“Old Friends are the Best Friends,” Watercolors by Margaret Donat
My husband and I moved from the home where we raised our two children. We left them behind. They were excited to start their new lives, new jobs and independent lifestyles. While I was excited for our new adventure, the reality that we were 700 miles away from our adult children caught me off guard. How could I not know how much I would miss them?
My world had narrowed. Not only did I miss my children, but my good friends: other women that I could call on whenever I need a shoulder to cry on, laugh or commiserate with about any topic.
I needed a sympathetic ear. I needed a good woman.
I wrote this lament back in 1993, two months after the move.
Looking for a Good Woman
I need a good woman. She can be any age, although closer to my own is best. Any color, religion. She can be short or tall, thin or fat. Just so she’s sympathetic. But then most women are.
We will meet by chance and she will look at me and cluck her tongue for she will see my need. Yes, I know for I was there too, she will think. She won’t be patronizing or condescending. She will listen to my woes silently, shaking her head in recognition of universal longing and grief. She will recognize herself: her own past yearning, her own departure into another realm of existence—not without sorrow or pain. She’s been through it. She empathizes.
“No, you are not silly to cry, even at inappropriate times. Best to grieve, it will help with the letting go.”
She will not be like him who sternly gazes at me while I cry bitterly over multiple losses, while at the same time, I list the numerous merits of our move. “Can’t you get your emotions under control?”
“But at what cost?” I ask. Finding a ragged teddy bear, an old baby sweater, a second grade poem to mom brings the tightness to my throat and tears spring up but dare not spill over.
But the good woman will know there is a need to grieve for all that is gone. She will know it isn’t a weakness to miss what once was and can be no more. She will know the tears will dry in good time and life will move forward. And she knows as I do, that loss makes for strength and change turns into opportunities.
As I cry, she will remain silent until my breathing slows and my tears cease. Then she will take my hand and lead me to her kitchen. “Let’s have a cup of tea and a piece of cake.”
When I first read that men thought of sex every seven seconds, I thought that’s me. No, not that I think of sex but that I think of food frequently.
Even when I worked full time, I planned our family dinner each evening. Meal planning and cooking seemed more of a hobby that a chore. I enjoyed hosting parties and informal get-togethers.
Food had always been part of my life. Descended from two ethnic groups that think of food as love, there is no doubt I was hit with a double DNA whammy. My paternal Italian family spent Sunday afternoons at grandma’s Jersey City house: her kitchen table laden with homemade soup, bread and pasta, roasted chicken, salad, fruit, and followed by store bought Italian pastries. Expresso coffee for the adults coupled with good cigars for the men.
My mother’s Polish relatives lived in the New York City suburbs. Our less frequent trips to see them were also food centric: fresh and smoked kielbasa, stuffed cabbage, sauerkraut, boiled potatoes, red cabbage with sour cream, and a selection of homemade desserts, such as cheesecake, lemon pie and baked apples with ice cream.
My mother was a good cook. I still have her three-ring binder busting with newspaper clippings of recipes, old cookbooks: The Art of Cooking and Serving by Sarah Field Splint, 1929 and educational booklets, such as The Herb-Ox Money Saver, 1949 and Sunkist Lemons: Bring Out the Flavor, 1939. Tucked into the pages of this last book is a typed recipe for Hedda Hopper’s Lemon Pie.
Now that I’m retired and there are only two of us to cook for, food doesn’t hold the same excitement. And I’m less interested in entertaining, if one can even do this in the time of Covid-19. However, recently I read Bill Buford’s new book, Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking. After I finished Dirt, I still had a taste for more cooking stories. I dusted off my copy of Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain that I never did get around to reading. Either Buford or Bourdain had mentioned Larousse Gastronomique, the “internationally famous bible of cooking.” That’s when I went on a pilgrimage to the bookcase on the second floor stacked with books that mostly were dusted but not read.
On the bottom shelf stood The World Authority Larousse Gastronomique. It was the first American edition (1961) with 8,500 recipes. If I were to buy this book new on Amazon, I would spend $201.80 plus shipping. Okay, I am a Prime member—no shipping costs.
On the third shelf, I found a basket with all my mother’s cook books and notes.
What did this exercise teach me? First of all, the fact that I purchased Larousee Gastronomique reminds me how much cooking had meant to me. I’ll take the time to peruse this tome. Second, the trip down memory lane sorting all my mother’s cooking memorabilia challenges me to carefully sort her recipes and books. Maybe I would even try to recreate some of her dishes starting with Hedda Hopper’s Lemon pie.
