said...

What a sweet post! My mother is in the midst of reorganizing her house and kitchen and I am claiming many of the cast offs. Such memories attached to them. Thanks for the link, and for visiting Tea and Cookies. I look forward to watching your blog grow!