Ah food – glorious food. Whether it is dried fish, raw whale or a delicate combination of spaghetti with a light crab sauce made from Maryland blue crabs, food is where the heart is for most of us.
Whether we are Eskimo or Irish, Italian or even Minnesotan, we all seem to have certain foods we react to in a totally irrational way.
These thoughts have been swirling in my mind for a number of reasons – and believe it or not, the subsistence debate is not really one of them. These thoughts have more to do with walking down the paths at the state fair, with talking to my sister on my mother’s birthday, with savoring gyros at the Greek festival and with going to visit my cousin in Vegas.
Actually, it all began with the visit to Vegas. My cousin and I were on the phone scheduling when we would meet while I was there. It occurred to us both at the same time that what we were basically doing was scheduling meals. Once we had them confirmed – which restaurants, which buffets, which ethnicities on which night – we were content. The important things had been resolved. And suddenly we felt as though our parents had surreptitiously inhabited our bodies.
I can still remember my mother joining my father in the living room for TV after dinner. She would have just finished cleaning up the kitchen and closing it down for the night. He’d look at her, smile and say, “So what do you want to have for dinner tomorrow night, Bud?”
Mom would inevitably groan, ask how he could even think of that when the current meal was still heavy in his stomach, wait for the commercial on I Love Lucy, and then turn to him and rattle off a complete menu.
A few weeks ago my mother’s birthday occurred, the first since her death. I called my sister thinking she might need some love and support to get through the day since she had lived near mom and was the one who always had a birthday dinner for her. She answered the phone with a full mouth. The noise in the background told me she had company.
I asked if she was ok and she said that she definitely was. In fact, she was eating spaghetti and crabs in mom’s honor with a group of friends who had always attended the birthday dinners in the past.
Judy was maintaining the tradition of the dinner because not even death is seen as an adequate excuse to end a perfectly good food tradition in my family.
Judy recently had her kitchen redone. She had a small row of tiles set around the top of the wainscoting. One of her friends commented that it made her kitchen look like an Italian cathedral. While I wouldn’t go that far – my sister’s idea of color is every shade of ecru in existence and that is simply not Italian – it does create enough of a similarity to cause comments.
I think that giving her kitchen a cathedral like aspect is absolutely appropriate. For many people, the kitchen is the second most important place in their lives. Only their church takes precedence.
My childhood was full of kitchens with my aunts cooking and clearing the table, talking half in Italian and half in English, communicating their day to day ups and downs with the people closest to them. The men would smoke their cigars in the living room while discussing the highlights of the meal.
Did I say that this wasn’t about subsistence? Who knows? Maybe it is. Maybe the kitchen, with the smells of our family meals – the tantalizing whiff of its preparation and the companionship of its aftermath – truly is where our hearts are.
I for one can tell you that Chef Boyardee is no substitute for mom’s sauce. And a pot roast from Fred Myers will never taste like that caribou stew your mom used to make.
Or, to put it most succinctly, it’s about more than just the caribou, stupid.