A family story that relates to food

The holiday season is a time of joining together. A time to share our separated lives. Today’s families are so disjoint. One child in one city. Another so far away on a different coast. Some nearby, although most not so.

Yet when together we enjoy each other’s company, and we share time together. Not in our own separate worlds, but on a 24 by 7 marathon. Each day from first awakening to lights out we go and talk and sit and shop and eat together.

Always it’s been the children who come home to Austin for the holidays. Some for a week or more – the closer ones. Others for only a few days – the farther ones.

I think it’s time for a change. So I took the leap and asked my older son, Justin, and his wife Stephanie, who are newly married, if they would host the holidays at their place in San Francisco. Without a moment’s delay they said sure.

Now you’ve got to understand, they own a 900 square foot condo on a quiet side-street in the Mission Dolores area of the city. And that would mean there would be seven adults with their spouses or girlfriends. Then Stephanie added she would like her mother to visit too – now we’re up to eight. And they only have a single bathroom. We’d have to pre-assign toilet and shower times, but we all agreed that we’d manage.

In the next few months the plan remained – no one dropped out and no one was added. Soon the time was upon us and we were there.

It was to be the first meeting of the two families. Chris, Stephanie’s mother, was arriving first from France and getting adjusted to the time zone. Then our family was arriving about a week later. So we were all crammed together – going and talking and sitting and shopping and eating.

A key dinner was planned and we would each contribute. Justin had never deboned a chicken. To figure it out he watched online videos. It took him an hour to remove every bone in two chickens, stuff them and truss them up like a roast. Several of us watched the surgical procedure with interest while injecting our own suggestions of how to do it. Soon it was done and ready for the oven.

Chris had been trained as a hairdresser but her French education included cooking. Not just simple things, but true French cuisine. Her offering was au gratin potatoes – sliced potatoes, Gruyere cheese, and cream, plenty of cream. Mixed together and placed in the oven they bubbled and boiled. They were watched and commented on, and only when the bubbling had calmed were they ready. So few ingredients, but in her hands the results became extraordinary.

Our treat was to make the cookies including sweet butter cookies with sugar icing. Sometime we carefully decorate them with bright colored patterns, shapes, or outlines. This time we just drizzled them like a Jackson Pollock modern art painting. We’re not tidy chefs. After we had made the cookies the kitchen is a mess. Flour all over the table. Mixing bowls piled high. Later after we had decorated them there were drips of icing dribbled all over the baking sheets. They were a buttery, doughy, sticky, colorful mess. When we cook we go all in.

That night we crowded around their porch table and we celebrated the holidays, the joining of our families and the food, especially the food.

[Written as part of an in-class exercise for a Memoirs class I am taking. 4/21/2015]

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