Monday, September 7, 2015

Nostalgia often an ingredient in my kitchen

Nostalgia snuck up on me while I was shucking a dozen ears of corn from the local farmer’s market this weekend. Suddenly I was transported back to my childhood patio, sitting with my Grandpa Al and a big pile of corn, removing the husks and placing the cobs in a huge pot, ready to cook. 

Grandpa Al feeling patriotic
at a summer cookout
Patient and kind, my grandpa was always happy to sit and chat, listening to my tales and showing genuine interest in what I had to say, while also sharing some of his own wonderful stories. I have many fond memories of Gramps, whether he was dancing around the room with me on his feet, teaching me about the flowers in his yard, or playing shuffleboard in his neighborhood. We spent many summer days with my grandparents, enjoying fresh produce from the farms in eastern Long Island. When I think about all of those family cookouts, the warmth my grandpa exuded glows brighter in my memory than the summer sun.
My dad, me and Grandpa Al 

I suppose it is natural for some wistfulness to linger at the unofficial end of summer that comes with Labor Day weekend. As colder weather looms, we reminisce about the carefree summer days and fun outings. Naturally, thoughts of my grandpa made me think of my mom. When I take a glimpse of my childhood summers, it is so easy to picture my mom donned in her bright bathing cap, happily swimming back and forth through the Long Island Sound water at our town beach, where we spent every day each summer. I love to look back and picture the joy on my mom’s face as she soaked up sun at the beach or bustled about the kitchen preparing food for our family gatherings.

Another summer memory:
My mom and me when I graduated from Penn State
Melancholy sometimes creeps into those memories, too, since my mom died almost 20 years ago. I miss her every day, but I like to share my memories with my kids so they can get to know her through my stories. I think making food from her recipe collection also helps my son and daughter feel a little closer to her. I wasn’t sure I would be able to share my mom’s recipes with my kids when I changed my cooking habits 12 years ago to feed my son Joseph, who is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, egg, soy, sesame, mustard, watermelon, cantaloupe and strawberries. But successfully substituting ingredients allows me to share my mom’s recipes along with those memories. I smile at least a couple of times a week while making pancakes using my mom’s recipe, switching out ingredients to make them safe for Joseph.

Pamela at the farmer's market
The comfort of one of my mom’s recipes was just what I needed during my nostalgic reverie this weekend, so I made an allergy-friendly version of her cinnamon braid. I always chuckle as I look at my mom’s recipes with vague notes in the steps like “add some flour” because they are a reminder of a habit we share to often wing it in the kitchen. As my kids gobbled down the yeasty bread coated with cinnamon and sugar, I told them how my mom would greet us from a day of sleigh riding with warm cinnamon braid and hot cocoa. Thankfully, it is not snowy and cold yet, but that bread gave me a delectable hug while putting grins on my kids’ faces that reminded me of the sweet smile my grandpa would share on my childhood patio. After enjoying the warm bread, my daughter Pamela said she wants to learn exactly how to make her grandma’s yummy cinnamon bread so she can bake it for her kids when she’s a mommy.  And with that my melancholy melted away.

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