I still remember the Sunday Suppers of my childhood. Mostly, we’d always have the daily dinner as a family, but Sunday was special, and in the same breath, typical. Mid-Sunday morning, the comforting smell of pan fried meatballs would permeate through the house. Those little packages of deliciousness would be delicately plunked into the large pot of simmering red gravy. Throughout the day, I’d sneak a meatball or two, pour a little extra on top and sprinkle a little cheese. Occasionally, I’d catch my Mom grabbing a meatball or nonchalantly dunk a bread end into the pot. Our burned mouths supported the fact that we couldn’t eat it fast enough. No one questioned what would be served for dinner. It was Sunday. Every Sunday was gravy day.
Last night, my sister-in-law made some delicious stuffed mushrooms as the appetizer to our grilled kabob and rice dinner. The mushrooms pulled me back to my grandmother’s living room during Christmastime. She stuffed the little pudgy fungi with a mixture of breadcrumbs, sautéed garlic and chopped mushroom stems, parsley and parmesan cheese. Occasionally, hot, Italian sausage crumbles would make an appearance in the baked hors d’oeuvre.
So, today…I reheated two of the stuffed mushrooms and immediately thought of my grandmother, Frieda. Ahhh, Frieda. My heart filled with sadness for my fading childhood and my aging elders. There was a time that Frieda would spend hours on her feet, sweating in the kitchen while preparing a feast of feasts. We tasted throughout the cooking progress in true Italian fashion – boisterous chatting with arms waving. Frieda taste tested everything to the point that she barely ate the meal she prepared. She sat at the table, drinking water from her ‘everyday’ glasses with her arms crossed over her chest. She’d lean forward and micromanage the feeding frenzy to make sure that everyone had enough food on their plate. An Italian woman's worst nightmare is to run out of food and have the company leave hungry. This paranoia forced Frieda to overcook and overfeed, which led to the eventual overstuffing.
As time progressed, her arthritic hands continued to stuff squid, bake her famous stuffing and fry eggplant. A few years back she let me stay in the kitchen with her while she made her gravy. It was the summer of 2008. Marcus and I traveled, with five month old Ava, to the shore for the week. So, there we were, on a Sunday, sweating in the small kitchen frying pork, sausage links and meatballs. Frieda directed me during the process, in her Italian forcefulness, all the while educating me on making tasty gravy. The secret ingredient shocked me. When it’s time I’ll pass it on.
Ahhh, Frieda. Her hands are unable to assemble the greatest eggplant parmesan and her memory might not recall those secret ingredients, but I will not forget the times we spent together bonding over the process of preparing some of her signature dishes. Next Sunday, I’ll dedicate to Frieda. It’s gonna be a feast to remember!