Usually when we talk about creating mealtime memories, it is about in the present to carry us forward. However, for me this last week I have been mindful of the memories I carry with me from friends and family members who have passed away. My mother, for example, was not the best of cooks, but she was an amazing baker and the smell of cinnamon reminds me of her rugelach and I can feel her presence with me whenever I make them. Sometimes I wake up and I can smell them baking in the oven even though there is nothing there.
Every year on her birthday, my friend Laura would ask me to make my lasagna and orange brownies. That is all she ever wanted for her birthday. I can not make either of those dishes without thinking about her and my heart is filled with memories of our time together and the love I still hold for her. I also remember the look on her face as she savored every bite and had this glow of glee when I told her I would pack up the leftovers for her to bring home. I know she savored those leftovers and waited in anticipation for her next birthday. It was the last meal I made for her before she died. I am so grateful for the joy it bought her during a dark time in her life.
I remember one summer being invited over to my parents for a barbecue and I told my father I would bring ribs. He told me he hated ribs. He had only eaten my mother’s. I bought 20 lbs of ribs and I am pretty sure he ate about ½ of them and after my mother died he would ask me to bring them with me whenever I came to visit. He would drink his club soda and eat ribs and belch and be happy. What I remember most was the joy on his face. When I think about those ribs I can feel his love for me and even though he is long gone, his memories and the foods he loved me preparing stay with me.
As I think about so many of the people who have passed away in my life I can think of a meal or a food over which we bonded. For example, my friend Sue, who recently passed away, never shared her arancini with anyone outside her family. However, one year she bought Zoe and I each two of her arancini. They were so good, but what was more powerful was knowing that this was an act of love from her heart.
When we make a meal for or share a meal with someone we are not always mindful of the memories it will leave behind long after we are gone. I can hear my friend Tom talking about my smac and cheese and my lasagna, or Marla and Peter talking about my French Onion Soup Grilled Cheese Sandwiches or Zoe thinking about all the meals I have prepared for her and all the times I worked to get her morning bagel to the correct sense of crispy. The memories we create will live in people’s hearts long after we are gone.