On Cooking: 18 Months Later

Since I started my weekly baking experiments, I remembered an old blog post that I wrote about how I want to learn to cook. It isn’t going to be about perfection. For me, cooking is turning into honoring the people I miss every day. It is not a coincidence that the first thing I try to bake is my “grandfather’s recipe” for bread. While this summer I did not do any grilling, the year wasn’t entirely wasted. I did my grandfather proud with the bread.

For those too lazy to click the link, I’ve included the entire post here.

Currently, I’m reading Heat by Bill Buford. It’s a memoir of his time in Mario Batali’s restaurant, Babbo. One of the sous-chef’s taught Bill how to, “cook with love.” He goes on to write that the success of a meal is determined by how much love is included in the preparation. Simply put, this sums up my entire families history of cooking.

What made my father’s pancakes the best pancakes in the world was not how he tweaked the recipe. It was the amount of care he put into each batch—and anyone who had ever eaten breakfast at my house can attest to that fact. My dad wanted to make sure that everyone who ate at our table knew that they loved.

My dad cooked breakfast for Tony and I from kindergarten to high school. On those rare occasions where my mom had to “fill in” she invariably got it wrong. She didn’t know what my dad called the various breakfast items (all star-wars references, of course). Also, breakfast wasn’t her thing. As much as my mom loved tony and I, breakfast wasn’t he way of showing how she cared.

With one major exception.

My mom made Crepes once the year after my dad died. If breakfast was his thing, then crepes were his specialty. Technically, this is brunch—but I don’t want to be too bogged down in minutiae. This was his Mother’s day gift to my mom. The meal was always this: Home-made crepes, home-made maple-butter, chicken livers in Madeira sauce, bacon, sausage and Mimosa’s. Tony and I were to clean the table and do the dishes. A few times, I made sure that fresh flowers were available for my mom too. It is impossible to understate how my dad prepared this meal and what it meant to my mom.

I want to say she made it on Mother’s day. I spent the night at home, Tony and Jackie came for brunch. She spent the morning attempting the recipe, trying to make the maple butter and getting the crepes perfect. I think she even did the chicken livers. The hardest part of the meal was cooking the crepes right. We had this persnickety old crepe maker, and according to my mom, only my dad knew how to use it. After she ruined the first five crepes, she threw a fit.

According to my mom, she slammed the lid of the crepe maker down and, nearly in tears yelled, “Alright Pat, I know this is your meal, but I am going to make it. Either you help me or you get the hell out of my kitchen.” Her next crepe cooked in the shape of a heart. She said it was cooked perfectly.

That is how I want to cook. I want to master all the recipes that my mom and dad had: From the grilling to crepes. This means I am going to need more people to cook for.

This also means I an going to have to buy groceries instead of a variety of beer.

Dealing

The best way to deal with stress, trauma or grief is to actually allow oneself to address it. Culture, society and family have us “Deal” with things in some of the least healthy ways. Drinking, fighting, arguing and just “being a dick” seem to be the top ways people actually address their loss. We are not allowed to actually feel it.

Take one day. Let yourself feel what your body is telling you. It will not be enough to heal, but it would work for at least one more year.

Friday Fiction: Grief

I think in July I’ll upgrade to allow for onsite storage, so I can (eventually) podcast. For now, I’m sticking with my Me.Com storage space.

This most recent Toastmaster speech was on grief, with a tribute to my mom and dad. The sound quality isn’t great–we’re still working on that–but this is my Friday Fiction.

I should have spent more than two hours working on this speech. It shows in the conclusion. If I ever redo it, I can dedicate at least another thirty seconds to it.

What I believe

Today I’m taking a break from economics, politics, social science, sexually aggressive children and Liberal Anger to think about the past four years. Stay with me, as I’m going to ramble. I’ll try and proof this at some point, but I don’t promise a damn thing.

