Tuesday, April 28, 2009

my mother's birthday.

it seems fitting that i would start this journal journey with a short tribute to the most loving food influence in my life. today is my mother's birthday, and though she has been gone for over a decade, i think of her each and every day. mostly at meal times. always at the delicious bite of our season's first fruits.

my mother transformed love into food, and food into love. it was the vehicle in which she showed us her dedication to community, wellness and simple aesthetic pleasure. she was a natural zen buddhist. living the day to day moment to its fullest. that was helen vella.
starting monday, helen would take a trip "up ditmars" with her rolling basket cart to each favorite specialty food store. it was the first part of preparation in the every day dinner meal. monday through friday, without fail, mostly rain or shine, the trip was made. In a linear sweep, she worked her way from 47th street to 31st street , down one side of the street, and back home on the other side. the task at hand: selecting the day's most important meal, piece by piece. sal's produce for daily fresh vegetables, joe's pork store for coarsely ground sausage stuffed with fresh italian parsley & provolone cheese, carl's dairy for super aged auricchio provolone, pecorino romano, daily made mozzarella, perfectly sliced lunch meats. joe the butcher on steinway wrapped roasts, and pounded veal scallopini precisely to her wishes, and though she cooked simply, there were standards. fridays during lent included a trip to the marino's fish, for pristine flounder or a glistening, milky fillet of sole. . there were a myriad of other stores for ethnic delights; olives, cheeses, pastries, cookies. ben and pete at associated food store were a sometime stop for staples. most importantly, the last stop home was to the bakery for a loaf of crusty, seeded semolina bread. it was the final, and most critical purchase to complete the dinner. it was a crazy schedule, we all ate at different hours between five and seven.it was truly a full time job, one she relished and fiercely upheld through all of our lives together.

i think lately of how my days have been consumed with endless work meetings, conference calls, countless trips in the car. i have spent so many hours in pointless conversations about topics that, at the end of the day, don't really matter. at the heart of it all, love and happiness take such simple shapes in our daily lives for us to see. like the glistening frame on my mom's hand cart as she rolled up ditmars. one day in my twenties, i passed her in my car and saw happiness and bright resolve on her face as she walked briskly in the sunshine. i pulled over, so happy to have chanced upon seeing her, to give her a lift. it startled her for a moment, and i remember how much i loved her in that very minute. we laughed . tried to figure out how to fold the cart and get it and the food easily into the back seat of the car. it was far more complicated than if she had just finished the trip on foot, but she figured it out - just for me.
by far, it was one of the sweetest memories of my life. love and food, all wrapped up in the joy of shopping and cooking for this family. that was my mother, and that is one of the many simple, loving moments she has passed on to us. if you knew her, you would understand that this is what made her happy the most, and happy to share with you.

bon apetit.