The following post was written by my mom, WWW, who is no longer here and I am crying BECAUSE I MISS HER SO MUCH! When my mom sent me the first draft of this post I made her rewrite it because she's my mom and she pours on the gush like nobody else. It reminded me of the post I wrote about her on my 29th birthday, which is quite possibly my favorite post I've ever published because even when I was a nightmare of a daughter, she was a dream of a mom. Anyway, at the risk of becoming eye-roll worthy (too late for that, right?) I just want to state (for the thousandth time) that I am so SO tremendously grateful for my mother and the two months of physical and emotional support she generously donated to our household. As a mother and woman, I strive to be (even partially) as kick-ass as she. Love you x infinity, mom.
I am sitting at the kitchen table writing, my first day home after two months with Rebecca and her family. My blue pot is back on my stove. My brand new cast iron pan is there, too. Larry surprised me with it, a “coming home” present. What a loving gift from my dear husband. And when I cook with it, I will forever remember the many meals I cooked in Rebecca’s kitchen with its twin.
I couldn’t jump into writing about food without first reflecting on what the last two months meant to me. In a way, I feel like I am waking up from a dream, a little disoriented, not sure where I am or what I am doing. I know after a few days I will get my sea legs back and jump into my usual busy life, but for now, I need to keep it slow so I can still remember the smell of Bo and Rev, feel Bo’s squishy cheek against mine and her tight clasp, stare into the pools of Rev’s wide eyes and stroke her long and delicate fingers. I don’t know if I can truly express how special this time was, bonding with two babies as their Gooey, but also as their Nanny. Marveling at their differences, kissing their tummies and toes while changing diapers, feeding them, rocking them to sooth their cries. Bo looks so much like Becca as a baby and watching Bec hold Bo gives me déjà vu, reminding me how I snuggled Rebecca against my chest in the very same way 30 years ago.
Watching her as a mama, I'm in awe. Her calm and patient way, even when Bo is colicky for hours on end, the way she look at her children, cuddles them close. It's hard to believe my baby is now grown with four children of her own.
It was hard leaving yesterday. And even though I know I can go back tomorrow if I want, it will never be the same as living with the family around the clock. I will especially miss the daily drives to and from school with Archer, hearing his thoughts on the world and his city, counting Priuses (100 in 3 days!), finding new routes to avoid the traffic at La Cienega and Melrose, listening to his ideas on how to solve Los Angeles’ traffic problems. And dear Fable, our happy little storybook character. Her giggles resonate in my heart. What joy to read her Pinkalicious in the car while waiting for her school to open. Walking hand in hand with her down the sidewalk. Hugging her good-bye as she happily skips off to play...
It took me awhile to get used to cooking in another kitchen. We all have our familiar tools and ingredients that we like and Rebecca’s kitchen as I mentioned in another post is sparse. I found myself buying things I needed and making do with others. One thing that struck me when I first perused her cupboards was that she had huge containers of spices and herbs that were stale and tasteless. So I thought it would be a good idea this week to write a post sharing my tips on purchasing and using herbs and spices.
1. Only buy herbs and spices in quantities that you will use up in 6 months for ground and 1 year for dried whole herbs. Otherwise they will lose their flavor. Rebecca’s cupboard was filled with large stale spices and I had to throw them all out. Use a sharpie to write on the bottle the date that you opened it. That way you will know if it is still fresh.
2. Beware of buying large quantities of herbs and spices in bulk. You don’t really know when they were put into the bulk containers so you can’t be sure if they are fresh. But this is a great way to buy a little bit of a spice you rarely use so you don’t end up wasting 5 dollars on a whole jar that will end up getting tossed. If you do buy your spices this way, transfer them into air-tight glass containers to store and use them up quickly.
3. Try to buy herbs packed in tins or bottles. The cellophane containers let in light and are not airtight so you can’t be sure how fresh they are.
4. Buy whole spices and grind or grate them yourself for more flavor. You can buy a cheap coffee grinder and use it exclusively for your spices. (For instance, I NEVER buy ground nutmeg as it has no flavor). A lot of recipes, especially Indian, call for toasting whole spices in a dry skillet, cooling them, and then grinding in a spice grinder for more pungent flavor. (This works great for cumin, cloves and cardamom).
4. Whenever possible, use fresh herbs. If you can grow your own, that is the cheapest and best way to always have fresh herbs on hand. If you can only grow herbs seasonally, you can freeze or dry them for use year round. Otherwise, we are lucky now to have fresh herbs available in the grocery stores year round. Some herbs are great dried while others lose their essence. I ONLY use FRESH basil, parsley, cilantro and tarragon as their flavor isn’t retained when dried, but thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano and dill are great dried (I never buy them ground, just whole).
5. Buy dried whole herbs instead of ground…they are more flavorful and last longer. When using dried herbs, crush them before adding to your food to release their oils.
6. Once a year, clean out your spice cabinet. This way, you can get rid of stale spices and replace them so you have a fresh supply ready when you need them. I must admit, I am not good about doing this but I am going to try harder to follow my advice!!
My must-haves in my spice cupboard:
Cumin (both ground and whole)
Ground ginger (for cookies and gingerbread but FRESH ginger for everything else)
Dried whole oregano
Whole peppercorns for grinding
Dried whole rosemary
Dried whole thyme
And….what I DID love in Rebecca’s cupboard was her Trader Joe’s Every Day Seasoning. I am adding it to my list as it is DELICIOUS! Do you have any spice tips to share? What are your must haves in your spice cupboard?
And…for those of you who didn’t catch my last year’s Thanksgiving posts, here they are.
We are having a very small Thanksgiving this year..only Rebecca’s family and my mother, so I will be doing a simpler version of last year's meal. I already ordered my Heritage Turkey and..my dessert will be the tarte tatin in my NEW cast iron skillet!!