Where? When?

Burnt Eggplant & Tomato Tahini (Recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi)


The blooms opening, pulling in all it takes so they are at their brightest and most lovely, are, of course, the signs and sacraments of spring. But what moved my Dad most at this time of the year began when ghost-grey limbs of trees stripped bare in the late fall, first got a greenish sheen to them. As day followed day, the green would take form, translucent and fragile, yes. But substantial. Real.

My dad and I followed that unfolding , on drives day after day, during each of the five springs we shared. aThe greening of the land was almost painfully exquisite to us the spring before his death. It made our trips into town on Old Selma Road magical. These days, if I won’t glance over, won’t try to get a glimpse of him, Dad is right there, riding beside me as I head to work. Such a strange combination of longing and comfort accompanies me as I strain to take in all that ordinary beauty made new once again. I feast my eyes for him, as well as me.

When my mom died, I never had the sense of presence I have with my dad. I imagine there are all kinds of reasons why. Surely, not ever having lived with my mother for more than a couple of weeks at a time since leaving for college when I was 18, had meant we lacked the kinds of rituals and routines I had with Dad. It feels strange, that absence with no sense of real presence.

A few days ago, I got a small package from Amazon, a replacement nob for the lid of one of two “Le Creuset” pieces that are my pride and joy in the kitchen. I hadn’t used the smaller piece for years because without a nob on the lid, it was hard to manage. With the lid all better, this morning, I used it to put up an eggplant dish I was preparing. Memories swirled around me like the tide rushing in. Both pieces were my mom’s. She brought the one I used this morning on one of her visits to our home in Lauderdale. The other one always sat at the top of the cabinets in her kitchen in Panamá, only to be used at Christmas to make the annual Swedish baked beans. After her death, my dad had no use for it and was only too glad to start decluttering. I lugged the piece from Panamá back to the USA in my carry-on, a 5 ½ qt dutch oven that, as they say in Colombia, weighed more than a bad marriage.

I have used the dutch oven almost weekly. Each time I lean down to pull it out of its shelf, I am aware of its weight, the strain on muscle, sinew, and bone as I lift it out. The smaller piece, pictured above, is not as heavy but my heart was particularly happy this morning as I piled a delicious new dish into that beautiful oval piece that I remembered from the kitchen of our house in Cali.

Today, what I realized was very simple. Such practical beauty, such ability to hold what nurtures and delights, such heft and “here-ness”: this is where and how my mama is with me, even now. And I give thanks…

3 thoughts on “Where? When?

  1. When my “mama” died there were two things that I took from our home. Two hefty aluminum pots that I use regularly… one a dutch oven and one a huge pot I use for making chili or chicken noodle soup… both dishes remind me of her. The reminders are partly the pots but also how she cooked which is the way I cook. No recipe… no guarantee it will turn out the same each time… but lots of love and creativity resulting in a comfort food that satisfies not only body but soul. I hope my sons who are both the primary cooks in their family will some day share those same pots and remember both Grandma and me (“mama”) for the sustenance of body and soul they shared.

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