Thursday, July 15, 2010

Letter to the Extended Family

My family, on my mother's side, consists of all the descendants of my great grandmother. Shortly after she passed away my mother and aunt put together a family cookbook. While the primary goal was to preserve my great grandmother's recipes, they also accepted submissions from other family members. Many of the recipes from that cookbook have become staples and my parties and social functions. This book, and other projects like it, are a big part of what holds my (very) extended family together. So now the time has come to try to put together a second edition, and I've decided to head up the project. This is the letter that I sent out to my family to explain the project, which I hope to also use as the introduction to the second edition.

Names have been removed. For the most part they've simply been replaced with the relative's relationship descriptor.

To the Members of the Family _________,

The scions of our branch of the family met at the beach house last summer for a weekend. While there we discussed the need to create a second edition of our beloved family cookbook. "Why?" you may be wondering. "What is wrong with the cookbook we have?" Nothing is wrong with it! Well, except for the typos, outdated graphics and the occasional recipe that is simply wrong (as an example, my great Aunt's pickled mushrooms do not use pepper). But overall there is nothing wrong with it! It is certainly a better record of family culinary history than most extended families have. My personal copy has been a constant kitchen companion for as long as I've had a kitchen to use it in. Recipes from that book have fed friends and parties and have always met with raving success.

And yet, it is still woefully incomplete. Many of the recipes I grew up most directly associating with family trips and holidays weren't included in the original cookbook. Where is our Great Aunt's delicious carrot soufflé? Or our cousin's totally amazing challah? Or my Aunt's "famous" cheese tarts? These are the family recipes I long for and cherish and I would like to see them all in one place rather than scattered on recipe cards or still lacking from my recipe collection.

Of course, there would be more to a second addition than simply adding recipes that I personally feel are lacking from the first. I'm not sure when the original book was published, but I think I'm safe in saying that it was over 20 years ago. In those 20 years children have grown up, gotten married and had children of their own. They have developed and discovered their own recipes as well as married into families with their own culinary traditions. They have lived in foreign lands, and settled in distant states. And they have no doubt acquired prized dishes, college culinary experiments, and the occasional in law oddity that all deserve to be represented. When I look through my family cookbook I see very little representing my own small family, or the families of the cousins I grew up with. As our extended family extends ever farther, I feel that we need the binding element that this book provides more than ever.

When talking about community building, so much of it always comes back to food. When we talk about having friends in our neighborhood we mention about how we'll be able to "borrow a cup of sugar" from them. When planning weddings and bar mitzvahs so much of the party planning is focussed on what will be served. We understand that when we are melancholy there are certain "comfort foods" we can turn to. And almost every major Jewish holiday revolves around a festive meal (except when they specifically have us NOT eating). What we eat, and who we eat it with, are a large part of what help us create a sense of commonality. At this point, our family has spread so far and grown so large that it's unlikely we're ever going to get everyone together at one big passover seder, but just because we aren't sitting down at the same table doesn't mean that we can't be sitting down to the same foods.

And that's the goal. To create a cookbook that represents the family in it's current incarnation and allows us to all have something in common, no matter how far apart we might be or how long it's been since we last saw each other. So send us your new recipes developed or discovered as you've grown up and moved out on your own. Send us your variations on recipes from the original cookbook. Send us the staples from your in-laws' family or that crazy innovation by your spouse. And send us your old classics that some how escaped publication and all the minor corrections that have been lingering unfixed for over 20 years.

I can't wait to see them all!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


So to acknowledge all the people who are now following my blog ("Hi followers!") I figured I should post something. Unfortunately, I don't really have anything new to say at the moment. There are a couple entries in draft form, but they're really not ready for publication. Luckily, however, I have at least one more old entry that hasn't been transitioned over yet. So I figure I'll go ahead and post it here so you all have "new" material to read and then relocate it to it's appropriate, backdated location at a later time.


