Feast and fellowship or the memories made around food

“I propose a toast to mirth; be merry! Let us complete our course of law by folly and eating! Indigestion and the digest. let Justinian be the male, and Feasting, the female! Joy the depths! Live, O creation! The world is a great diamond. I am happy. The birds are astonishing. What a festival everywhere! The nightingale is a gratuitous Elleviou.
Summer, I salute thee!”

― Victor Hugo

“What greater thing is there for two human souls, than to feel that they are joined for life–to strengthen each other in all labor, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent unspeakable memories at the moment of the last parting?”
― George Eliot

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(a remaining squash blossom perched upon one of Michael’s cutting boards / Julie Cook / 2014)

Behold the lowly squash blossom.
An unassuming little component to something seemingly so “other than.”
And yet, were it not for this fading blossom, once opened flower, would we not have the fruits of our labour and the prized pieces of the bountiful harvest we call summer?

And as I beheld this spent, shriveling and most beguiling little remnant, I was made most aware of something that was once most delectable, memorable and grand.
And so it is with so much of life.
One thing, even the spent remains, always seem to lead back to something that was and that is so much more.

This fading little blossom, which is now but an after thought of the actual squash or zucchini fruit, which is awaiting transformation in my kitchen, was once the highlight of one of the most memorable meals I ever had the pleasure of partaking. . .

I have a dear friend in Florence. Actually I have two dear friends. Cecilia Papini and her father Paolo. The family has a beautiful leather business there, just mere steps from the “Old Bridge” and the Arno. Their family business has been serving locals and tourists a like since 1896.

Several years ago, my aunt and I had traveled to Italy on a bit of a pilgrimage at it were. We had visited Padua for the feast day of San Antonio, June 13th. Wending our way south, via the train, we stopped in Florence for a few days in order to visit my cousin as well as Cecelia and Paolo.

It was Paolo who recommended that we dine at a small restaurant directly around the corner from their business. The name of this tiny establishment has long since faded from memory but the experience has remained clear as if it were yesterday. The lasting piece of the memory from that evening was based solely on the gastronomic delights we were served, which made this truly a most memorable experience—specifically it was the fried squash blossoms.

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Amazing how one spent little curled up flower can evoke such a powerful memory. One minute I’m picking up and looking at a discarded little blossom, as I was bent over in the garden on a very hot afternoon, cutting the ripe zucchini and squash, when next I’m suddenly transported someplace else–to a different time and place. A powerful potent for the recalling of a memory.

Good food, good friends–or perhaps just a good meal shared simply by just one other. . .
Either way, the importance of what I’ve always called “feasting and fellowshiping” is a key component to what forges lasting memories and bonds. As those moments of sharing together, in the company of friends and family coupled by good food and drink, in turn becoming precious memories, are all intricately woven together.

So many of the important moments of my life seem to evolve around food, as well as those who have joined me around said food.
Why that is, I am not certain.
The one thing I do know is that I do like to eat. . . don’t we all?
And I do like eating good food which is lovingly, skillfully, and at times, artfully prepared—be it simple fare or a Michelin Star experience—combine that with the union of others–be it family, friends or both—-that very mixing of the food and company makes for an intimate union of souls, the very impetus of memories.

Sometimes I try to replicate the moment by trying my hand at a particular meal or dish that I may have had on a special trip or outing, in turn hoping to share it with others—maybe it is my attempt at simply replicating the moment. Like the heavenly tomato flan with warm basil infused olive oil I had in Cortona, Italy.

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Last summer I attempted to duplicate this feast for the tastebuds of my husband using our garden’s tomatoes.

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And who ever says it has to be something fancy or decadent? A humble hot dog turned brazen in that windiest of cities, can be just as divine and just as memorable, –behold the Chicago Dog. . .

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Followed then by my own version I prepared for my most grateful husband who is a huge Chicago Dog fan:
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Yet some things are best savored at the initial sitting and the initial sitting alone, as a replication could and would only pale in comparison–as in, some moments are meant to be just that, a moment, a single and only once in a lifetime moment. . . case in point is my usual breakfast meal at The Donut Hole in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla—a delectable breakfast of their version of cheese blintzes. The slightly sweetened orange accented cheese filing, wrapped ever so lovingly in a thin crepe like, lightly fried, shell coupled by local fresh fruit of the season, real sour cream and brown sugar–to be consumed bleary eyed while donning shorts, t-shirt and baseball cap as the throngs of locals and tourist line up vying for one of the limited tables while the heavenly scent of freshly prepared doughnuts gently wafts in the air. . .one cannot replicate that.

