Wednesday, March 25, 2009
He was the worst housekeeper I'd ever seen. His kitchen table was piled high with strata of magazines, dishtowels, mail, cookie sheets, books, more magazines. The stack climbed the wall and left just a six inch ledge where he could balance a plate while he piled things onto it. I didn't want to touch anything for fear of a landslide. To this day he still perches dishes on the edge of the counter rather than sit them firmly on the expanse of counter top.
The first meal he ever made me was trout with pecan sauce on top, nestled in a pool of browned butter. Who knew the way to a woman's heart is through her stomach?
He's from New Orleans and he loves to cook and talk about food. He'll be eating a fabulous lunch and casually ask, "What's for dinner?"
I don't think that far in advance. He's a cookbook cook. I love to improvise. Show me what's in the refrigerator and stand back. I have no formal training. I'm just a good home cook and proud of it.
I cook by color as well as flavor and I come up with things like Pomegranate Salad which is a tribute to the Armenian side of my family. Pomegranates are the beloved fruit of Armenia. The grapes are a tribute to my Aunt Peg and Uncle Mesik who raised grapes for raisins. The walnuts are for the stories my dad, Horan, tells about shelling walnuts when he was growing up in Selma, California. He can identify every fruit and nut tree as we whiz by the fields at 65 mph.
The honey, is for my grandparents, Elisa and Krikor who made a life here in the States after a world of heartbreak. My grandmother surrounded their house with a hedge of gardenias. I remember the smell of their blooms even though I can't picture her face. That hedge stood for years after her death, a testament to her desire for sweetness.
Here's the recipe:
3 tbsp. of honey
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 large grapefruit, peeled and cut in chunks
1 1/2 cups green seedless grapes, cut in half
1 cup broken walnut pieces
The seeds of one pomegranate
Make a dressing with the honey and vinegar. Whisk until the honey is dissolved. Put the fruit and nuts into a bowl. Pour the dressing over the fruit and mix until all is coated. It's best if you refrigerate it for at least an hour.
We eat it for breakfast, as a side dish or for dessert. It first appeared on the Spatulatta website in 2005 and also appears in the Spatulatta cookbook.
You'll say that's not training but it was. I was watching dough went from opaque to opalescent, listening to the burble and crackle, smelling the browning butter. I watched Anna turn the cutlets and press on them with the back of the fork. I listened intently to whatever she had to say, "Now we turn down the fire and let it cook." She probably said it in Polish though her native tongue was Magdar.
My grandmother was such a fabulous cook, gardener and seamstress that my mother never really bothered to learn too much. But I sucked in everything Anna taught me. She never talked down to me, she always assumed that I was on the same wavelength.
I was fortunate because I was with my grandmother 24/7. I was also fortunate that she started training me so early because I only had Anna for seven years. Maybe she knew we didn't have all the time in the world.
I don't think about her every day but every day I keep the same kitchen rituals. And I try to pass on not only what she taught me but how she taught me in calm stead voice and with tenderness.