13 May 2009

He always comments on the normal people moments. Sitting in a coffee shop laughing at the pretentious conversations. Driving around town listening to a newly purchased cd. Lying in bed watching me get ready for work in the morning. But these aren't the moments that stand out for me. The moments I love, the ones that sear themselves into my memory and bring tears to my eyes, are those sweet, passionate, and intimate moments that normal people not only will never have, but will never even understand.

I made him a collar. I bought a silver colored pendant tray into which I placed a picture of the name I have given him and I glued the glass down over it. I strung the pendant on a braided leather cord which I capped with silver crimp beads. To those I attached a bar and loop closure. My thought was that this closure style, as opposed to a clasp of some sort, would allow me to pull the necklace tight and be able to choke him with it at times. While this effect worked as planned, there were some drawbacks to the style that I hadn't considered.

"I made you a present," I told him as he kneeled before me, "and it will belong to you like you belong to me. But just like how you belong to me, there are some rules. Only I can put it on you. And no one but me can take it off you. It is
yoursbut you can't put it on or take it off yourself. Do you accept?"

He did, and I placed it around his neck. He wore it the rest of the evening, even as we went to dinner with my husbands family. It was such a bizarre and pleasant sensation to look over and see it hanging around his neck and to know what that meant. He was mine. This strong, forceful man not only belonged to me, but wanted it acknowledged.

Later in the evening we discovered the flaw in its design. At some point while rolling around in bed the bar slipped the ring and it fell off. I noticed almost immediately and resolved to put it back on at the first opportune moment. However, when that moment came I rolled over to pick it up and found it no longer sitting on the pillow next to me. I looked up to see it back around his neck and I grew cold with anger.

"I only gave you two rules. You can't even get through a night with out breaking them?"

His eyes widened and his speech was rapid and scared. "I didn't take it off. It fell off. No one else took it off." He sounded like a child who has just realized he's in trouble but isn't quite sure why.

"You aren't supposed to put it on yourself, either." I have stopped moving and am simply stradling him, staring down at him reproachfully. "I only gave you two rules."

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." In the face of his fear and contrition my anger has faded to a sort of menacing joy. It's not an emotion I have felt before and I allow myself to slip further into it before giving in to my need to comfort him. As angry as I was at him for breaking such simple rules, the truth is that these rules are new to him. They are not something he has ever had to deal with before and . . .

"Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. It's alright." But I know my words of comfort are not enough. They do not satisfy my earlier anger, nor my current menace. More importantly, they do not satisfy his sense of guilt. With an open palm I hit him hard enough to turn his head sharply to the side. "But don't do it again."

The evening continues. Eventually we grow tired and things wind down. We're lying in bed with him curled up in my arms. As even the conversation begins to die down into tired murmurs, I decide that, given the item's apparent tendency to fall off, I should probably remove it before we fall asleep. I reach up and undo the clasp and begin pulling it off when I hear the whimper from the body in front of me.

"I don't want you to lose it while you're sleeping," I said by way of explanation, hoping to calm the despair from his body.

"I don't want to lose it," he said. His voice sounded so young. Is it odd that, in these moments, I continually compare him to a child? And yet there is no other explanation for his tone other than that used by a child who is trying to be convinced to leave behind a prized possession against his better, emotional judgment. I held it for a moment, draped over his shoulder before coming to a decision. Afterall, even if it fell off during the night, it would only fall into the bed. We'd be able to find it in the morning. Coming to that realization I quietly placed it back around his neck. All his tension escaped out of him in a rasping sigh and I felt his body relax, content, against mine.

Can I possibly describe how that moment pulled at my heart? He'd told me he loved me before, but I don't think I ever felt it as powerfully as just then. When he whimpered at its removal I think it was the first moment I believed he liked it as much as he said he did. On the one hand there was the simple gratitude of having a gift that I had put so much time and effort into designing and crafted being liked and appreciated. It was a normal person's motivation. But there was also all the meaning and symbolism invested in the object; to know that it all was important enough that, even sleeping, he wished to remain in my possession was - powerful. And perhaps inexplicable. I don't think "normal people" would ever understand why that small whimper could move me to tears. And those who
can understand - well, they don't need the explanation.