My version of “low key” weekends include yard work and housecleaning. After a long day of pulling weeds yesterday, I was pretty wiped out today and decided to “take it easy” by tackling cleaning and organizing the kitchen. I have recently acquired a new 5 qt skillet specifically to make my turkey and potato breakfast hash but new kitchen toys means I have to find space in my little kitchen.
In an effort to create space, it forced a rearrangement of cooking equipment. And cookbooks. Did I mention cookbooks? I’ve felt unearthed lately, which is usually a good indicator I am at the precipice of change, and so I embraced this as an opportunity to start cleaning things up and out.
I love my home. Built in the early 40’s, it has all the charm of a vintage home (hardwood floors, cove ceilings, and crystal doorknobs) with all the modern day amenities any homeowner needs. Home is sacred to me, and my grandparents were my anchor, teaching me what home was all about.
My little kitchen is quaint and white, with punches of red and teal to make things pop. I have a glass tree ball hanging by one of the windows to catch the light and seasonal dish towels to keep things fresh. A lot of love happens in that little room, as it always has.
When it came to the cookbooks, I had to take a deep breath. As much as I try to Marie Kondo the shit out of things, I get hooked into the emotion of what books represent to me. Books are companions, friends really. They are the physical manifestation of one of my other values, Learning, and I’ve spent many hours pouring over their contents. We are bonded.
I decided to take everything off of the shelf and go through one-by-one and see if I could live without it, if I was still curious about it, or if there was no way I could part with it. The second to last book I picked up was my Grandma’s first-edition, 1963 Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book. I’ve had this book for what appears to be 20 years, but I didn’t remember the inscription until I reopened it today:
“One of my cookbooks, Paula! I hope you enjoy it. I believe I bough this at 2 11th Ave SE when Grandpa was still alive! Love, Grandma Esther Christmas December 2000”
I immediately called my mom. She recalled that she brought the book back with my Grandma when she was in transition moving from her home in Minot, ND to Minnesota so we could care for her as she aged. I (we) had always lamented that no one saved her original Betty Crocker cookbook because that is the book that my Grandma and I used every holiday season to bake gingerbread cookies together. I remembered everything about that cookbook, that page in the book, as if I had written it. Seared in my memory.
As we were talking, I realized there were pages from another cookbook that were ripped out and placed in this cookbook. I casually said, “Hey mom, guess what? I just found the recipe for Waikiki meatballs. Someone ripped it out and put it in this book.” She immediately said, “Are you kidding me? Just this morning I said to dad I wish I had the Waikiki meatball recipe of Grandma’s.”
Then, it happened. In a random section in the middle of the cookbook, I saw it. My childhood on a page. Someone had ripped out the page and placed it in this book.
When I say the tears were instantaneous, it isn’t an understatement. As I share this, I am crying. This is the only thing that I had wanted all these years. That book, and if not the book, the page. The sweet memory of my Grandma, unfailingly consistent, something I could count on… one of the only things.
The impossibly long 24 hours of refrigeration before we could bake. Cutting out the gingerbread shapes. Re-rolling the dough, adding more flour. The silly faces of the gingerbread people, making icing and using red hots for buttons. The rich flavor of dark molasses, its smell transporting me back in time.
It took my breath away. All the while, my mom is on the phone and – as if in a moment of clarity – she remembers that as she was packing up my Grandma, she stopped by the pantry to look at the cookbooks. She said she remembered grabbing the “cooky” book for me, and debated about the other Betty Crocker recipe book but instead decided to just rip out a couple of recipes, including my cherished gingerbread people recipe.
I’ve had this cookbook for 20 years. I’ve longed for something that has been with me this entire time. Something hidden away, waiting for me to discover it.
My Grandma died in 2009. I miss her everyday, but a little more today. This Big Magic feels nothing short of a miracle.
It was like coming home to myself.