Four years ago, I raced down the Eisenhower Expressway to get to Loyola so I could say goodbye to my mom. Actually, that’s not true. I did 120+ down the Ike to tell my mom not to go. I missed her by five minutes. The day before, her oncologist reminded her that, “there may come a point where the fight’s over.” The point where the radiation, chemo and cancer treatments would not even maintain her quality of life. My mom told everyone as best she could how much she loved us, then she passed away. Knowing her like I did–a story in and of itself–I know she passed away without much fan faire because she did not want to be a burden on her kids. I also think she wanted a few moments alone to make peace with herself and God. It was her one selfish act, and she had earned it.

When I asked a few weeks ago, “What do you believe?” I was going through the early process of missing my parents. I want to believe that there is a heaven, a communion of saints, a benevolent, omnipotent and omniscient God. I so I want to believe in the idea that when I die, I would get to live on in some form with my parents. I want that comfort.

Yet, I do not need that comfort to continue living. It would make life easier, hence the “want”, however I refuse to believe in something just to make my life easier. That is a form of moral and intellectual dishonesty that my parents would be appalled at.

Like Seth and Torteya, I fear oblivion–and not just for myself. When I think of the atheist’s idea of the end, I want to scream for my parents. It is unfair, unjust and just plain wrong to snuff out who they were. Of course, I am thinking of myself in this regard: I miss their guidance, my dad’s wit and wisdom, my mom’s amazing ability to make peace (or surprise me with a well placed F-bomb); yet I also think of my friends and family who have been touched by them in some way. How many problems could have been dealt with with one single phone call from my dad (I know one recent reader knows exactly what I am talking about) or how just talking to my mom would make an unbearable weak turn into an opportunity.

My mom brightened up the cancer ward at Loyola. The nurses loved her. She would help the other patients with small acts of kindness–helping to pass out cookies, telling them which part of the ward had the better snacks, listening to them talk about their own treatments–even when she just wanted to worry about her family. Not herself, but the burden she felt she caused her family. This is not a woman who should be confined to oblivion.

I do take comfort in the fact that she knew that her friends and family relished the idea of being able to help her in her time of need. Her church friends loved sharing their cooking with her. Old friends from her teaching days loved to talk politics and keep her company. The year I moved back home to take care of her will be one of the highlights of my life.

Before my parents died, I was a casual Catholic. After my dad died, I still believed. Hell, I was determined, on some level, to maintain my Catholic identity in the face of its co-optation by the Right. I still believed shortly after my mom died. Now, four years later, I struggle with the idea God. Like YvaDiva i am repulsed by the idea that my parents were “duped” into belief. I am scared and angry that they may be gone forever. Without my parents guidance, my faith is far smaller than a mustard seed.

Losing my parents harmed my faith. I don’t find the platitude, “the Lord works in mysterious ways” to have any modicum of comfort. It is a cop-out of the highest fucking order; however, in all fairness, I find solace in Woody Gutherie’s words.

I know I am still angry about my parent’s illness and death. Hell, I’m mad that my faith in God was harmed by my church community. My family was betrayed by a priest and my parish turned on the best pastor we ever had. I have seen my faith turn it’s back on its mission of social justice and turn into a monster of a monolith. I know my mom would be disappointed in this; however, she wasn’t so close-minded to believe that one must be a believer to be a good person.

The more I think about it, the more I believe in what my mom believed in. I believe that people are inherently good. I believe that people can change. I believe that hard work should be enough to guarantee one success in life, but that it doesn’t always work out that way. I believe that being kindness is the way to solve most of one’s ills–but that does not mean one has to cave, be weak or give up.

Like her, I believe that you don’t stop fighting until you’ve done everything you can do. And even then, you go out with grace.

I don’t have my mother’s faith, and I know that makes me a weaker person than she was. At the same time, I know she wouldn’t want me to believe in her ideals just because they were hers. I also know that she wouldn’t want me to miss her as much as I do, I know she would be touched at how I try to live like she did.

I miss you mom. More than I can really ever say.