Monday, January 13, 2014

Blending Family in this New Year

As the holiday season passes I think it is important that we stop for a moment and reflect.  What are the memories you will keep from this year?  A great party with friends that involved far too much dancing too late into the night (morning)?  A great dish – paella for New Years, beer braised short ribs for Christmas?  Was there a birthday celebration in the middle of it all?  Did you see some long lost family members?  Get an amazing gift?  Were you reminded how crazy, wonderful or just plain insane your family is?  Did you simply catch up on much-needed sleep?  I would answer a resounding ‘yes’ to all of these questions.

A curious thought occurred to me this year baking with my family.  We all have certain objects that conjure memories for us.  My wife and I each have a kitchen tool that rarely gets used anytime but the holidays and somehow they embody all that these winter holidays are all about.  For my wife it’s an old flour sifter.  It is as if the metal embodies a sense of belonging.  The sifter is older than she is, dating back to her parents’ wedding.  The mere sound of the metal on the sifting screen makes her feel at home.  In fact, it’s the feeling of home that makes the sifter special.  She moved around a lot as a kid.  In each new home she felt securely at home once that sifter was unpacked and had found a place in the kitchen.  When it comes out to sift anything it is always accompanied by a story of memories of cardboard packing boxes, a new family adventure, and a sense of being centered and safe as long as the sifter was present in their kitchen.    
My beloved, memory-filled kitchen object is my great grandmother’s meat grinder.  I use it once per year (though I would love to use it more often) to grind the turkey organs to make my Thanksgiving stuffing – the same stuffing my family has eaten for at least five generations.  Holding it in my hand I see the kitchens it has been used in, the relatives who have used it, and the traditional meals it has helped make.  The most vivid memory is of my father using it to make ham salad after Easter.   Ham and pickles would go in, some fine greenish pink mush would come out and once mixed with some mayo became something I really didn’t want to eat – and still don’t.  But the memory of being a little boy and that sense of safety and family that goes with the memory is far more important than the food.

Now that meat grinder is a source of wonder for my stepkids.  They watch the gizzards, livers and a heart go in and fortunately forget those stuffing ingredients before we eat Thanksgiving dinner.  However, my step son is taking a liking to eating heart.  I suspect he might also find a love for that meat grinder.  My stepdaughter now can pull out that flour sifter and look to her mother for a story.  “Mom, isn’t this sifter really important to you?  Why?”  Now at the end of these holidays we have taken one more step to blending and sifting ourselves into a family.

I hope you all had a great holiday season.  Happy New Year!                
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