Monday, August 2, 2010
Traditions of the Heart
I recently inherited a piece of my grandmother’s furniture. Although she passed away nearly a decade ago, this piece finally worked its way through the family to me. This isn’t just any ordinary piece of furniture, to me it is a piece of history, it is an old stand alone kitchen cabinet, complete with the grain bin, cutting board, and memories, lots and lots of memories.
When I stand in my own kitchen and look at the cabinet, I am flooded by memories of my grandmother’s cooking – which included her knack for making something spectacular out of something pretty ordinary. Memories of my grandmother’s kitchen, the walks past the Magnolia tree to check on her tomato plants, her house, and mostly, memories of my grandmother’s love.
She never skipped a beat in her instruction during the countless times I stood at her side and tried to “help” her cook. She made me my first cookbook, filled with her favorite recipes when I was only 10 years old. She taught me to shop, plan, and later in life, how to cook for my own little family. Her knack for making something spectacular out of something ordinary was something that I tried to do, over and over, and never really felt like I got there.
She was glamorous, my grandmother was. She was a model before having my mom, a traveler, and a woman who was madly in love with life. Think more Grace Kelly, less Aunt Bea. Not someone you can really picture in a kitchen passing the hours baking bread, cakes and cookies, but somehow, she managed to do both. She could make lunch on the patio seem like a five-star affair, and something as simple as a tuna sandwich seem like a meal for a princess. I always figured her extraordinary meals had more to do with her extraordinary glamor and approach to life than on technique, but I continued to try and learn.
As it turns out, it wasn’t glamor or technique. My grandmother’s little secret, the one that she let me in on shortly before she died – was love. She told me to love the ones you are cooking for, love the foods you are cooking, love the space that you’re in and its all good. Love. The secret to life, and the secret to her extraordinary culinary experiences.
As I spent the day oiling the wood and bringing the shine back to the cabinet, I felt the love that she poured into the meals she served all of those fortunate enough to know her over the years. I felt the passion that she had for whole, natural foods, and I felt an overwhelming desire to not only cook for my family – but to give them the tradition of love, and to make our meals together not just nutritional, but to make them extraordinary culinary experiences.
I was raised in a generation where cheap, mass-produced food and convenience were key, much more hip than any bothersome traditionalism, and my grandmother’s lessons in the kitchen, and in life are what are sustaining me and helping me recapture my health today. Instead of margarine replacing butter and factory-produced replicas of home cooked meals taking center stage on my table, I, like my grandmother, am seeking out fresh, whole foods, preferably local, either grown by me or someone I know. I am taking the time to cut, peel, dice, and spice, and loving the whole process. Most importantly, there is a peace and calm around the process, and I love it when people stop by to savor and enjoy the food, and each others company.
My grandmother’s love and old kitchen cabinet have taught me to keep the tradition of good food and the traditions of the heart alive…