Lately, I’ve been thinking that there should be a good amount of recipes here on the blog that are all about the basics…a good roasted chicken, a simple tomato sauce or a no-fuss apple pie.
But, what about the basics of food itself? Is it really only about filling our bellies? Or is it about feeding our hearts?
My love of baking has always made me think about how baking makes me feel. The actual act of baking is very therapeutic but, the product of baking has always been cathartic when I know someone’s heart will be a wee bit more full when they know I made something special…just for them.
This week, my aunt died. If you have been following me for a while, I have written about her before. It began when my uncle (her husband) died a few years back and I wrote about when baking heals…
When my cousins and I saw how much sadness there was in her life without her partner, we realized she just needed “purpose”…she needed to know that she was still valuable to someone. She was always the one who brought all the cookies to every baptism/communion/wedding/etc., so we thought that it was time for her to pass on the torch by showing us how it’s done.
Our first visit was all about peches – Italian peach-shaped cookies filled with cream. When we arrived carting notepads and aprons, she was dressed in her Sunday best (all tied up with a pretty scarf around her neck). And, even though she had a few variations written down on scraps of paper, she somehow knew from memory which one was better. We all left with more cookies than we knew what to do with (if you’re curious, the recipe is here: Pesches).
When we left, she took my hand and said, “Will you all come back?” I knew then, she was probably happier in sharing her wisdom than we were in taking all of our goodies home. What a gift it was for all of us. So, we all aligned our schedules and came back to have her teach us how to make bocconotti, traditional Italian cookie/tarts that she was known for. She was in her glory as she lovingly ordered us around her kitchen all afternoon (you can read more about that day here: Bocconotti).
Yesterday at the funeral, all of the pictures of my aunt were of her in her kitchen…making sweets, rolling gnocchi, churning out dozens of cookies at a time. She may have been a simple woman, but I know for certain she was happiest when she was feeding people.
What I also know is that women of her era had to find their voice in their own way. My aunt was 89 years old and not many women of that generation were “allowed” to forge their own paths. She did what was expected – she took care of her family. And, like other women of her age, that meant making sure everyone had clean clothes on their back and good food in their bellies. Perhaps, in today’s world, that may not seem like “enough” to keep a woman’s fires stoked. But, I know my aunt (and many other women of that time) made it their job to do these things well. Maybe today, we don’t value these things because they seem mundane. Or, maybe, today’s educated women think there must be more to life than just taking care of other people. But, those women, with hardly any education, were some of the smartest women I have ever met (my nonna showed me how to make yeast out of crushed grapes and a pile of flour…I mean, how epic is that?!?!). Many, without even knowing how to read, managed their households with the same vigor that some CEO’s manage companies.
I read a quote once that went something like this:
“Today may be the turning point your grandchildren will tell stories about years from now; the time you leap over the abyss to the other side of the great divide and begin your life in earnest. On the other hand, this moment of truth may be nothing more than a brief awakening when you glimpse what’s possible on the other side of the great divide and you tell yourself, “nah, that’s just too far to jump.” In that case, your grandchildren will have to be content with talking about what delicious cookies you made. It will all depend on how brave you’ll be”…
I have this quote printed out and it sits on my desk where I work. When I overthink my next steps in this life (which is more often than I’d like), it rattles me to the core. Not because I think I can’t take that leap of faith, but, rather, because I’d be the happiest grandma if my grandkids talked about how great my cookies were. Because, I hope if I am lucky enough to have youngins’ around me when I’m old and grey, and I have the ability to pass on the love that I’ve felt in my life being surrounded by food and love, then that would be the greatest gift of all.
Zia Rachelina, I know you’re super busy up there making your treats. But what I’m even more certain of is that everyone will think those are the most heavenly cookies ever.