Most of the recipes are less than a page long, with extremely short lists of ingredients that are mostly already in my pantry or growing in my garden. In fact, my shopping trip was surprising quick and inexpensive (although I couldn't find tangerines for the tangerine/vanilla floats and I forgot to get pasteurized whole milk for the ricotta--this isn't specified in the recipe but I know from previous cheese-making experiences that the commonly-sold ultra-pasteurized organic milk simply will not work, at least not with the mozzarella that I had made). What's more, some of the recipes took less than five minutes to make (seriously). And, although there is a "Vegetarian" challenge chapter, the veg-friendly recipes abound through the book (in fact, I, a vegetarian, haven't cooked any from the veg chapter yet, although they look terrific). And although there is a "Farmer's Market" challenge, CookFight is sprinkled with seasonality from beginning to end and provided me with the opportunity to feature mint, jalapenos, tomatoes, sage, and even my bumper crop of tomatillos.
Anyway, so the girls come home and they suck down the tomatillo salsa with chips and by itself, and they proclaim it a hit. They tell me to make it again soon but I say that all our tomatillos are now gone so we most likely won't have this again until next year at this time. And then we realize. Next year at this time, my older daughter will not be here.
And then I realize, to myself. But she is here now, this week.
And so I cooked. And just about every day this week, my girls were here with me at a time of day they usually aren't anymore. I placed each dish on the kitchen table as it came out of the oven or off the stove, no candles lit or table set for dinner as in the past. The sun streamed in, and we ate and talked and laughed. And Julia and Kim gave me gift after gift after gift--not just the time I had with my daughters but the chance to witness them having such special time with each other.
I called Kim on Friday and I shared some of this with her as she was walking from her home to soccer practice for her young daughter, juggling motherhood and work and life the way we all seem to be doing, wondering if technology hurts us (making us available 24/7) or helps us (enabling us to go to soccer practices mid-afternoon). Kim has been in Atlanta for two years now and I asked her what surprised her about the South and what she would miss if she left, and she answered, "I was surprised how little I knew about the South, and how there are layers and layers of complexity here. And I would miss the people. The spirit of the people. The soul."
I thought of my girls, our hands in those pans, our moments together fleeting, this week now a precious shared memory. I thought of the complexity of meaning food has held for us over the years, the simplicity with which Julia and Kim (both mothers, like me) share their most meaningful family favorites, and the stories that elevate them to classics in their excellent new book CookFight. I thought of next year, when the leaves once again change color and my Southern-born older daughter is elsewhere, and how much we will miss her, her spirit, her soul. And I thought of Kim's simple words on the phone when she had to switch from the land line to the cell phone so she could transition from work duty to mom duty.
"You know how it is" she said. "You know."
And that's the thing about CookFight (release date: October 30--purchase it here ). Julia and Kim know. And, in all honesty, I cannot imagine anyone not finding something (or, most likely, many things) to love about this book--whether it's a recipe that will make you laugh out loud, a fancy technique finally explained in a way that makes you say, "now I get that," a story that will grip you with its (yes, Frank) grace or gusto, or make you want to bake date nut bread in saved coffee cans and ship like a piece of your heart to family or friends (such as beloved former co-workers--John, one's coming when you least expect it) or even a daughter far away (I'll start collecting coffee cans now). If nothing else, you want (trust me) the simple, magical recipe for what we've been calling "the puffy cheesy things" but which Julia calls cheddar gougeres (I know there's an accent on that but am having trouble adding it--apologies again), and about which Kim commented to me, "People always love puffy cheese things, in my experience."
For days now, I've been finding corn kernels in odd places in my kitchen, and the house smells like heaven, and there are many more recipes from CookFight I'd like to make. But auditions for the next plays are coming up for both my daughters, and my global creativity team's project is due Tuesday. And time, like cookies, continues to disappear in record speed.
But at least I'm finally okay about my Jamie now.