I was twenty two years old, recently uprooted from Cleveland, Ohio (where I felt so comfortable I was clawing at the walls to get out) to Albuquerque New Mexico (where I knew no one and nothing of the culture). I was fresh out of school, fresh out of a relationship, pumped full of enthusiasm and naivety and the desire to carve my own path in the world.
Twenty-two. With an exciting place to live and get lost in (which I do frequently as I have a terrible sense of direction- thank goodness for the Sandias for helping to guide me home), a new job, the freedom and burden of financial independence, and a deep desire to cultivate something familiar amidst the thrill and newness of everything else.
I convince my grandmother Helma (my mother’s mother) to write down her recipes, the ones whose taste I know by heart, onto note cards and send them to me, which she does, often one-by-one in the post. (That’s my grandparents on their wedding day below, looking gorgeously dapper.)
I take on the self-made project of creating a family cookbook, for which I spend hours on after work, tapping out the recipes and adding my grandmother’s or my own little anecdotes to accompany them, onto a crappy computer in my little house in the middle of the city, in the middle of the desert. At 11pm, the night before I’m scheduled to fly out for a Thanksgiving family reunion, I race to Kinkos (sign of the times- do they even still exist??) to copy and bind together my poorly-edited work, so I can distribute to my family and a few very sweet and grammatically forgiving friends. The results, though meaningful to me both in the practice of creating it and its familiarity, contain what are both the highlights and low-lights of my grandmothers cooking. There is a tuna mousse recipe, for goodness sake. But, at the time, it didn’t matter- it was mine.
In the past few months, through circumstances I have had little control over, so much of the familiar has been stripped away from my life. Our daily structure (temporary) and our family structure (permanent) have sent us into a free fall/float, during which the desire to find some familiarity has become strong; a need to anchor my feet as my head cannot help but wander towards the clouds. I’ve probably created a hundred different ideas for cookbooks and articles and essays I will likely never write. The tangents have taken me miles away, down twisty little nuanced paths as I created more and more complex and intricately specific ideas. It’s been so much fun! I hope to write a few of those books or articles one day. Simultaneously, whilst retracing and revisiting the food of the city where I grew my wings (Albuquerque) I also find myself mentally flipping through this book. My roots. A loop back to the start of my food journey, with the book I titled Grandma’s Legacy.
There are many pieces of the book itself that are cringe worthy and pretty embarrassing (recall the tuna mousse mention earlier…) but there are some real gems here too. Once the weather cools down a bit more, it’s time to wade through it, to give a bit of credit rather than embarrassment to that wildly and wonderfully naive twenty-two year old who was searching for her roots during the growing pains of strengthening those wings. I plan to cook some of the recipes in this book, good and bad, that remind me of my grandparents, of my father, of the people and places that will always feel familiar and stable no matter what chaos is swirling around me. The collection of recipes will likely never make it into a published book, and a lot of them really shouldn’t. But, so long as a few of those recipes become ones my daughters begin to know by heart and by taste, then the book’s original title will have been aptly named.
We should all have those handful of recipes, good or bad, that we turn to for familiarity, for comfort, as we experience the growing pains of whatever next stage in life approaches or upheaves. Despite their vast differences (Jewish/Eastern European vs. New Mexican) somehow my memories and comforts have found themselves twisted together into one strong trunk, planted in a place in time that I will continue to reference for strength, structure, and nourishment to grow.