I started this recipe blog back in February, 2007 because of some conversations I had with some newly Orthodox women on the now silent Orthodox Women's yahoo group. These women were worried about what to feed their families during Lent, and some of us older women gave them some ideas. I committed to posting what I fed my daughter and myself, with recipes, each time I cooked something, and What I'm Cooking Now was born. It seemed to be helpful and I enjoyed blogging, so I kept it up. I soon realized, though, that as I told anecdotes and wrote down how I cook, I was making a virtual cookbook of family recipes and lore for my daughter. So, in a way, this blog is a love letter - to my daughter, who is now grown and a co-author of this blog - and to my mother, grandmother and aunties, from whom I learned to cook and to eat.
Food is necessary to live, it's true, but it is also a creative act. You can open a can of beans, put it on the table, and you have provided food for the body. You can open that can of beans, add some onion, garlic, chopped carrots, celery and peppers, salt, pepper, basil, a splash of vinegar and a bit of olive oil, tasting to make sure that it is delicious, put it in a pretty plate, surrounded with slices of baguette, and you have provided more than only food for the body. If you serve it to those you love, and sit together to eat it, and thank God for it, you have provided food for the soul as well as the body.
Culturally, I'm an Italian American, and in my culture, lovingly prepared food is a sign of love. A meal around the table is how the family bonds are strengthened. Once I moved far away from my large, extended Italian family, I tried to recreate the sense of belonging, of acceptance, of satiety in my own home. My home became a gathering place and I made a new, large, extended family of people with other food customs. I've traveled the world through what is on my plate. I've broadened my horizons while broadening my taste buds, and this has only enhanced my life.
My family, both sides, are immigrants from Italy and French speaking Canada, ultimately from France. I married a man whose family on both sides were immigrants from Lebanon and Syria. Our best friends grandparents were from Russia. We lived in an area with many restaurants run by immigrants from Viet Nam, India, Cambodia, Pakistan, Japan, China, various places in Africa, and every country in Europe. My husband lived in Germany and Thailand. We were adopted by a big, fat Greek family, and we not only learned to dance the sirto and tsamiko, but to cook and eat Greek style. We ate the world, and the world is a tasty place, indeed.
When my grandparents immigrated to the United States, they brought their culture with them, and this culture informed how they interacted with each other and with the world. This culture included music, art, language, history, and food. The first generation in this country - my parents and their siblings - lost much of the music, art, and history, but learned the language (to a greater or lesser degree), and my generation has lost the language entirely. What is left to tie us to our roots? It is the food - the food is what is left. When all aspects of your culture have passed into history, you still have the food to let you know who you are and where you came from. I now live in a place where many natives do not have any idea of where their family came from, and in the United States, everyone comes from somewhere else. I wonder if the fear of immigrants so prevalent today is because the understanding that we are all immigrants to this land has been lost. I often think how poorer my life would be if I didn't have a sense of where I came from.
I have sometimes described myself as a foodie, and I am. I like food. I like everything about it. I like the taste, I like how it looks and smells, I like thinking about what I'm going to cook and who I'm going to feed. I like planning and shopping. I like opening my fridge or pantry, seeing lots of food, and knowing that I am ready to feed hungry people at a moment's notice. I can always put a little of this and a little of that together and end up with a tasty and filling meal. I like my gadgets and experimenting with them. I like the act of cooking - the chopping and mincing and measuring and stirring. I like to eat, too. I like the aroma of the food, I like how pretty it is, I like the mouth feel, the taste. I like new tastes and flavors, as well as those flavors that are so well known that they are a part of my DNA. Food is fun. Food is creative. Food is not love, but the act of cooking for someone is. When you cook for someone, when you create a meal from the vegetables and meats and grains in your pantry, the end result is greater than the sum of the parts. As you cook and stir and measure, if you are attentive to this one thing that you are doing, it is almost like a prayer.
I come from a long line of strong women. In my heart, I am holding my daughter's hand on my left, and my mother's hand on my right. She is holding her mother's hand (Josephine), and she is holding her mother's hand (Angela), and she is holding her mother's hand (Angela) and on and on... Our hands are working hands, scarred, burned, scrubbed clean, short nails. Our hands prepare food to nourish our families, and in so doing we are creating a life, a home, a place of physical and spiritual refreshment. We are participating in some small, mystical way, in the act of creation. Food is more than fuel, so much more.
As I write up and post recipes, I tell stories about the food, about my family, my history, my memories, memories of a time and a place and people that are long gone. As I write these memories down, I get to relive them, and by reliving them, I reconnect with a part of myself that may have been forgotten, or may lie dormant. As I write these memories down, I also am writing a love letter to those times and people. Writing things down is forever, and as I write these little snapshots of my life, I am ensuring that they will live on into the future, so in a way, I am a keeper of family history, like a bard of old, only instead of poetry, my medium is food.
So, I will keep writing in this blog. I'll keep posting recipes, and cooking methods, and little stories. I'm doing this for myself, and I'm doing this for my daughter, who has lived her entire life far from the extended family, so she will understand better where her parents and grandparents came from. My hope and prayer is that anyone who reads this blog enjoys the stories, and cooks the food for their family.
I'll end with my mother's favorite Italian proverb: