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Signs Of Life

Columns by Pamela Majteles

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Family Recipe

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Posted by pam on January 14, 2011 at 10:14 pm

Originally published December 8, 2006

This column is reprinted with permission from The Hills Newspapers.

They say it runs in families.  Being athletic, musical or artistic are traits sometimes shared by family.  My own family shares something else entirely.

Instead of trading tips for the upcoming game like a family of athletes, we swap recipes.  Rather than sharing final scores, we compare cooking times.  The common ground for my family is the kitchen not the playing field.

All the current family gatherings remind me of past ones.  Those times my family came from far and wide to share not just holidays but recipes.  While catching up on the latest news, every one was also catching up on the best ways to sauté and flambé. (Sauté with hot pan, and flambé with caution.)

The ultimate holiday gift was not wrapped up but written down.  Better than any present of the latest fashion was the latest recipe.  While others’ holidays might be remembered for the presents and wrappings, ours were known for the Blitz Torte (beat egg whites until glossy) and Filet of Sole Rendezvous (poach just until opaque).

In all families, certain members have reputations.  In my own, you knew to avoid bossy Aunt Fran and hug sweet Grandma Dow.  You were also known in my family by your recipes.  At the end of a hard day, you wanted the old-fashioned, comfort food of Aunt Marie.  When it was time for a little sizzle, Grandma Mimi’s bite-sized, party food was the way to go.

While growing up in my house, there were two cooks in the kitchen.  Along with my mother, my father cooked too.  His reputation was for elaborate one-of-a-kind dishes.  He worshipped at the altar of famous French chefs of the day.  My father’s recipes were as hard to pronounce, Poule au pot d’Henri IV (chicken with stuffing) and Croquembouche (cream puff tree), as they were to prepare.

My mother, on the other hand, was known for simple, elegant food.  Although everyone admired my father’s cooking, it was my mother’s recipes they wanted.  They saw the effort involved in my father’s extraordinary food.  However, my mother’s cooking was equally special, and like watching the steps of an accomplished dancer, she made it look easy.  In actual fact, only the prima ballerina can perform “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” in the holiday classic “The Nutcracker”.

One year, my mother shared all her steps when she made cookbooks of her best recipes as holiday gifts.  The pages of her cookbook were like an album of greatest hits with Nutty Rice Salad (toast pecans until golden), Winter Harvest Casserole (bake until bubbling), and Festive Egg Square (garnish with parsley).  In addition to her own hits, she included those of family members, because she knew the audience claps as loudly for the other dancers in “The Nutcracker” as they do for the lead.

Looking through my mother’s cookbook these days always reminds me of what makes a family special.  There are the things we share in common, such as a love of cooking.  Then, there are the unique things about ourselves we share with one another.  It can be Aunt Marie’s Old-Fashioned Meatloaf (soak bread crumbs in milk) or Grandma Mimi’s Party Meatballs (use a dash of Tabasco).  Both are made of similar ingredients, but each has a taste all its own.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.

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