Thursday, April 7, 2011

Soup's on!

F is for food, which also makes me think of family, and friends.

We all love food. Have you ever met anyone who says they hate food? "Agh, eating, what a chore..." And for many of us, food is tied in with family get togethers or meeting up with friends for a cookout.

i love to cook. i have Italian heritage from my mother's side, so many of my recipes have been passed down from my great grandmother (henceforth known as just "grandma") to my mom, and then to me. My love of food from other cultures has caused me to try my hand at cooking anything and everything. i started with Chinese cuisine, way back when, and have since tried my hand at Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Caribbean, and the list goes on. So far, Thai food has been some of the hardest to get right, but i'll not give up! When you've lived most of your life in rural areas, you'll find a way to have at your disposal the ethnic foods you so dearly love.

But back to grandma. She came to America from Northern Italy when she was an infant. She lived a lot of her life in New York, and later Florida. She was an amazing person. If she knew my mom was coming to visit (they were very close), she made sure to stock up on my mom's favorites. When she sent mom down to the local bakery to get bread, she always gave her enough money for two loaves, because she knew on the walk home, mom would dive into one of them. Every Sunday morning, she awoke at 6 am to start her red gravy. And yes, it's called "gravy", not sauce. One taste and you'll see why. Everyone loved her cooking.

This reminds me of a funny story. There are so many good stories, but the one i'm thinking of is the time my mom opened grandma's fridge to find two eyes staring back at her. It was a sheep's head, a delicacy. It may have been the only thing my grandma made that my mom wouldn't eat.

Grandma died when i was 7. i can't really bring to mind memories of her from life, but through stories, my mom has given me a wealth of knowledge about who grandma was. To this day, whenever i make her recipes, i think of her. Basil is very much tied up with her memory, especially fresh basil from my garden; grandma grew her own basil for her wonderful meals. No matter the dish, i often feel grandma with me in the kitchen, guiding my hands to create food made with love. i have made many of her recipes for years, but the standout is her red gravy with spaghetti. It has to be simmered for hours, for the flavors to combine properly, so most of the day the house is filled with the smells of garlic, tomatoes and Italian sausage (nevermind that my house almost always smells like garlic). My better half requests it at least a few times a month, and most who try it say it's the best spaghetti they've ever had. That's not a nod to my cooking skills, but to grandma's. It's comfort food, in the truest sense of the word.

My mom is also a great cook, and taught me so much. Getting together and cooking with her is one of the best things i know to do with a day. We laugh, we taste, we fend off the questions of "Is it done yet?". One of the best compliments my mom ever gave me was saying that she thinks i'm the better cook.

Food sustains us, nourishes us, makes us feel warm all over and holds in its smells and flavors countless memories. There are very few foods i don't like, and i swear, you'll never catch me on a low carb diet. For fuck's sake (hey, another "f" word, my favorite swear word, in fact), i have Italian lineage. i mean, pasta and bread, hello? Grandma would roll over in her grave if i stopped eating pasta.

So, today, eat, drink and be merry. Share a bite with a good friend, or get in the kitchen with your family and whip up a feast, or even just an inspired sandwich. Really enjoy the tastes, the smells. Savor each bite, as if it contained within life-giving benefits, because it does, and not just nutritionally speaking, but emotionally, too.

Oh, and as William Shatner said, "Stop and smell the garlic. That's all you have to do."

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