Saturday, 7 January 2012

Why do I do it? The smells, the tastes and the memories...

December 23rd marked the beginning of the winter break in our house.  The week leading up to the break had been busy - Sara had tons of tests and assignments due, Becca was in extra-curricular activity overdrive, there was last -minute shopping for groceries and gifts, not to mention baking, cooking and frying for the holidays (Chanuka started on the night of December 20th).  We were all ready for a much-needed break. 

I perused recipes and planned bake fests, as I do every year, excitingly envisioning my platters of finished baking and overflowing cookie jars.  But, as Carlo will attest, I try to squeeze far too much into a day, and never end up having enough time to do everything.  This holiday season was no exception.

My childhood memories of the winter holidays are all centred on huge snowfalls, lots of delicious cooking smells wafting through my mother's and grandmother's kitchens, and a bevvy of delicacies laid out on the tables just waiting to be devoured. 

I still treasure these memories, and have always wanted my kids to have the same kind of experiences growing up.  So, no matter how much chaos the holidays may bring with them, no matter how busy or tired I may feel, I will not consider reducing the menus or indulging in store-bought meals and baking.   All my efforts are rewarded the moment one or both of our girls walk into the house and say "mmmm it smells good in here, what's cooking mom?".  When I look across the table at my husband, and he takes that first bite of something, smiles and tells me how nice it tastes, I am a happy camper.  Don't get me wrong, I am not seeking approval - and believe me, I do not always get it!  I  just feel an unparalleled sense of satisfaction in knowing that I have recreated an atmosphere of family and food similar to that in which I was raised. 

I know that Carlo was raised in a similar environment, and his mother still works her fingers to the bone making all of her grand children's favourites before we visit.  As we walk in the door at Nonna's, we are instantly greeted with the aroma of coudouri (fried potato and flour doughy bread sticks), fresh sauce, rapini, fettine...each one more enticing than the last.  We all overeat at Nonna's, and go home with a "Nonna Belly" a phrase coined by my niece and nephew to describe the pleasant, but painful, satisfaction that comes with gluttony. 

A typical dinner at Nonna's

As a Jewish mother married to an Italian father, food is central to our existence.  I find I am always trying to feed people when they come to my home.  It is how I express myself and how I nurture others. 

And so, this holiday season, when the much-needed break finally arrived, I found myself diving head-first into a self-created vortex of baking and cooking, washing up and serving - the cycle repeating itself like a broken record.

My baking shelf - restocked!

We spend Christmas with Carlo's family - which is essentially a family banquet followed by presents, and a family night that every one of us (numbering over 20 people now) look forward to. Carlo has 3 siblings, each with spouses and children, one with grandchildren already!  We all bring a few dishes, so as to ease the burden on my mother-in-love - another foodie, but in a class all her own

My first attempt at Gingerbread

As luck would have it, this year Chanuka and Christmas converged, so I was on double duty. It is too hard to get my family together on a weeknight, I live 40 minutes north of my father and brother, so my family came over on Boxing Day. Remember, I am a LEO and very controlling when it comes to my domain, under which food falls, so I prepared tons of dishes from scratch, which means I was standing on my feet all day, again. Dinner turned out great and a good time was had by all.

My version of The Shiksa's Chanukiya and ginger-dreidls

The next day was a holiday party hosted by Becca and her friend, at our place.   Her friend's mom was kind enough to go out and get all the decorations and put together veggie and fruit platters. Again, I decided everything we would serve was to be from scratch - pizza, party sandwiches, salads, cookies and cupcakes

Pizzas ready to slice and serve

I love to do it, but maybe not 4 days in a row!  By the time the last of the kids left that evening, I was really feeling the toll of my 4 day cooking spree - my ankles were throbbing and aching from all the standing (I have had 6 surgeries on my feet, and my ankles are my Achilles heel! LOL!).

The next day was work, and then I had to come home and clean so that our kitchen (which had been overworked for 4 days straight) looked neat enough to be filmed and photographed for the article Ellin was writing for the Toronto Star. It all went off without a hitch, and no fingerprints or dust could be found on film (I checked!). 

Needless to say, this is the reason that my blogging fell off the radar over the break!

And now, as the winter break draws to a close, and I have time to sit back and reflect on the mayhem and the chaos, I have to tell you that every ache and pain was worth it!  I will do it all again for the upcoming birthdays - yes, January is also Birthday Month in our household - and for Valentine's day, and Easter and Passover and any other opportunity that presents itself.   Because in the end, it is those smells, and the flurry of activity in creating them, that makes the memories for my girls, even if they don't know it yet.

Wishing you a wonderful day, filled with family, fun, friends and fantastic food!  B'Tayavon and Buon Appetito!

This post was inspired by my email update to Elaine, one of my newly discovered cousins from the Chaliff clan.