Cooking always gives me time to think, and tonight was no different.
My mother’s death caused me a lot of pain. Face it. My mom’s life caused me a lot of pain…once upon a time, in a place far away…but I digress. As I stood in my kitchen, sort of following her gazpacho recipe (sort of because I’ve modified the bejeebers out of it, but more on that later), using my favorite heirloom tomatoes picked fresh today at Underwood Farms, my thoughts wandered to mom. I realized that the pain I experienced while she was alive is long gone, but what remains is pretty spectacular. I remember the happy times, the good times, the silly times. I remember her teaching me to make Snickerdoodles when I was little, then teaching my daughters when they were about the same age I was when I learned. I remember sitting on the sofa with her, reading aloud from “Charlotte’s Web”, excited by the fact that I was reading at the tender age of four, but in tears over the death of a spider. How things have changed! Just the other day, I took one away from my kitten, Scrappy Doo, and smashed it for having the audacity to crawl across my living room floor. Had it worked for it’s keep by keeping my daughter’s old room free of ants, we might have negotiated. But again, I digress.
My mom went from being unable to boil an egg to one of the most amazing gourmet cooks I ever met. My grandmother never allowed anyone in her kitchen, so mom’s education was lacking when she and dad married. She was determined to overcome that lack, filling dozens of notebooks with recipes cut out of magazines, taking cooking classes and watching chefs like Julia Child devotedly. Her hard work paid huge dividends. She threw parties for 50 and did all of the cooking herself. She arranged, decorated, cooked, served, hostessed…I tell you, some of those talents might have been useful to me, but I was a very poor student, except for the cooking. Even so, she allowed me to make messes in her kitchen, to watch her cook, and to be part of the experience of cooking healthy, tasty meals for the people we love.
She taught me to cook by sight, taste and smell. As her mother didn’t know how to use anything besides salt and pepper, mom’s idea of herbs and spices, though far better than grandma’s, was still, in my opinion, on the light side. She also used a lot of dried herbs, which I still do in a pinch. But with the fresh ones becoming more easily available all the time, why use old, dried ones?
So I took her gazpacho recipe, played with it, modified it and finally came up with a version I like. Six cloves of garlic became a whole bulb, or two if they’re small. A teaspoon of fresh tarragon became around two tablespoons of fresh basil. A tablespoon of chopped, curly leaf parsley became about three tablespoons of chopped flat leaf parsley (I find that it has more flavor and is less bitter). As for the tomatoes…well! Her 8 large were downright puny next to my lovely, colorful heirlooms! And since I essentially increased the amount of tomatoes, all of the other veggies had to have quantity increases too! Otherwise it would just be all tomatoes, not a bad thing, but not the idea of gazpacho. Though I’ve also noticed that a bunch of radishes or scallions in 1965 was a darn sight larger than what we see today! (refer back to the mysterious shrinking ice cream carton in a recent post). As the years go by and I discover new things like English cucumbers, the recipe changes again. If you ask me, there’s not a thing wrong with that. Some people have their “mystery meat”, we had “meatloaf surprise”. The surprise was simply the fact that it never came out the same way twice!
The resulting, enormous bowl of cold, healthy soup is at least a week’s worth of lunches, a dinner or two, and countless precious memories of the good times with my mom. To anyone else, it’s just a big bowl of healthy, tasty soup, but to me, it’s my mom’s love and spending a little time with her as we share a special experience. I think she would have gotten a kick out of the fact that I’ve made it my own, just as I have with so many of her old recipes. The brown box of 5 x 7 index cards she gave me when I first moved out is stuffed full with all of the things I’ve added over the years. The cards written in her neat hand are old and faded, messier notes in my hand indicating changes I’ve made to the original. Though, in the case of the gazpacho, I didn’t alter the original card. I just remember, and as I add five or six times as much garlic, grind a lot more pepper over the top than was her taste and toss in basil with reckless abandon, I know that I’m taking the lessons she taught me about cooking with passion to my own extremes.
The best part is that mom’s memory and her love of cooking will be kept alive for a very long time because at least one of her granddaughter’s is at least as passionate about cooking and creating, and she’s made it both an art form and a science. In a world of fast food and packaged meals, mom left us a beautiful legacy.
I know that at least my friend and butt kicker, Candy, will be asking if I’ve saved this post somewhere safe so I can include it in the book about my journey of healing which has been on the back burner for awhile. Rest assured that a copy of it is tucked away in my archives even as I type.
My gratitudes tonight are:
1. I am grateful for the many lessons my mom taught me which have given me things like cooking and reading to love and share with my own kids.
2. I am grateful that I now have a big, wonderful bowl of gazpacho made with ingredients that could only be fresher if I got off my lazy butt and planted a garden of my own.
3. I am grateful for a couple of days spent getting things done for myself.
4. I am grateful for new beginnings. I don’t know where they’re leading or where I’m even supposed to start, but the fact that they’re here is all I need right now.
5. I am grateful for abundance: healthy food, love, happy memories, dreams, hopes, passion, motivation, projects, harmony, peace, friendship, health and prosperity.
By the way, you can also find my Author page (I’m nothing if not optimistic) at https://www.facebook.com/SheriLevensteinConawayAuthor?ref=aymt_homepage_panel Feel free to like and follow the page. I’ll be adding content slowly but surely.