COLUMN: Thought for Food
pondering food, family traditions, and one last pint of ice cream with Grandma
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about food – how we are able to access it, how we grow it, how we develop an understanding of it, how we can create art and experiences out of it, and – most importantly to me – how we build community around it. I’ve been preoccupied with all things food for as long as I can remember, but want to be mindful of overintellectualizing something so somatic, embodied, and so rooted in the earth and lineage.
With spring tentatively peeking out from behind the clouds, it’s been deeply grounding to gather around tables and on outdoor blankets filled with conversation as nourishing as the meals, with seemingly every dish scattered around the kitchen, aromas sinking into our skin and hair. I’ve relished showing up with treats in tow almost everywhere I go, and I often find myself daydreaming about the next time I’ll lovingly labor in front of the stove or meander around the first farmers market of the season.
This love of food and generosity is inextricably linked to my family, whose devotion to the next meal (and all the cheese and crackers we can manage in between) is as deep in my bones as the marrow I watched my brother suck dry at our dinner table all throughout my childhood. From my Papa stirring pots of soft eggs the whole morning, to my beloved uncle creating elaborate meals for anyone who’d walk through the door, to baking nearly hundreds of Christmas cookies all day long with my dad and his mom, to cooking my grandma’s favorite simple meals for her, up until I lost her earlier this February.
Despite the grief I felt, I still parked myself at the bar for an incredible meal I knew she’d too enjoy.
The last time I saw my grandma, she wasn’t able to stomach the cinnamon-scented french toast soaked in maple syrup (she mocked me for opting out of the plastic cabin-shaped bottle, knowing I preferred “the real stuff”) or eggs doused in ketchup, but even with her dwindling appetite, she tried to enjoy our favorite ice cream with me as we watched old musicals into the night. She’d splurged on two pints of Talenti (the “fancy kind” she knew I liked, a thoughtful gesture from a proud penny pincher), envisioning us each with spoons deep in our own individual treats.
After catching the tail end of West Side Story on TCM, I prepared for our bedtime indulgence, painfully aware it would likely be one of our last nights together in the house with the walls that whisper so loud she had to keep MSNBC on all night just to drown them out. Knowing she wasn’t likely to enjoy more than a few spare bites, I still presented her with the full container to honor the ritual we’d often indulged in when I lived with her. After all, we often crave the ritual around food as much as we crave the flavors, textures, and satisfied bellies.
When I found out my grandmother passed, I was visiting Eau Claire from the Cities, about to dine at what’s quickly become my favorite local restaurant, The Good Wives. Despite the grief I felt, I still parked myself at the bar for an incredible meal I knew she’d too enjoy. I savored every bite over a crossword puzzle, the way we shared many meals together, helping each other with our respective clues and commenting on whatever it was we were eating. Last weekend, I returned, treating myself again to a scrumptious solo meal, this time pouring over cookbooks instead of crosswords, imagining the dishes I wish I could present to her, but knowing she’ll be admiring them somewhere, just the same.
As I’ve found myself convening around so many wonderful tables lately, it’s hard not to imagine my grandmother there, too, relishing the company and the incredible meals, but she’s ever present in my head, with her quips and appreciative exclamations, and most importantly, her generous appetite that’s so completely shaped mine.