an open pantry…

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Yesterday during our departmental devotions we did some singing. It wasn’t the usual short reading or the achingly familiar Above All or I Could Sing Of His Love Forever but songs from the older (late 70’s-early 80’s?) hymnals, always called ‘The Red Book’ at our house. This brought back memories of walking up our long driveway on my way frome from school and hearing my mom through the pop-bottle glass entry windows pounding out hymns on the piano while she practiced for Sunday morning church. It got me thinking about my heritage and the richness that I have from my everyday life.
I habitually buy books that are memoirs of food and cooking, of cooking and travel, or cooking philosophy. I have been reading a book called ‘The United States of Arugula’ and that talks about the evolution of food in America. From homespun and hearty to processed and now back to ‘house-made’ and organic, fresh and seasonal. It is interesting to me to see where I got my love of cooking and if it came from my family or pop culture.I never thought of my mom as particularly adventurous but I’m not sure why this is. It may be that she would turn out solid ‘meat and two veg w/ a roll’ type dinners. My mom is a great cook and I do not ever remember anything being burnt or undercooked. It was always perfectly cooked. It may be why I like perfectly cooked vegetables and toasty bread and meat that isn’t dry or charry. She tuned my tastebuds in a way that gives a sort of food memory. I could list the many dinners and awe inspiring fried breakfasts but the list would be endless. My dad is a seeker of new muffin, cookie and soup recipes. He would take his turn cooking at Church Sunday-night lunches when in other families it was only the ladies who did the cooking. I have always been really proud of that.

Even the thought of a fried breakfast brings my mind to my Grandma and Grandpa Leavitt. They had 9 (NINE!) kids. I cannot imagine the amount of food that they would have gone through. Whenever I would be so lucky as to spend the night at their house I could always count on multiple fried eggs, bacon, sausage, and piles of toast. But even more fantastic was their pantry. I aspire to such things. They had a large house with a large (3+ cars) garage and a shop as well as a large pantry in the basement. It held jars of shimmering jellies, thick jams, applesauce and tomatoes. Food that came free for the gathering at neighbors, friends or the side of the road. Foraging is an amazing thing about the greater Seattle area. I aspire to a pantry and foraging skill like this.

But the piece de resistance was the flour drawer. There was a drawer in my Grandma’s kitchen that holds only flour. Not bags of flour, or types of flour. Just free floating masses of dusty white flour sifting gently through the air. Every grandkid (and there are in the neighborhood of 28 of us) has spent time swishing grubby fingers in that flour, made biscuits or cream puffs, cookies or gravy with that flour. It was a symbol of plenty and of comfort and of home. The modern vanity kitchen would have a wine fridge or espresso machine but this was a bit of vanity in a home built for family in the 70’s.

My Grandma James was a southern cook. Raised in Texas, she always had a Pyrex 6 cup measure on the counter full of tea bags and sugar steeping for sweet tea. While she made the traditional turkey with giblet gravy she also was one of the first people I knew with a microwave (!? yes really!) and used to microwave a piece of toast for my sister and I with a slice of colby melted on top. Not exactly gourmet and it embarrassed my mother that we acted like we were always hungry when we got there so that my Grandma would make us this funny treat. From this Grandma I acquired a family recipe of Twice Baked Potatoes that I have now become required to make for holiday family meals at my parents house. She also taught me her recipes for Raspberry Cheesecake and Apricot Tarts and I don’t think anyone could make them like she did.

What am I taking out of this? The pride behind a home-cooked meal-there is nothing better than to do this for people and take care while I do it. Innovation and new ideas bring interest while old favorites bring comfort. Freshness and seasonality don’t have to be out of reach and can be found with a little extra elbow grease. My pantry will always be open. I hope that the shelves will be full of interest and heart.

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