Friday, June 4, 2010

Of Salmon and Grandma Leonard

On a sunny day, when impulse was ripe, a long drive seemed like the perfect way to mix up my routine. There is something to be said for a girl who, when she is feeling like flying by the seat of her pants, goes to visit her Grandma. In any case, a trip over the sound and through the woods seemed like the perfect way to spend a day off, and to break the monotony that can sometimes encompass a 5-day weekend.

My grandmothers are both primary sources of the cooking that has been embedded in my family. Recipes and traditions passed down through generations from Russia and Italy primarily, but influences abound from Ireland, China, and any other place that has been visited or read about.

Grandma Leonard grew up in New York City, on the upper west side. Her father was a catholic Italian, her mother a Jewish Russian pretending to be Italian for a variety of reasons. In fact, my own mother wouldn't know the truth about my Great Grandmother Dee Dee's background until she was in her teens. On this side of the family, this is where eclectic cooking traditions formed. Brisket and kugel intermingling with chicken cacciatore.

Some of my favorite stories are of my grandmother's childhood; the antics, triumphs, and pitfalls, told over meals that are older than the tales themselves, presenting me with an interconnectedness to generations that I never knew. But here it is, all of that history, in the food.

While we were sitting outside discussing geraniums, my brother's travels abroad, and my social life, the discussion turned to food, as it usually does. Grandma asked me about meals I've made, and what has been on the blog recently (she is my biggest fan). I told her about the wonderful night I had had with my friend Cae when I made impromptu seared scallops and an arugla salad with Parmasean cheese, granny smith apples, and a lemon vinaigrette, followed by sitting outside, gelato and window shopping in New Canaan.

"You can make me a salad."

Grandma had poached a salmon that morning. Salmon is a staple in the Leonard household at all times, whether it be poached or smoked, to be eaten at any time of the day. The salad would go perfectly, and of course she had arugula and lemons on hand. We broke out the chips to nosh on and a bottle of white (this happens before every prepared meal I have ever experienced in that kitchen). I watched her stir rice with unmatched purpose (and love). I prepared the salad, and we had the salmon with a dill sauce that she had made. I recognized being part of this kitchen's ritual, something I had been observing since birth, and I was amazed at how something so simple could present me with such a feeling of security.

When we sat down to eat, my grandma sat in the chair she has sat in my entire life, she set a place for me across from her, where my Pop used to sit. He was a pensive, gentle man, and I had always admired his intelligence and patience. As I sat in his chair I wondered if I would be able to fulfill my own expectations of what it meant to take this seat.The dinner was exactly as it should have been, followed by frozen eclairs ("I like these because I can eat one OR two, but I can never wait long enough for them to defrost!").

Breakfast the next morning was coffee, a fried egg over-easy, and toast -- something my grandmother learned from my Pop - "It always looked delicious when he ate it so I started having it too." It became the standard breakfast of almost everyone on that side of the family for longer than I can remember (apart from lox and bagels, of course).

It amazes me how these small, seemingly insignificant moments are actually part of longstanding and rich family traditions. I can't ever make an egg over-easy without thinking of Grandma. I can't make a salad without remembering how I used to be a "taste-tester" in her kitchen as a kid, munching on lettuce and checking for vinegar content, and feeling a little proud that now I get to make my own salads. I think about my morning coffee, and how my grandma, aunt, and mother are all having their morning coffee as well. When I sit down to a table, I think of my family's table, my grandparents' tables, and how Pop would still be eating dinner while we've all moved on to dessert because god forbid he didn't savor every. single. bite.

"This is lovely!" My grandma said as we sat down to eat, and I truly felt the weight of those words.


Jenny Crowley said...
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mommy said...

I'm crying, of course.