Kitchen Messages

In the deep south--and maybe everywhere--we express so much through food. Somebody dies, and the sandwich platters start showing up at the bereaved's house while somebody else starts calling to organize the "funeral food" before the news has had a chance to sink in good.  A birth? Surgery? Bad news of any sort? Food practically flows. “Is anybody bringing food?” is the question most often asked right after, “What happened?”

It's a tradition I hope manages to survive in this age of a fast-food place on every corner. 

Because, sure, the family in question could just go get some carry-out, but the food isn't really the point, is it? A bucket of grocery store chicken and some "store-bought" sides are every bit as worthy as a Cordon-bleu chef's four-course-with-dessert offering, when both are delivered with hugs and promised prayers. You want the meal to be tasty and helpful, of course, but it's the message that really matters. “We're with you," it says. "We love you." 

Can't pick that up at the Pizza Hut.

Somewhere along the line, I took to calling these meals "Kitchen Messages." (I don't remember why.) And the name eventually applied to my own family's meals...
when I started keeping note of the story they told about our lives. 

The first date I can find is for Stuffed Pizza, which has "first made 8/6/86" scrawled below it. These humble calzones were made no doubt to impress my then-boyfriend, but what I now see in the note is a date precisely one year and nine days before I met this amazing man I'd marry. 

Some recipes are part of what my dad jokingly calls my "Long Distance Cook Book."  "Father's Day 2000, and for A's 6th birthday" is at the bottom of my typed copy of my mom's French Vanilla Ice Cream, a recipe I hadn't felt the need to have before then.

Over the course of the last 11 years, I've gone from one 5 x 8 binder of favorites to three big fat ones.

The many brief notes mark milestones and memories in our lives, and in one case, actual American history. This entry marks my stint as a volunteer at a Red Cross Feeding station, reminding me of a "kitchen message" I'd forgotten all about. At the bottom of Best Cocoa Brownies:

--made for Eugenie and her father, Katrina refugees at the Holiday Inn, September, 2005

(Turns out the spicy Red Cross entrees, perfect for most of the displaced New Orleanians, weren't exactly GERD-friendly.)

Mostly I'll just write who liked it and who didn't, but some of the entries show the progression of our family history in relationships and emotions and life. At the bottom of Ham-Spinach Pasta in Bechamel Sauce (link to recipe below) I found these notes while looking for something to cook on Wednesday this week:

· 2/17/05--one of the foods Mr. Whiz enjoys when he's so nauseated from chemo that nothing else much goes down
· 3/9/06-- took a dish to Mr. Whiz
· 2/23/07--shared with Mrs. Pat [a.k.a Mrs. Whiz] while C and the kids cleared the tools from Mr. Whiz's shop

I didn't make the dish for a long time, partly because right after the death of that dear neighbor, C was diagnosed with diabetes, and our indulgence in rich dishes like this came to a screeching halt. But tonight I added on to the story of the dish with a happier entry: 
· 1/11/12--made a double batch and shared between the kids, Amy's family (after Brent's surgery), and Steph's family (just for fun and with no spinach added)...with rolls, salad, and hummingbird cupcakes.

It would be a shame to let a good recipe like this marinate in sadness forever, after all.

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