Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sunday Dinner Week #7: A Homemade Life

My life story can be tracked by the books I'm reading. This blog started with a book, Julie and Julia, then my friend Liana lent me this book, A Homemade Life: stories and recipes from my kitchen table by Molly Wizenberg, and it has become my new obsession. On page 2 of the introduction, I read something that just caught at my throat. It was like finding something that I didn't even realize I was looking for. I read and reread the passage, letting it wash over me with my own memories.
"When I walk into my kitchen today, I am not alone. Whether we know it or not, none of us is. We bring fathers and mothers and kitchen tables, and every meal we have ever eaten. Food is never just food. It's also a way of getting at something else: who we are, who we have been, and who we want to be."
It's so clear now, so obvious that what I've been really doing is finding life's answers through the kitchen, remembering those that have passed through the memories of their own tables, and trying to create the kitchen connection for my own boys. Who knew I was grieving? I continue to grieve for my grandmother whose Alzheimers stole all her recipes from her before we were ready. I'm losing the taste in my mouth of her pipi stew. How can I recreate something that my mouth is starting to forget? How will I know what's missing, or even what I've got right? When I enter my kitchen now, I consciously enter many kitchens. I may not get the taste right, but I can still tell the story of those kitchens, I can still search for who I am, who I have been, and who I want to be.

My family measures love through food, it's why we are fat, but I really don't remember what we ate. I am a child of the 70's and 80's. I come from a family of liberated women that worked hard outside of the home to support their families. Stay-at-home moms didn't exist except on the reruns of Leave it to Beaver, so dinner was a study in survival: planning ahead, opening some cans, and 30-minute or less one pot dinners. No matter how poor we were, my mother could make dinner out of whatever was in the refrigerator and freezer. She still can. Not me, but I did inherit other things, like "happy hour" from my Aunty Rose and Uncle Miles. Aunty Rose is my mother's older sister. My memory may be faulty, but I think when my parents got divorced, Saturday nights were spent at Aunty Rose's house. Aunty Rose was also my weekend home when I was in the Kamehameha dorms, and I lived with Aunty Rose when I was in college. We'd get home from work at about 7 or so, and while dinner was cooking, it was happy hour. I think my husband fell in love with me because I lived with Aunty Rose and there was always happy hour and dinner. She is the reason why Sunday dinner always has to start with pupu, even if it's as simple as salami, cheese, homegrown tomatoes and fresh mozzarella balls. Happy hour at Aunty Rose's usually consisted of scotch on the rocks or wine from the box. Uncle Miles would make my panty drink: white wine cooler with more soda than wine, and then he'd open up his magic blue plastic bags - goodies he bought for me from the Ala Moana farmer's market. Uncle knew all the vendors, and for me, he always bought boiled peanuts, ahi poke and char siu. I loved the saltiness of the peanuts, the way the peanut would pop in my mouth and all the brine would roll down my throat. His peanuts were never mushy, but freshly cooked, firm to the touch. My mouth is watering! The ahi poke wasn't drowned in shoyu like so many other poke. Instead, the fish would be lightly seasoned with Hawaiian salt, inamona, onions, ogo and a light sprinkling of oil, just enough to make it wet, but not soppy. Poke is about tasting the freshness of the fish, with the inamona and salt for seasoning, and the ogo for crunch. Now that Aunty and Uncle are on Moloka'i, maybe happy hour comes earlier in the evening, but I like to think that the tradition continues as the sun sets outside of Kawela. I really am not much of a drinker. In high school I found out that in large quantities I'm actually allergic to alcohol and I get hives, but I'm all for happy hour, even if it's pupu with diet coke. Enjoy and happy grinding!

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