Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Happy Birthday Grandma

This blog is an exploration of how we form intimate connections with people through food.  I am amazed and fascinated by the power of a meal to create bonds between strangers, strengthen bonds between family members, and deepen bonds between lovers.  In my life, I am particularly interested in how food and cooking is forming bonds between me and my stepchildren.  But food is such a central part of my family that sometimes cooking functions to provide the unexpected.   

Today we honor my wife’s grandmother on her 92nd birthday.  She’s lived in the same house in Los Angeles for over 60 years with a small, simple kitchen... a kitchen that is a second home to my wife and her siblings.  My wife and I with her brother visited with Grandma over Thanksgiving.  Of course that’s a holiday loaded with tradition and very specific foods.  However, this past year that was to be turned on its head for me.  The three of us had hoped to cook in her kitchen and share that experience with her.  It is what we created that surprised me.
On the Friday after Thanksgiving we asked her to show me (my wife and her brother have been cooking with her since they were little) how to make tortillas.  I had envisioned a simple snack.  We ended up with a feast filled with family history and tradition.  First she showed us how to make the dough.  Of course the recipe was in her head and intuition seemed to be the most important ingredient.  Once the feel was right we let the dough sit for a bit before we formed it into small balls for rolling out.  From an overstuffed drawer she pulled a rolling pin that most resembled a sawed-off broom handle that had seen a lot of love.  Apparently that rolling pin belonged to her mother!  She proceeded to roll out a perfect circle of flattened dough about eight inches across.  She made it look so easy and chatted through the entire process.  After making a few and throwing them on a griddle she looked at me and said, “your turn.”  I was intimidated…simple as that.  I took that historic rolling pin and started to roll out…a rectangle, then an oval, then a blob. 
I took some advice, tried again and again and kept getting something closer to a football shape than a circle.  My wife and brother-in-law took turns and did better, getting near-circles and then Grandma jumped in again.  And again, perfect circles.  As we each took turns Grandma started giving directions for my wife to make a salsa verde.  Into the blender went herbs (from her garden) and spices, some tomatillos, tomatoes and before you knew it a gorgeous smell overtook the kitchen.  Meanwhile, Grandma got to work on some refried beans, eggs and arroz rojo.  I watched amazed as a feast was brought together in short order with a grace and skill I can only aspire to.  Grandma did this like a woman a third her age.
When we finally sat at the small table a colorful, love-filled Mexican feast welcomed us, all assembled by this vibrant, incredible petite woman.  This was a true Thanksgiving meal linked to our family’s past, present and future.
Happy 92nd Birthday, Grandma.  May we all have many more together.    
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