Saturday, 9 July 2011

A Daughter's Journey of Discovery...Through Food

Like most Jewish women, many of my childhood memories take place in the kitchen, with my mother happily preparing something delicious for us to eat.  The smells wafted through the rooms, and I felt warm and safe, cocooned in my parents' home.  I can remember my mother, aunt and cousins making latkes with my little brother Davie, and me.  I can still see everyone milling about my mother's kitchen while I sat at the table grating potatoes by hand.  There was an air of excitement and anticipation as we waited for the delicious latkes to come out of the frying pan and reach the table only to be gobbled up with sour cream and apple sauce.  I can remember sitting around the Shabbat (Sabbath) and Yom Tov (holiday) table in the dining room, waiting for my mother's chicken soup, rib roast, roast potatoes and tsimmes to be served - actually, I was usually the one serving it!!  To me, those delicious cooking smells represented home.
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I went on to marry into an Italian family, and discovered an array of delicacies...fresh sauce, proupettes (rice or flour latkes), coudouri (potato and flour lady fingers), rapini and more.  Eating at my mother's or mother-in-law's tables was a weekly treat.
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When our daughter Sara was born, my mother insisted on watching her while I went back to work in the family law practice.  I was blessed to have such a loving and devoted mother who loved my child as though she were her own.  She used to always say that Sara felt like her own baby...and she adored her.
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One day I arrived at my parents to discover my sweet 2-year-old Sara sitting on my mother's kitchen counter, under my mother's watchful eye, holding a bowl as big as she was between her little legs, mixing batter and delightedly chanting "mixxy, mixxy a la pixie, diddly dum and diddly dixie!".  I asked my mom if she wasn't concerned about the mess Sara might make.  She scoffed and asked me how I expected the child to learn otherwise, besides, messes can always be cleaned up.  It was at that moment I believe I witnessed the transformation of my mother from an uptight parent to a laidback Bubbie.
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I went home that weekend and started baking with my Sari.  We made many treats and cleaned many messes, and most important, in the process, many precious memories were made.
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Rebecca also learned to bake, but moreso with me than with her adoring Bubbie.  On September 11th, 2006, at the far-too-young age of 63, my mother was formally diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease.
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The 4 years that followed were a whirlwind of chaos for me and my family...trying to raise our young families, deal with all the challenges of everyday life, and watch this horrible disease ravage and steal my mother.  Life was defined by crises...entering a new phase of the disease, dealing with the crisis it presented to us, and ultimately, returning to some semblance of a "new"normal.  There wasn't time or energy to just sit down and talk about our lives, to record my mother's fading memories.  That is my only regret, that I didn't ask more questions or write down the answers. "Tomorow is another day"...well, for me it isn't.  Less than 5 years later, my mother has deteriorated to the final, lingering stage of Alzheimer's, and the answers lie deep within her.  I am learning to ask questions of my father and my uncle - her brother Jim.  In remembering stories, they are helping me to piece together some of my lost family history.
I have finally started to come to terms with the loss of my mother.  She lives within me, and I hear her voice often these days, coming out of my own mouth.  It is no longer irritating, as it was in my teenaged years, now it warms my heart, and reminds me that while she is lost to Alzheimer's, her spirit, teachings and love are alive and thriving - in me.
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It is now, during this phase of acceptance that I am finally able to start my journey of rediscovery of my mother.  I am sufficiently healed to be able to peruse the treasures my mother has left behind...not the jewellery or art, but her recipes, and many handwritten notes that accompany them.
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A few months ago I was in my parents'  kitchen, and decided to take some of my mother's cookbooks home. Sitting on my bed, I opened her "go-to" cookbook, a well-used and much loved compilation of recipes dating back generations, housed is a now well-worn golden covered book.  I discovered recipes I had thought were forever lost to me...her dill pickles, her hot mustard, (her mother) my Bubbie Lou's chocolate chip cookie recipe.  Each recipe is hand-written, by the original cook, with commentary and suggestions.  It is as if they are still speaking with me, gently guiding me through the recipe, the way my mother did when I was a girl, and the way I do with my own (not so little) girls now.
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Which brings me to the reason I am writing this.  During her recent visit to Toronto, I told my wonderful cousin Erin, who shares this rich family history with me, about my recent discovery.  We talked about how great it would be to turn my treasure trove into something the whole family - all 6 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren - could use and enjoy.
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Life is still hectic, with a teen and tween in the house, a mother in long-term care, a husband launching his own brokerage and running my father's busy law practice, but the lessons of the past 4 years and 10 months are not lost on me.  Our time here is finite, and I want to start sharing my discoveries with friends and family. I hope to discover, and share, a new recipe with you every week, and if possible, to copy the original recipe card.
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This is for my mother, who gave me the greatest gifts - life, love, family, and far too many more to list. I love you Joychee.