A story that reminds me that integrity can be found in a simple meal.
Leftovers… there is something uniquely comforting about them.
These are the things that make us feel “at home”; that last plate of food that reminds us that there is someone who cares enough to feed us, body and soul. Yesterday’s bountiful meal, today merely a simple plate of food, and for the creative, culinary lovers, a way to re imagine a re-heated bowl of rice. A couple of days ago, I sat down after a very long and tiring day to eat a bowl of risotto that I had made the night before. I was mentally and physically exhausted…. I have not slept a full night’s sleep for at least a month and food, is has been the last thing on my mind.
I usually don’t get inspired to cook unless I am preparing food for others, and making a meal, is something I cherish and look forward to, especially in New York, where so many eat out on a regular basis. There is nothing that makes me happier than serving up a wholesome dinner. That offering of nourishment, shelter and safety is probably the most sacred bond you can ever create with someone. These days I find myself at my most un-creative, unmotivated and uninspired in the kitchen. My cookbooks are gathering dust, and my desire to eat is at an all time low. I’ve lost my need to prepare food, and quite honestly, have also lost my appetite. I used to cook all the time for my partner, and when friends came to visit, but for past couple of months I have been mostly alone, recovering physically, and emotionally so a simple bowl of rice is all I had any inspiration to make.
Leftover rice, pesto sauce, avocado, and sweet potatoes. I stared at them for a while before my instinct kicked in and I started preparing the first meal in months that didn’t feel like a chore. I took out my grandmother’s old bowl and placed the rice, the sliced avocado and some salt and pepper to taste. As I took the first bite, the memories of my maternal grandmother flooded my brain. I have had this bowl ever since her passing in 1995.
Pauline Winifred Councilman, Nash, Jackson was born in 1908 in Montague, Massachusetts, to a very poor working class family.
She along with her three brothers Paul, Norman, Phillip and sister Ester, was raised in the center of town. She was rebellious, tenacious and strong even at a young age. She didn’t finish high school and neither did any of her siblings. She lived her whole life in Montague, except for when she traveled to Greece to visit my newly wed mother and to meet me as a baby. She married and divorced twice. She raised my uncle Norman and my mother Christine alone, and worked full-time at Sears Roebuck & Company, until she retired.
Pauline was a woman full of fire and strength. Her gaze, was like nothing I’ve ever seen before or since. She had white blond hair and piercing blue eyes, and was always very slender and petite. Her delicate frame was a bit underweight and frail in the end. A lifelong smoker, she smoked up to four packs a day in her youth, which over the years took a terrible toll on her health.
A take no bullshit woman, she worked hard her whole life and with no help from her ex husbands. She didn’t tolerate anything for long and even though many women of her generation would have remained married she chose to defy convention, and not be beholden to anyone who didn’t have her best interest. So she kicked both of them out, and they never were a part of their children’s lives. She was fiercely loyal to her family and they supported her in every way as she raised her two children on her own. I feel (sometimes to my detriment) I take much of my personality from her.
Her home was humble, tidy and always welcomed visitors with open arms. She kept it pristine to the point of neurosis, because of her obsession with germs and cleanliness. I recall her old vacuum cleaner which now would adorn some hipster’s apartment in New York as an antique curiosity. She always had lemon candy in the sugar bowl by her dining table, and small snacks in the cupboard for when I would come to stay. She worked to the bone for everything she had, and the bowl that is now stored in my kitchen cabinet was bought as part of a set; piece by piece on lay away. Despite her apparent “poverty”, my grandmother Pauline was a generous woman, in her spirit, with her heart and with her love. She had endured hardships and difficulties that I can only imagine, yet she was a woman of conviction, of morality and integrity like no woman I’ve ever met. She never complained about her circumstance and always had a graciousness that surpassed many who I’ve met in my life.
As I looked down at my bowl of rice, I closed my eyes and remembered the last time I visited my grandmother’s home. It was this past Christmas, my best friend had come from Athens, and we had planned a road trip to western Mass to see my parents and relatives for the holidays. My partner decided not to join us, so it was us two crazy ladies on the road. The woman who currently owns my grandmother’s home graciously invited me to a Christmas party, and I felt this was an incredible opportunity to show my mom her old home again. This was going to be an emotional time for us all, since my mother had not seen the home she grew up in since 1995, yet I felt it would be an amazing opportunity to reconnect with her memories and breathe new life into its current reincarnation.
Food was being served and prepared in an incredible banquet, of fish, salads, fruit, meats and cheeses. My grandmother in contrast wasn’t much of a cook and didn’t have any gatherings in her home for the holidays. She was always too frail to prepare elaborate meals, so most of her food was prepared by others or bought in frozen meals. She loved saltines and to this day I can’t have one without thinking of her.
Seeing so many people gathered together drinking, eating, and celebrating in merriment felt like new life was breathing in to this home filled with childhood memories for both my mother and I. As I looked out into her backyard, which was home to wild turkeys, blueberry bushes and hundreds of fireflies during summertime, I felt so comforted by the realization that even though homes change owners, their memories live on in the little things, like a bowl, a table, and the wood floors. New memories can be made with what seems to be a part of one’s own personal history.
I am glad that I’ve kept a small part of my grandmother’s personal history with me. She reminds me to be strong at times of adversity and to appreciate the small things despite their value. Her bowl has been to Greece, Mykonos, London and back to the U.S, so her spirit has traveled with me.
To Pauline… This recipe is for you
For the Rice:
2 Cups of Basmatti Rice (or any rice of your choosing)
1 1/2 Teaspoon of Butter to boil with the rice
Half a chopped shallot added to the simmering rice
A pinch of herbs de Provence or any other dry herb of your choice ( oregano, basil, marjoram)
let the rice simmer until done.
For the Sweet potatoes:
wash the potatoes well and leave the skin on. Cut them in quarters and place them on a baking tray. put salt, pepper and drizzle with olive oil to taste
Bake for 30-40 minutes at 350-400 degrees (250 Celsius) until soft.
Combine the rice and the sweet potato cut in small cubes; add salt and pepper to taste
Cut up half an avocado lengthwise in strips put salt, pepper and a little but of lime
finish off with chopped spring onions