When I was a little girl, my favorite “second” mom, mother of my best friend Brian bought each of us a soft, little duckling stuffed animals every year. I loved them dearly. Lotti bought these right before Easter at the little 5 and 10 store that was right near our old, red brick apartment building. Once we were teenagers, long after we stopped thinking about these soothing, sweet creatures, I looked for them again. For many years, I tried to find them, for their angelic smiles, for their thoughtful, deep, dark eyes, and the softness of their fake, faux fur which I stroked lovingly with my little girl fingers.
It’s holiday time and what would the holidays be like without “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” Holiday Edition, on the Food Network. I’ve rounded up some of the holiday favorites that were talked about on the show by various talented chefs.
For one chef, it was spaghetti with seafood and bread crumbs, (clams and mussels, squid, shrimp, sea urchin.) Another chef”s favorite were butter tarts, starting with a mini pie crust (baked in muffin tins) butter, raisins, and brown sugar, I think I am drooling. For another chef it was beet and carrot latkes for Hannukah. As one of the chefs said ” Hannukah has oil, Cristmas has butter.” I never knew that there could be non-potato latkes but I would try them if someone made them for me; I can’t promise that my children would. A rack of pork, pork loin roast with ribs, (don’t forget to brine the pork if you know what that means) and add some herbs and honey and serve with a compote made of apples and pears, mustard and a pinch of cayenne pepper. It looked delicious but everything looks delicious on television.
Another sworn favorite: the seafood cobb salad featured at Nordstrom’s. Yes, the department store. I’m sure its absolutely delicious but the “best thing you ever ate?” I will have to take a trip to Nordstroms, AFTER the holidays. My opinion only but it’s a salad! Nevertheless, to each, his own. The next favorite first made me groan and then grin. It was a pannini, made in Nashville. I believe it was called “The Elvis,” but don’t quote me on that. Bacon, peanut butter, banana, parsley and honey, served grilled on sour dough bread. At first it didn’t sound appetizing to me, but it sounds just nutty enough ( pun intended) to be amazing. Apparently the key ingredient is the parsley, who knew?
Duck ragout with home-made pasta, saffron, and a duck egg, is another chef’s favorite and one more: Indian pudding, served warm, using cornmeal instead of flour, molasses, cinnamon and nutmeg and served with vanilla ice cream. I can practically smell the molasses, cinnamon and nutmeg right here at my computer.
My favorite holiday tradition are the foods that bring back happy memories. They are not my favorite foods that I ever ate (look for that in an upcoming blog) but they are steeped in tradition. In our family, Christmas morning begins with scrambled eggs (we fight about how they are made each year, some wanting itsy-bitsy specks of eggs, constantly stirred, others ( like me) prefer the smooth, velvety mounds. Bacon, again, some like it half-cooked and others like it practically burnt. I think the annual arguing, not fighting, is part of the entertainment and a ritual in itself. After the eggs and bacon comes the highlight of every Christmas: Pillsbury’s refrigerated cinnamon rolls, with sweet sugary icing that comes attached in a little plastic cup.
Many years ago, when my sister and I were young, our parents frosted the cinnamon buns. I remember when our parents allowed us to take over. A few years ago (oh dear, it’s probably ten years by now) we passed the tradition down to our kids, “the cousins.” Whether its pork belly or barbeque, waffles or Peking duck, food and tradition bring families together. For us, the cinnamon rolls and icing are key, not because they are our favorite food but it’s what we remember, together, with great love and fondness, as a family.
My father died on New Years Eve, 8 years ago. Time of death was 10:20pm although the death certificate had a different, later time. I remember looking at the digital clock that still rests on the left side of the bedside table and seeing the number. I remember I was on the phone with my mother and she said “it’s done.” For a few seconds I was confused, a steak is done. My dad was gone but that’s the only way she knew how to tell me. Today is about loss, New Year’s Eve will always be about loss. For most people loss is not unfamiliar to them. I an envious and jealous of those who do not know what grief and loss tastes like, looks like and feels like.
My dad is gone and even though there are times I think I see him, or smell his cologne, he isn’t here on this physical earth anymore. I try to forget about this date but I know I can’t; I think I am over the crying and the sorrow but of course I’m not. The remembrance candle burns dimly on the old kitchen stove. My father is with me in spirit and sometimes ,but much less often now, he sends me messages in dreams or songs or smells. What I do know is this, when I need him, really need him, he is still always there for me. For this, I am eternally grateful.
Leaving and loss go hand in hand. My children are in the process of” leaving me” in a year or two, they are getting ready for it and gearing up. I know they should, they are 15 and 17 but I find the adjustment terribly difficult; more difficult than I thought it would be but I always get upset way before things happen. When the time comes, I’m a star; strong and proud. I can cheerfully wave good-bye with a smile on my face and jump up and down with joy as they practically skip to summer camp but this is very different. This is the start of a new life for them as well as for my husband and me. And, we all know, change is not one of my strong suits.
The moment a child is born, they are already leaving you, second by tiny second. You coo over the tiny pink shoes for your new sweet daughter, you feel a rush of euphoria when you find the right Thomas the Tank Engine for yours very special little two year old boy. You applaud their independence, their first step, their first wave good-bye…..you just don’t know at the time what it really leads up to. No one ever tells you what it is like later on. People want babies desperately as we did. But no one ever told us how hard it would be when they grew up. It sneaks up on you, believe me, but somehow the children don’t feel it in the same way; they can’t wait to grow up. If you were crazy enough to tell them this, they would, as expected, laugh in your face. Didn’t we do the very same thing?
Loss is very lonely, any type of loss. All things end up with you being alone in some form or another. On one side it’s frightening, on the other side it’s reassuring. It’s all we have, we need to take hold of ourselves and hold on, for whatever light that will guide us and keep us. I am scared to death with life without my husband and my children, family members and close friends and my dog, but I prepare for it in my mind. Some would say this is crazy, others will say it’s strategy. I think it’s both. We all do what we have to do to go on, another day, another week.
There’s no need to put me on suicide watch; some days and nights are harder than others. Especially tonight. Tomorrow is another day, an endless day but a new one. The start of a New Year, 2010, that I pray will be better than 2009 was. I have to believe in that.
What’s left of the old are family traditions, jelly doughnuts and chocolate glazed doughnuts once a year on New Year’s Eve. For those of us who can’t make it to welcome the New Year, our own New Year is at 9pm. Tonight, it will be just my husband and me. Most times, I like to hide under the covers and welcome the New Year in from my comfy bed. The four of us used to jump down from a higher surface to a lower one to honor the passing of the old to the new. We would celebrate with Martinelli’s apple cider together. But tonight, it’s just another day of breathing in and out, until all the pain and the anticipation of pain, leaves you calmly, slowly, and very quietly into the dead of night.