Madame von Meatball: How it All Began

Holy schmidt, I found my old recipe book.

Does everyone have something like this at one point or another?  A notebook or composition book with recipes torn from magazines and newspapers, some pasted or taped in, some loose?  This was mine.  I’m looking through the pages as if looking through an old yearbook.

Oh my God, the eggplant rollatini.  I made this dish for the first time when Jeeps and I were dating, at his parents house in Ridgefield.  I laugh to think about this now.  I just went over with a grocery bag of ingredients and the recipe torn out of Redbook magazine, took over their kitchen and made dinner one night.  Thank God my future in-laws were such groovy people.  I really need to make this again…

*Gasp* The nectarine-kiwi tart!  I never made this but I had aspirations to.  I mean look at it, is that not divine?

And then, from myriad of clippings tucked between the pages, I found this:

This, my friends, is what I wrote down one day in the spring of 2001, when my mother came over to my house in Croton Falls to teach me how to make meatballs.

We were a wreck.

Not because of anything bad between us.  We were just on shaky ground.  Two years ago, we had closed the dance school my mother had run for over 30 years, the school where I had grown up, and where I had taught with her for 9 years.  We lived, ate, drank and breathed the school.  I’m sure it wasn’t all we talked about, but it seemed like it was all we talked about.  Suddenly our common thread was tied off and clipped.  Suddenly there were awkward silences between us.  I felt like I had to get to know my mother all over again, and she me.

I was also in the grip of serious post-partum depression.  I was twelve pounds underweight, fighting terrible anxiety attacks, trying to deal with going back to work, trying to figure out motherhood as well as daughterhood.

My mother came over to cook.  I know she was upset and scared for me, but she was so gentle.  She didn’t offer advice, she didn’t try to fix it.  She just came over to cook.   She showed me how to put old hamburger and hot dog buns through the Cuisinart to make fresh crumbs.  We did the same with parsley and put it in a ziplock bag to keep in the freezer.  We made meatballs in gravy.  I think we may have even made spanikopita that day, too, but I mostly remember making meatballs.  I remember asking her, for the first time, “Did you want to have a lot of children?” (There is just my brother and me, but I wondered what her vision of a family had been when she was young).  I remember her drinking a cup of coffee and furrowing her brow before she responded, as if this was the first time anybody had asked her.  We talked about children.  We talked about mothers.  We talked about food.  Together, stumbling, we began the steps of a new dance.

It was the day my mother began to become my friend.

I make meatballs by rote and instinct now.  I don’t need these pieces of paper anymore.  But I’m going to keep them forever because they are more, so much more than a recipe.

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4 comments on “Madame von Meatball: How it All Began

  1. Julia says:

    This is an amazing, deeply moving post, not just because I attended the ballet school and know your family (which makes the scene even more vivid to me), but because it touches on all those deep undercurrents that run between mothers and daughters and are so difficult at times to put into words. I love that you found the old cookbook, showed us pictures of it, and how recipes discovered and cooked at certain key points in our lives take on a nostalgic quality. The more transparent we are as writers the more profound the impact on the reader. I read this out loud to a friend who loves to cook and she really enjoyed the post.

  2. Claudia says:

    Tears. In. My. Eyes.

  3. Carol Bierman says:

    Thank you for sharing and for being my most loved friend. Your words brought tears to my eyes. I love you!!!

  4. Kathy says:

    Thanks for sharing this piece of your life. Cooking is just not a menial chore anymore since this blog has started.

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