For the last week I’ve been preparing for the arrival of one of my daughters and her husband who came for a five-day visit before Christmas. During that time I have been planning for their stay by getting the house ready (got the husband to redo the guest room bath) and by baking cookies, bread and this morning, cinnamon rolls.
Oh, and the kitchen will be a veritable restaurant with all the things I’ll be cooking, starting with the pot of soup I made before they arrived.
The preparation and presentation of food is so ingrained in me that I am happiest when I am making it for others. One of my friends said it is because of the “Italian Momma in you.” While it’s true that I’m half Italian and I have memories of my Aunt Jean (Gioia Fortunato) plying her guests with plates of pasta whenever anyone came to visit her,
That's my late Aunt Jean
it was my Polish grandmother who instilled a connection between food, home, and comfort in me.
My late grandma Oberlander with my baby daughter, Erin
As a child our kitchen and refrigerator was filled with ready-to-eat meals. If you were hungry, at any given time of day you could open the icebox and pull out goulash, beans and cabbage, spareribs and sauerkraut, or any number of a variety of soups. Leftovers were the mainstay of our home. I don’t recall the smells of food preparation as much as I recall that there was never a shortage of something to eat.
I still remind my husband of when I took him home to meet my family for the first time. A visit to my childhood home included uncles and aunts sitting around the dining room table while my grandmother loaded it with pigs in a blanket, sausages and potatoes, and anything else that was in the fridge. My husband is the world’s pickiest eater and it was so funny to watch him pretend to eat so as not to be rude but to see the horror on his face as he took in all the unfamiliar foods, not to mention his tablemates' enthusiastic attack on it all.
Now that my children are all grown up and living elsewhere I have little reason to cook, outside of the one meal a day my husband I share. It’s hard for me to limit the preparation for just one meal, so I always end up with leftovers that generally don’t get eaten. That’s why I have chickens and a pig to help ease my conscience about throwing away perfectly good food. No matter what season it is, however, there is always a pot of soup - oxtail beef and barley, chicken with rice or pasta, or vegetable found in my fridge.
The visiting daughter is a vegetarian so I get creative in what I make to please her, but continue to serve some meat-based meals for the rest of us. I have beans soaking for burritos, a meat-free sauce planned, a turkey thawing, and will lay out the cookies I made on platters for ready consumption.
The memories my grandmother has left me I hope to carry on with my own daughters and grandchildren. If nothing else, I hope the smells emitting from my kitchen over these next few days instill in Erin and her husband a memory she will carry with her long after I am gone, too.
A cherished note from my girl