|Nonna with my nephew Joe, who is now in middle school. This photo hangs on the side of my refrigerator so I can see her as I cook and wash my dishes.|
Friday, February 20, 2015
Solace in the Kitchen
There are times when the best therapy is found in my kitchen. Not in stuffing my face with unneeded food but in preparing food, concocting amazing and satisfying flavors and textures, meals that soothe, dishes that garner compliments and heal.
Sunday it was bitter cold. There was no reason to leave the house. I decided I would try making gnocchi again to see if I could manage it better than my previous, infrequent attempts. The evening before, I took one of Nonna's cookbooks off the shelf and started flipping through. The largest bookmark was nestled into the page for gnocchi, very telling. That was the moment I decided I was ready to figure it out.
I thought I would have to spend a good portion of the day involved in the process. Silly me. I had everything I needed, not that you need much to make gnocchi. I baked the potatoes Saturday night. I even have a potato ricer. In spite of the periodic comments from folks that I should pare down the kitchen gadgets, I always have what I need, even if it is only once in 5 years that I will utilize the tool.
I mashed the potatoes with one of Nonna's forks, added the flour, egg, and salt, kneaded the dough, rolled it out with my fingers, cut the little nubs. Then to figure out the best technique of rolling the nubs into nuggets of potato pasta to go with the sauce in the fridge. It was all about the curve of the tines, the slight pressure and release.
It was slow at first, each oddly sized and a bit ragtag. But I got my stride and they just took form quicker and quicker. I could feel Nonna's breath guiding me until I could say, "I've got this!" In less than 90 minutes, I had mixed and divvied up all the raw dough while developing another skill that will last me the rest of this incarnation. The test was going to be in the cooking and eating later that afternoon.
There is a family history that comforts me constantly in my kitchen. There are ancestors talking softly. I have my Grandfather Popoff's cast iron skillets and oval restaurant sandwich plates, Grandma Popoff's five surviving Fiestaware dishes and one well-worn tea ball. I have Nana McConnell's apron, Nonna Laurey's sauce pot and flatware, the salt shaker and pepper grinder that my mother used daily. There is a 1920s era electric toaster from my paternal great-grandmother. Hand-painted plates by my dear friend, Lilyan Hoare, who made me earn my place as helper in her Denton, MD, kitchen. It is a legacy that I will pass along someday, I hope.
Nothing gives me more pleasure than to fuss and flutter to create a meal for those I love, parties when I am sweating over the stove mixing something up for the next course while there is chatter and laughter from the front of the house. Some people think it is an imposition, that I am being taxed. I am actually being fed. It is how I was raised. It is my mother's open door policy and busy kitchen tattooed on me. It is the echo of the dining room table in Sandy Creek when I was a toddler, the conversation at Aunt Barbara's table with the endless stream of kids and neighbors stopping by, the gleaming copper bottoms of Revereware hanging on pegboard hooks in Grandma Sechrengost's Levittown kitchen, or the Sunday dinner extravaganzas at Grandma Irenze's in Huntington. It is the resounding ripple of all the years that I have turned out amazing meals from skimpy pickings in the cupboards before payday. Just the other day as I put the final touches on a Caesar salad, my friend Jill exclaimed, "Really, you just happen to have homemade croutons in the cupboard?!" Of course! What else does one do with stale bread, other than let it crisp to the point that it will be rendered crumbs in my sister-in-law's mother's Cuisinart that Susan gave me a couple of years ago?
I am changing my relationship with food, naturally and organically. I will likely reflect on this more in the near future once I see the fullness of my transition. But the kitchen is the first room I saw when I was considering this house for purchase. I walked in the back door, took one look, and declared internally, "This is my house." It is where I dance and dream. The kitchen is where I fashion wellness and love for others and commune with those who have gone before me into the void. It is where I honor myself. The kitchen is the heart of my home and where my heart feels healthy and vibrant. Today, in spite of arctic cold, my kitchen is full of sun and safety. And now it is time for lunch...