The Recipe Box

Posted: April 4th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Extended Family, Food, Kate's Friends, Kindergarten, Miss Kate, Mom | 5 Comments »

I recently discovered granola. Turns out it’s really good with fruit and yogurt.

Who knew?

I realize this is not a revolutionary finding. I think others before me have stumbled upon this holy trinity of foods. But what can I say? I’m a late bloomer.

At the holidays some friends brought us homemade granola as a hostess gift. It sat around for a while until I was desperate for food one day. Then, as these things usually go with me, I became obsessed with it. After devouring it all, I needed to lay in new supplies. And I remembered that my mother used to make her own really really good granola.

Over the years I’ve found that taste memories have been a weirdly strong way of reconnecting with my bygone Mama—through her wine biscuits, her chourico and peppers, and especially her Polish golumpki. So I was especially fired up to unearth this long-forgotten recipe.

And, luckily for me, I have her old recipe box.

I grabbed the black Tupperware thing from my cookbook shelf. It’s hardly a charming tin box decorated with little red roosters or the word “recipes” in some cute script. This thing is a dull dark rubber, awkwardly bigger than your typical 3×5 cards, and hard to wedge into a cupboard alongside anything else. It’s unapologetic in its homeliness and obtrusiveness. And, like everything in the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle life of my mom’s, it’s utterly and thoroughly disorganized.

Of the 200-plus index cards, newspaper clippings, and recipes scrawled on random notepaper (“Glens Falls Cement Company” and “State of Rhode Island House of Representatives”), there was no way to distinguish entrees from side dishes from desserts. If I wanted my granola taste flashback, it was going to take some digging.

But as I sifted through the recipes, some hilarious in their typification of the Bruno family’s Americana cuisine—Seven-Layered Salad, Seafood Newburg, Strawberry Molded Salad, Magic Cookie Bars—I came across something totally unexpected. Postcards that my sisters and I, along with some other folks, had sent to Mom.

I had my kids late in life (told you I was a later bloomer). I’ve spent the majority of my existence child-free. But there are times when I feel an especially acute super-saturated dose of mama-ness. And it’s not when one of the girls runs to me for a hug ’cause she bonked her head, or when one of them screams from the bathroom hallway, “I had an accident!” It’s other weird little times that are harder to put my finger on. But I do know that one of them for sure is when I feel the need to hold onto something that my daughters made for me.

This fall, with Kate just a few weeks into kindergarten, Mark and I went to Back to School night. All the parents were given a little envelope of things their kid had made for them. The one from Kate contained a bunch of different drawings, and a strip of maroon paper that had the words “My family is ____.” printed on it. In the space Kate had written in “SPSHL.”

I wanted to weep with how sweet it was, and run around the room waving it in the faces of all the other parents. “Look what my smart Katie did! I didn’t even know she could sound out and write words! Is this not TO DIE FOR?!”

If only there were a locket big enough for me to hang that thing from my neck every day. It’d be like some maternal gang medallion.

If the house ever goes up in flames, I’m running back in to get that scrap of paper.

So anyway, finding these post cards, wedged into my mom’s recipe box with the same lack of order everything else was shoved in there, was like unearthing a trove of her my-family-is-SPSHL papers. Things I can imagine she wanted to look back on one day. You know, some day when she was hot on the trail of her Spicy Swedish Meatballs recipe.

One card from 1996 is from my cousin Nancy, who my mom considered to be her fifth daughter. It’s entitled “Route 1 to San Francsico” and pictures the Pacific Coast’s dramatic cliffs and coastline. “I have sore, tired feet from traipsing all over this beautiful city,” Nancy wrote. “The weather has been pretty weird—but a nice change from R.I. heat and humidity.”

One card from London, date-stamped 1998 is in my sister Marie’s writing. “Yesterday was the queen’s birthday and they had a special ceremony at the changing of the guard.” Turns out they never laid eyes on her Highness, as they were hoping to. On that card my nephew—now a few years out of college—signed his full name in a sweet, loopy school-boy script.

And from Venice, in a card without a date, my other nephew reveals, “Daddy got us lost twice already.”

There’s a card from me praising the wonders of the new-fangled heat-resistent spatula, two of which I’d apparently included with the note. And my friend Amelia sent a save-worthy card, addressed to “Mrs. B” as she called her, thanking mom for the meatballs she’d made her and remarking, “despite my protestations, I haven’t taken off the kakhi J. Crew shorts since you kindly passed them along.”

There was one from my junior semester in Paris, and another from my sister’s visit to Rome. For all I know more cards will fall out of Mom’s battered Betty Crocker cook book the next time I haul it out for something.

Did I feel at all voyeuristic reading mail that was addressed to my mom? Nah.

The fact that they were postcards—generally not the medium one reserves for private or intimate communication—helped me get past any such thoughts. And with her gone, I can’t help but feel like any new discoveries about her world are fair game.  In fact, they’re happy accidents I relish.

Besides, it wasn’t the contents of the cards that was revelatory. It was finding them in this unlikely spot. Getting a glimmer of insight into what it was my mother held dear. Always one to choose home over travel, I imagine my mother cared less for the places we all went, and more for the fact that her people thought about her when they were away.

Kate’s class put on a play a couple weeks back. A fabulous rain-forest-themed musical where the kids sang in English and Spanish, signed all the words in ASL, helped make their costumes, and painted and built out the dizzying colorful set.

It was a tour de force. The students have come light years from their “My family is____.” exercise. And Kate, as Tree Frog #2, was unstoppable.

The day after the play Kate’s backpack was brimming with artwork as usual. As I sifted through the crumpled papers—some penned by Katie, other art-gifts drawn by her friends (“To my frend Kate, Love Emily”) I came across a yellow envelope that said MOM in red, surrounded by black hearts and stars. Inside it was this letter:

Thac you MOM!

For makeg my costom.

It was grat. Avre wun wonid to tac picshrs uv me! Thac you for hlpeg me practist my lins.

Love Kate

I had to sit down on the kitchen floor to read it again.

Thank you, my dear Katie. I’m not sure where I’ll stow this little gem, but you can bet that this letter is a keeper.

As for the rest of you, if you’re ever seeking out a recipe for Ratatouille, Tuna Casserole, Green Tomatoe [sic] Relish, Pecan Sandies, or something simply called Bean Bake, I’m your gal. I’ve also got one for a little crowd-pleaser called Cut Glass Torte, which involves two different colors of Jell-O, whipped cream, and graham cracker crumbs. Take that, Alice Waters!


5 Comments on “The Recipe Box”

  1. 1 Mark said at 12:51 pm on April 4th, 2011:

    I want Cut Glass Torte!

  2. 2 kristen said at 12:57 pm on April 4th, 2011:

    I’ve been holding out on you, honey. Saving the most sublime Bruno family recipes for a rainy day.

  3. 3 Jeff said at 4:26 pm on April 6th, 2011:

    so sweet! you definitely got me teary eyed with that one.

  4. 4 kristen said at 7:52 pm on April 11th, 2011:

    jeff, were you teary over the fact that my mother couldn’t spell tomato? or that i was subjected as a child to so many foods that contained cream of mushroom soup?

  5. 5 Jeff said at 7:07 am on April 12th, 2011:

    I WAS a little sad over the whole tomatoe thing, but I think it was tied more to the sitting down on the kitchen floor to read Kate’s note again.

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