I have started a writing retreat – two weeks of prompts based on food. It’s starting to feel really good. Here is the first day, which of course, I am writing on the 5th day. Ah well… Cheers.
In this season of darkness and merriment – when everyone is sharing their blessings, photographing their children, pulling sweaters onto their grumbling dogs – I am most in need of comfort and usually seem least able to give it to myself. I haven’t been married for years, but it’s only been the last four, I’d say, that have felt really alone. And I was never blessed with a child. Since I live with my parents, who have a fussy adoptive cat who is very skittish and also very pampered, I am unable to have a dog – even with the intention of it alieving my near constant state of depression in the winter.
My ex-husband’s grandfather, Pop, used to make me soup from scratch. I had never been a big fan of soup and sometimes overly brothy soup will make my stomach upset. But, Pops made miracle soup. And he would load it full of pasta so that I liked it.
Pops telling me how to plant my vegetable garden. I would buy my seedlings from the Julianos – a farming family who had been my landlords when I first moved to the Utica area as an AIDS Case Manager. They would sell me veggies out of the back of the truck in the summer as they returned to the house with what was left from the stand. Joe would push a few extra zucchini on me – “Ah, these need to be eaten, Jen.” And Debbie made me an apple pie with the crumbly top one time when I made their girls each a Christmas ornament.
Pops would come and raid my garden – and while I’d sass at him over it, secretly I loved it. He’d gather up his basil and tomatoes and peppers. He and Vinny and the rest of the (idiotic) men in the family would get together at my mother-in-law’s on Sundays and fry up the long hots and see who could eat it almost straight from the pan without showing any real pain at its heat. My first year of growing the peppers, they were practically nuclear as I’d planted cherry peppers and long hots next to one another – so they cross pollinated – and became very, very hot. Pops usually won the contest. Of course, he’d also have hiccups for at least an hour afterwards.
Living with my uncle, I suffered from stabbing pains in my abdomen, which after about 5 years were correctly diagnosed as gall stones, leading to my gall bladder’s removal. My gastroenterologist had decided that the pains were simply anxiety attacks prior to that. Nevertheless, Uncle Matt found that his spaghetti sauce and angel hair pasta and some good garlic bread would make me feel better. It was a process. Start with the sausage – half hot and half sweet. Then, add in the sauce, some paste, some parsley and garlic. Get the water boiling for the pasta. Pop in the bread to the oven. Drop the angel hair into the bubbling water for a few minutes until it was al dente and drain. Then, one, two, three, plate – pasta – sauce – cheese – breadsticks – lots of napkins – and take our seats on the old couch in front of a fire and usually a crime show like NCIS or CSI, unless it was Christmas, when I’d subject him to my old cartoon and Claymation movies as well as Christmas Vacation with Chevy Chase. One of the benefits of this meal, of course, was that there were certainly leftovers for another meal – planned future comfort.
Oddly, I’m suddenly thinking of Licorice All-Sorts. My mom’s dad, Grandad, who was British, loved them. He’d eat the whole black ones and I remember mom and I taking turns pecking away at the ones with the white centers, the pink hard candy covered ones, the blue, the yellow. I haven’t had them in years, but suddenly I have a craving for them.
And petit fours. My Grandmere, my father’s mother, always had petit fours for Christmas. I’m not sure where she got them. But they were so typical of my grandmother. She had been raised as a “lace curtain Irish” – it was all about appearances. So, when we had holiday meals, we had all stops pulled out – the finest cut of meat, asparagus (which none of us children enjoyed, and I doubt my parents did, either, as Grandmere tended to overcook them), Pepperidge Farm rolls, Land O’ Lakes butter in the tub, heavy gravy that had to be made from the drippings, whipped potatoes (not mashed – Grandmere’s were whipped), fresh flowers, linen napkins, silver candlesticks, the family china… Of course, some of the fanciness was lost in the fact that Grandmere and her two sisters would get quite tipsy (ahem) on their Canadian Club, and their cousin Mary Alice on her Manhattans. While the old ladies were sending verbal volleys back and forth – some harkening back decades in the past – I comforted myself with warm buttered rolls and pretending I was anywhere else.
Sorry – sometimes comfort comes when in the midst of people who love you, but nonetheless end up hurting you.
And candy. Yes, we made candies for a couple of Christmases with mom’s friend Joanne Luce and maybe some other ladies. I remember learning how to use the chocolate molds to create chocolate lollipops – and painting them with colored chocolate. Making peanut butter cups, mint cups, pecan turtles, and likely more things I’ve since forgotten, while mom and Joanne chatted on and shared coffee and Jillian and I created and decorated and felt quite the bakers extraordinaire!
One of the most constant comforts is tea, for my mom, sister and I. My mother, being British, drinks tea with milk and sugar like most people drink water. And so, growing up, whenever Jillian or I felt sick or frustrated or blue, mom would tell us to take a bath and have a “cuppa tea” and all would be right with the world. I think it’s time for some tea right now.