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I’ve never tried my hand at blintzes nor many of the other marvelous wonders out there . . .never thinking I could come close to such tasty treats as those Parisain delectables the French Macarons, or Italy’s light and airy fried squash blossoms or even a hearty pot of Swiss fondue—some things are best left to the pros and some things just need to remain as that single special memory.

As I sit here remembering memorable meals and moments which have come and gone, I am poignantly reminded of a humble platter of store bought fried chicken.

I think I’ve shared this story with you before. . .it is worth sharing again.

September will mark 28 years since my mom passed away from a short bout with cancer. That heavy and sad Tuesday, following her funeral, everyone had gathered back at my childhood home for a Wake. Mother would have enjoyed the gathering. As Mom had been sick for a while, without any of us realizing why she had slowed down so much, the house and its upkeep fell woefully behind. I was not living in Atlanta and would drive over on Saturdays usually taking her out to lunch—as I would wonder why she was eating less and less or hardly eating anything at all.

When she went into the hospital, for what turned into her final 6 weeks, the poor house and its upkeep simply went to pot. The washing machine in the basement had been leaking, creating a small river and pond on the basement floor. Do you think Dad had even taken notice?!

When it came time for the Wake, friends and family all brought in a banquet of food. The time honored tradition of “the covered dish.” It’s what we do so well here in the South, a gathering, be it happy or sad is always surrounded by the best casseroles, dishes, cakes and pies—- but I suspect this ritual to be a global affair.

I would shuttle all the food up and down the precarious basement stairs to the extra refrigerator perched near the leaking washing machine in the dungeon like basement. One of my oldest and most dear life-long friends, who had loved mother dearly, had brought over a platter of fried chicken she had gotten at Kroger (or as we like to say in the South, “The Krogers”

As everyone began gathering for the Wake, my friend accompanied me down to the basement to assist me in transporting all the platters and casseroles back up to the kitchen. As my friend took hold of her platter of chicken, something caused the platter to shift, suddenly sending all the chicken crashing to the floor, landing in the stagnant pond of washing machine water. My friend immediately burst into tears. The surreal moment of our having lost mother who, at the time, was so young at 53, coupled by the sorrow of why were in that basement in the first place with a mountain of food, my friend’s pride in her contribution to mother and this most surreal moment all came crashing into one another as a platter of chicken now sat on a wet basement floor.

Always known as the one who is the rock and who keeps things together, I quickly told my friend “it’s okay, it’s all okay. . . and now we’re going to pick up that chicken and put it all back on the platter.” Of which we did. Drying it off, as well as her drying her face, we artfully rearranged each piece of chicken on the platter. We arrive back up the stairs, placing the platter of chicken on the kitchen table amidst the hams, casseroles, pots of beans, bowls of slaw, hot and cold dishes, rolls, cold cuts, etc.

As everyone was spending the afternoon mixing tears with laughter, I spy my cousin, out of the corner of my eye, making a bee line for the chicken. I nonchalantly but quickly make a quick pass by the table and hiss “don’t eat the chicken, put it back and eat the ham” before moving on to visit with the others.

That platter of store bought chicken, which fell in a pond of washing machine water, lovingly brought to my mother’s wake by a cherished life long friend, and a clueless cousin will always be a meal which makes me smile, as I brush away a tear.

5 comments on “Feast and fellowship or the memories made around food

  1. Lynda says:

    This tribute to your mother is so very timely as I just took a card to the receptionist at the chiropractor’s office as her mother passed away earlier in the week. She was sharing stories of her mother in the midst of tears that we were also sharing. We, who have experienced loving relationships with our mothers and thus have wonderful memories, are surely blessed.

    • thanks Lynda–the funny thing is that I hadn’t intended on writing all of that about the food, then mother–I was just going to have the squash blossom and a quote–then one thing lead to another. . .
      I hope the recent violence in Israel will not hamper any of your travels–I’ve been saying prayers for a safe trip and many blessings!!
      hugs and love–Julie

  2. Michael's says:

    I so enjoyed reading your post today Julie, I have all the same memories of food, enjoying the food, drinks and the friendship, togetherness and love with family and friends. The tribute to your mother was nice, I am sure she is watching over you everyday 🙂 I sure hope you and your family have a great 4th of July! 🙂

  3. Lovely tribute to your mom, friends, and family in general. You and Michael are going to have to stop sending all these yummy food posts or I really will appear on your doorsteps one day. Love, N 🙂

  4. Julie, I don’t know why I am responding to a food post because I don’t cook anymore and can’t eat very many things so I am not the best one to comment on your post, but the pictures were so beautiful and your tribute and memories so fascinating I couldn’t resist. You do have a way with words and they seem to say just the right things that say to me, I know this person and then that changed very quickly to, I want to know this person. I’m so sorry about your Dad and wish both of you the best. And, oh, yes…thanks for visiting my blog a while back.

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