The World Authority Larousse Gastronomique, the Encyclopedia of Food, Wine & Cookery Hardcover – January 1, 1961
This is the internationally famous bible of cooking, the encyclopedia-cookbook which, because of its 8,500 recipes and the full information it gives on all culinary matters, has been accepted as the world authority. Ask any chef, ask any cooking expert. You will find a copy of LAROUSSE GASTRONOMIQUE in the kitchen of any superior restaurant anywhere in the world. It is a prized possession of every gourmet who knows French. But until now it has been available only the French language. Because of the complexities of variations in terms and measurements, it has never before been translated into English. Now, after three years of intensive work by a staff of twenty experts headed by two famous editors, it has been converted for American usage. LAROUSSE GASTRONOMIQUE contains in its 1,100 large pages 8,500 recipes from all over the world and 1,000 illustrations, many in full color. Also, there are descriptions of cooking processes; full details about all foods, their nature and quality, and how to cure, treat, and preserve them; the history of food and cooking; articles on table service, banquets, food values, and diet — in fact, just about every topic of culinary interest is covered. Though LAROUSSE GASTRONOMIQUE is the prime reference book of chefs, gourmets, and experts, it is equally useful and convenient for the home cook. All recipes except for banquet specialties are on a small-group basis, stated in simple terms for convenience in the home. For this American edition, all entries have been brought up to date, notable in the articles on the preservation of food. Entries are in alphabetical order and are fully cross-referenced under both English and French names. The illustrations in color, black-and-white photographs, and line drawings, many of which were made expressly for the American edition, show not only the appearance of the cooked dish but in many cases the intermediate steps of preparation as well.
“Can I help you?“ a butcher yelled from a packaged meat display.
A few feet away, I was standing, clueless, in front of an impressive array of glass-encased chunks of red meat. “Yes, I guess,” I bellowed back. When he was situated across from me, I asked, “How many pounds of a chuck roast do I need to serve six adults?”
“About three and a half.”
“How long would I have to bake it in the oven?”
After he outlined exact hours and temperatures, I gushed my thanks. “It will be the first roast I’ve made in forty-seven years; I want to impress my family.” After no response, I added, “I’ll take about four pounds; I’ll want left overs.”
As excited as I was to purchase this $25.00 piece of thick, marbled and bladed meat, his bland facial expression told me he was not interested in why it was the…
My father, a complicated man, was the oldest son of 10 children. His parents came to America from Naples, Italy via Ellis Island at the turn of the century, and settled down in Jersey City, New Jersey.
He left school in the sixth grade to pick up bits of coal from the railroad tracks, placing them in a wagon, to later sell to buy food for the family.
My father was a tight package of a man. Dark and solid with biceps of steel and large hands heavily calloused. He worked on the docks of the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II and then in construction. When we visited Grandma for Sunday dinners, he would flex his muscles and I, and another cousin or two, would hang on his arm as our legs swung above the floor.
A hard drinking man, he was the black sheep of the family but my grandmother’s favorite. She would cook the foods he loved and he would sing and dance her around the kitchen, dodging the hot wood stove and the table that could expand to serve her large family. He never failed to make her laugh, she who took to her bed with headaches; dour and sad, more days than not.
I was his only child. I knew he would have preferred a son who he would teach to box, throw a ball and take to the Yankee games. To please him, I learned to swing a bat, hit a fastball and bob and weave as I sparred with an imaginary opponent. He took me out of school to see the 7th game of the World Series when the Yankees beat the Dodgers in 1952.
One Christmas when I was about eight or nine, I wanted a bride doll. I knew it cost a lot of money and money was always tight. My father shook his head indicating I would not get my wish.
Close to Christmas, when my father went into his bedroom and pulled the door behind him—not quite closing it—I crept up to watch through the slit. He opened the closet and reached on the top shelf and took down a box. Opening it, he removed a beautiful blond doll with a white gown and stroked her veil with his heavy hands. I guess I faked my shocked reaction when I opened the present on Christmas day. I don’t remember if I wished at the time I hadn’t peeked into the bedroom, since it diminished my surprise. However now as I look back I treasure the sight of my father gently smoothing out the doll’s veil and knowing he was making his little girl happy on Christmas.