Madame von Meatball: How it All Began

Holy schmidt, I found my old recipe book.

Does everyone have something like this at one point or another? A notebook or composition book with recipes torn from magazines and newspapers, some pasted or taped in, some loose? This was mine. I'm looking through the pages as if looking through an old yearbook.

Oh my God, the eggplant rollatini. I made this dish for the first time when Jeeps and I were dating, at his parents house in Ridgefield. I laugh to think about this now. I just went over with a grocery bag of ingredients and the recipe torn out of Redbook magazine, took over their kitchen and made dinner one night. Thank God my future in-laws were such groovy people. I really need to make this again...

*Gasp* The nectarine-kiwi tart! I never made this but I had aspirations to. I mean look at it, is that not divine?

And then, from myriad of clippings tucked between the pages, I found this:

This, my friends, is what I wrote down one day in the spring of 2001, when my mother came over to my house in Croton Falls to teach me how to make meatballs.

We were a wreck.

Not because of anything bad between us. We were just on shaky ground. Two years prior, we had closed the dance school my mother had run for over 30 years, the school where I had grown up, and where I had taught with her for 9 years. We lived, ate, drank and breathed the school. I'm sure it wasn't all we talked about, but it seemed like it was all we talked about. 

Now, suddenly, our common thread was tied off and clipped. Suddenly there were awkward silences between us. I felt like I had to get to know my mother all over again, and she me.

I was also in the grip of serious post-partum depression. I was twelve pounds underweight, fighting terrible anxiety attacks, trying to deal with going back to work, trying to figure out motherhood as well as daughterhood.

My mother came over to cook. I know she was upset and scared for me, but she was so gentle. She didn't offer advice, she didn't try to fix it. She just came over to cook.  

We made meatballs in gravy. I think we may have even made spanikopita that day, too, but I mostly remember making meatballs. 

I remember asking her, for the first time, "Did you want to have a lot of children?" (There is just my brother and me, but I wondered what her vision of a family had been when she was young). I remember her drinking a cup of coffee and furrowing her brow before she responded, as if this was the first time anybody had asked her. We talked about children. We talked about mothers. We talked about food. Together, stumbling, we began the steps of a new dance.

It was the day my mother began to become my friend.

I make meatballs by rote and instinct now. I don't need these pieces of paper anymore. But I'm going to keep them forever because they are more, so much more than a recipe.

My mother did this to me...

....Which in the realm of the kitchen, is not a bad thing. There are some things which my kitchen will never lack: Knorr's chicken bouillon cubes because they save your ass in so many ways. Coconut milk because it is essential to my favorite soup and to coconut rice. Beans, because as Laurie Colwin said, a house without canned beans is a house that is not stocked for emergency. And fresh bread crumbs.

Yes, fresh bread crumbs. My mother did this to me. She taught me to make meatloaf and meatballs and breaded this-or-that and indoctrinated me into the importance of fresh bread crumbs. Therefore, once or twice a year, you will see me arrive home from the grocery store with what looks like provisions for a barbecue:

Just regular old hot dog and hamburger buns.  El cheapo.  On sale is ideal.  Into the food processor they go, and after being crumbified, right back into the bags and into the freezer.

Since this is a blog and since this is real life, I timed the entire operation as well as taking pictures. It takes eleven (11) minutes from opening the bags to putting the Cuisinart pieces into the dishwasher. Possibly less because you will not be pausing to take pictures.

Want to see what else my mother did to me? Check it out:

Know what that is? No, it's not pot, ha ha, very cute. That is fresh chopped parsley. My mother taught me to buy bunches of it, wash it, dry it, de-stem it, whirl it up in the Cuisinart, bag it and freeze it. And now, damn it, I can't be without it. I am a parsley whore. I put it in everything. The process takes much longer (it's the de-steming part, you could go crazy) but to me it's just one of those things that's worth it. Mom also taught me to chop and freeze dill but I abandoned that practice after a few years and decided dried dill was good enough for me. But scallions, surprise, freeze really well. Chop them up, throw them in a bag and next time you're making Mexican food or Black Bean Soup or anything else where you think, Damn I wish I had some scallions... You do! Grab the bag and throw them right in. Bam. You're a genius.

(Did I say parsley whore?  Really?)