Recipes for Life and Love
In the weeks prior to my mother’s death she said, in and out of consciousness, “Janie. Be sure to baste the chicken. Did you call the neighbors and tell them dinner would be late? Don’t forget to get the chicken out of the oven on time. Be sure to use the good china and silver.”
Mom’s deathbed chicken admonishments led me to my greatest admission of guilt which I hereby confess. After hearing over and over again to “get the chicken out of the oven on time” I shocked myself by saying, “MOM!! There is no chicken! No one’s coming to dinner! You’re in the hospital!” My words scream miserably in my memory. Why didn’t I understand that she still wanted to cook, to live, to do what she loved best? She wasn’t babbling. She was loving the memories embedded in her mind, forever and indelibly baked into her brain.
Hours before my mother’s passing into that great kitchen of the universe she shouted, “JANIE! Jimmie wants a beer! Get him one out of the fridge!!” I had learned, and replied to her, “Okay, Mom, I will.”
Years later, a dear friend enduring a horrific end to an abusive relationship sought refuge in our home for months. She was poised on the threshold of her new life. When she was getting ready to depart she said, “I wish I’d paid more attention to your cooking. You're such a great cook and I need to learn from you.” I told her she is working on a much larger project than roasting a chicken: herself. “All your energies need to be focused on your new horizons. Roasting chickens comes later.”
Recipes for Life and Love have followed me through the years and across the country. My travel memories seem even more significant during these days of quarantine, when I cannot share my kitchen or meals with loved ones other than Tim. Thankfully, my dear husband is grateful for my love of cooking.
Dishes I’ve shared in the past warmed me with praise during my stays with friends and relatives, from Tampa to Atlanta, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Vermont, California and Oregon. Mile to mile, loved one to loved one, I shared their kitchens and my most treasured recipes. Here are a few of everyone’s most often requested meals:
Tomato Basil Sauce: a.k.a. Marinara Sauce: A required must-cook entry into any beloved one’s home.
Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs: For those very special family occasions when just the usual Tomato Basil sauce alone won’t do.
Crepes: My only tangible touchstone to my father is the heavy skillet on which he cooked crepes. Though he died when I was eight I remember the aura of him, the glow surrounding him, as he made Sunday morning crepes. His crepes were a prelude to the only day of the week my sister and I received his full attention, at least through breakfast. My father’s crepe recipe combined with our homemade Wild Oregon Blackberry jam is always a hit, combining the past and the present.
Roast Chicken: Another family beloved entre which bonded the world of my children’s Judaism and my mother’s Brooklyn childhood into one delicious mix. The best of both worlds, my mother's tribute to life and so much more. Is it any coincidence that my son now lives in Brooklyn with his family and my daughter lives in the Italian district of Philadelphia? How my mother and I would have loved to peruse the Italian cheese, meat markets and bakeries of Philadelphia. We would have relished the cheese scented markets, the hanging sausages of all description and culinary imagination, the boxes and boxes of unique Pastas in endless varieties, straight from Italy. I won’t even get into the warm crusty loaves of Italian bread, the Tiramisu, cookies, and Boscoti colorfully lining the towering walls of Italian shops nestled close to Italian bakeries.
My religion is nurturing. Give me a wounded bird and I will try my best to heal it. The sacrament of my religion is savory meals, my gift to those in life I treasure. My heart is my stove. My recipes have evolved over the years, based on the needs of friends and my life.
I made Corn Chowder for Fran, who died horrifically of ALS. While she could still swallow and eat, she always was cheered by a hot bowl of my Corn Chowder. My Onion Bread not only fed friends and souls, but supported me in Vermont, where I sold my fresh breads to local shops. “Jayne’s Famous Chili”, named by grateful guests, is a favorite offering at our big parties where hordes of friends reconnect. From Roast chicken for any wounded bird to Mozzarella Stuffed meatballs, my love resides in nourishing loved ones.
For that, I thank my mother, who understood and whose dying words included, “JANIE! Don’t forget to take the chicken out of the oven!”
Days prior to my friend departing for her new life she wandered into the kitchen, watching me prepare our Sunday Roast Chicken dinner. “So, what exactly is it you put on that bird? Ground oregano, garlic, paprika, and what else?”
I smiled at her. “When you’re settled into your new home I’ll make it with you, in your own kitchen.”
Providing love through meals. It all begins in my kitchen.