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I am a wife, mother, teacher, runner, baker, fund-raiser, reader, watcher of movies, dog-lover, writer, music-lover and foodie. So - I'm a woman of many moods! I write and share in order to teach and enrich. I currently have two blogs going: The Kitchen Refugee, and A Mile At A Time. The first is about time spent in the kitchen and the second about time spent on the road. Frequently the two roads intersect!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Recipe for Memories

The assignment was simple enough; bring an appetizer for Thursday’s writing class Read-Around. Realizing it had been ages since I’d made hot wings, I went to my recipe box and pulled out two recipes; one for the wings and another for the blue cheese dressing that would serve as fire-extinguisher to the wings.  It’s funny how two recipes could jog my memory in so many ways.
            The wings, a recipe from Uncle Jerry, prompted a ‘remember when’ phone call.  “Remember when we came for the Fourth of July, and you cooked those wings on the barbecue?”  Of course he remembered.  It was the last Fourth of July spent with both his parents (my grandparents), and his brother (my father).  I had forgotten that Grandpa Ward was there – still alive – but then I remembered that Dad had died before both of his parents.  This was our last big holiday together, and we all knew it.  All of the details are stirring around in my mind; wings and watermelon, fireworks, my niece and nephew alternately squealing with delight and crying over some four-year-old behavioral indiscretion, grandparents enjoying this new generation and speculating about my belly, which was just starting to take shape with life.  The occasion was filled with love and laughter, yet the air was heavy with unspoken grief over the one who would be next to leave us.  I remember having one of those out of body experiences where I felt like I was watching a movie of someone else’s life, not watching my own life in real-time.  As if whispered by a spiritual elder, these words breathed through me: Remember this.  And I have.
            Turning the recipe over in my hands to see if there were more directions on the back, I read two more links to the past; the phone number for the Endometriosis Hotline, and the birth details of my neighbor’s new baby.  This may seem like an odd  thing to find on the back of a recipe, but one would need to understand my lack of organizational skills in order for it to make sense.  Clearly, for both bits of information, I needed something to write on, and this recipe must’ve been the only scrap of paper I could find.   I remember, now, that Alli was four and we’d been trying for over a year to have that ever-elusive second child.  The Endo hotline was my link to the latest break-throughs or road blocks for this condition that renders so many couples infertile.  Ethan’s birth announcement was an odd juxtaposition next to the phone number, and I can feel the sting even now.  My friends were having babies and I was not.  My hysterectomy (at 25) was only months away.
            The blue cheese dressing recipe reminded me of happier times, thirteen years forward to the year we had our Dominican exchange daughter, Denise living with us.  My dinner table was full of teenagers that year – Alli, now 17, Denise, 18, and two other Spanish-speaking exchange students who joined us nearly every weekend.  They were each missing their large, Catholic families.  Who would have thought that the family with an only child, plus three foreigners could form a multi-lingual family of six?  We did it though, and I loved having every chair at the table occupied, and conversations that kept us lingering there until the leftover food went cold and the plates started to crust.
            Our exchange daughter loved blue cheese dressing and would order it whenever we dined out.  Through further conversation we found that Denise had seen Queso Azul at home but never served in a dressing.  I set about finding a good recipe for it, so she could take this American treasure back to the D.R.  This recipe came from my hairdresser, or as Denise would translate: “The lady who makes hair.”  I think of Denise every time I make Queso Azul para Ensalada.
            Another recipe I recently pulled out for a class snack is for peach muffins.  I smiled as I thought of My-Friend-Shelly (her official title).  I spent a weekend with her in the Tri-Cities several years ago, and we giggled our way through gift shops, a winery and a peach orchard.  We were both new to peach picking, and the belly-hugging buckets with suspenders were quite a surprise.  This recipe was the result of having so many fresh, beautiful peaches I couldn’t figure out what to do with them all.  A quick search on allrecipes.com lead to this recipe and solved my dilemma.  I’ve been thinking of that weekend and wishing that Shelly still only lived two hours away.  I wonder if they have peach orchards in Illinois.  I’ll have to call her and ask.
            I have recipes from both our mothers from my new-bride days, a time period I call, BFN: Before Food Network.  Back then it was the mom network, and I phoned often and listened intently.  I have a sweet-roll recipe from my mom that I’ve since replaced with a much lighter dough.  I keep the card, however, as it seems somehow irreverent to throw it out.  There’s a recipe for roast beef from my mother in law that my husband and I call ‘mayhem meat.’  In her directions she states: “turn off the oven for one hour and threaten mayhem on anyone who dares to open it!”  Although we know the roast routine by heart, now, we keep the card as it puts us in hysterics each time we read it.  It’s too much of a treasure to toss.  I have other recipes that I’ve never made, but like a gift from a friend, are hard to throw away.  The intention of the giver was for sharing, and who am I not to honor it? 
            These recipes make me realize how my recipe box reflects my life in 3x5 cards.  The recipes are from friends and family, and represent specific time periods, parties and holidays.  Some are written in the hand of the giver – some still living, and some long gone.             
One such recipe, I found as I was thumbing through the bread section of my recipe box.  It’s for Potato Rolls, and it’s written in the perfectly formed, uppercase print of Grandpa Pritchard’s.  I would know that handwriting anywhere.  These were rolls that only Grandpa made, not Grandma, which was rare for a couple of their era.  He took great pride in them and unabashedly welcomed praise for his baking skills.  This has become my go-to roll recipe – I’ve never had better.
            I remember making these rolls for the luncheon that followed Aunt Carolyn’s memorial service, as we were asked to share her favorite foods or family recipes.  The nostalgia was too much for Grandma P. who had already buried her husband and now, her daughter. The roll left the taste of grief in her mouth and remained on her plate after one sorrowful bite.
            I made the potato rolls a couple of months ago in an effort to coax an appetite from my terminally ill father in law.  The bait was taken, and with the declaration, “These rolls are delectable!” he reached for seconds.  Victory! 
We’ve now passed the point of his taking in anything more than a few sips of liquid, but I’m still tempted to bake a batch of rolls in his house.  Maybe the smell of homemade bread will trigger a memory for him as his mind wanders through time and drifts away.
            My recipe box holds momentos of my life and the lives of others.  Reaching in to retrieve a recipe is like leafing through the pages of a journal or opening an old scrapbook.  In my search for food, I’m finding memories.

 *The day I was to share this piece in class, we woke to find that my father-in-law had passed away in the night.  I missed my final of day class and the instructor graciously shared the piece with the group.  One more memory to stash away in the recipe box.

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