My nephew turned 22 a few weeks ago. He often cooks for his family when he is home and for himself while he is at college.
I decided to give him 22 recipes as his gift. Every couple of days I post one or more recipes on his Facebook wall. I have been giving recipes that I make all the time by feel rather than by following a recipe.
My last recipe for him ( Recipe #14)was breaded fish. I mentioned in the text of the recipe that I had learned how to bread fish from my father in our yellow kitchen in Quincy.
Last night my oldest sister and I were talking bout the recipes that I have been giving my nephew. My sister had been suggesting that I look up some recipes on Epicurious. I explained that what I wanted to give were recipes that were deeply ingrained in me, not nifty new and unfamiliar things but the sorts of meals that I might make when time was at a premium.
My sister then talked about making kasha. My father made kasha often with great care and with deep intention. He used to make it by the vat-full and then put all of it away in square plastic containers that got stacked into the freezer. Each Shabbat a plastic container or two of kasha would come out of the freezer and get heated up for the Shabbat meals.
My sister said that she never makes kasha with a recipe but does each step, cooking the noodles, sautéing the onions in chicken fat, coating the grains with egg and then finally getting all of the elements together . She said that whenever she makes kasha she feels deeply connected to my father.
I have rarely made kasha. In fact, most of the times I have made it I made it for my mother during the big cooks I used to do for her during her time of decline. I made kasha because I knew that smelling it cooking made my mother feel loved.
When I used to go cook for my mother my sister used to suggest that I invite my mother to help me in the kitchen, just as we used to have Mama, my mother’s mother help my father as he cooked. Mama, like my mother had had a series of large and small strokes.
My father used to give me and Mama vegetable peelers and let us peel potatoes or apples. Both Mama and I were pokey workers. The to of us would stand by the sink and slowly work away with the vegetable peelers. My father in the meantime would be working away with a shower of peelings flying in every direction. Mama and I didn’t exactly help, we “helped”.
My mother had no desire to join me in the kitchen. What she wanted to do was sit on the couch reading a magazine and smell the cooking going on. She used to comment on the olfactory progress of my labors and then ask for samples of whatever I was making.
Some of the food I make are dishes that I ate growing up. Others have evolved over time and take into account living where I do, and the food likes and dislikes of the people I live with.
I took this photograph this morning on my way to services. I have always been fond of the vaguely Venetian brick apartment building with the patterned brickwork. A new glass tower has been guilt right next to the older building.
I am going to claim that like this image, my cooking is a mix of the old and the new,
So what did I make for tonight’s dinner???
I also made string beans.
Years ago I noticed that Macy’s cookware ads always showed raw rood in their pots and pans.
I turned the beans with a fork and let the beans continue to cook.
After a few more turnings with a pair of forks, and lots more time in the oven, the beans are no longer a beautiful bright green.
They are now army green but crispy. The flavor gets intense and earthy. Four pounds of string beans will be completely gone by the end of the meal…I think there will be six of us at the table.
While I don’t make kasha very often…I do think about my father every time I make challah. I don’t use his challah recipe, but like my father I experimented my way to something that I think is really good. Like my father, I get into the whole physical part of making challah. I love how my body feels as I knead a big batch of dough.
Unlike my father, I actually braid my challot. My father’s challot were made up of five 1/4 lb. lumps of dough lined up in a row in a bread pan.
Braiding baffled my father. Also my father liked knowing that each of his challot weighed exactly the same.
My challot are less uniform in size and shape, and even in flavor from week to week. I find variation to be a source of pleasure rather than being a source of anxiety.
So there it is… a mix of old and new of deep memory and newer ones mixed together in one meal, in one mouthful.