I Look Up and See the Worst | Main | Becky from Roseanne and Other Stuff
March 31, 2006
Let us usher in April and as we do so, acknowledge two different momentous occasions that are set to occur. For one, Fairway is opening in Red Hook, and secondly, in four weeks Alexis and I will wed. Good cheeses and a signed marriage license aside, one might not see the relationship between the new humongous supermarket and our pending nuptials. They are, however, quite intertwined.
Alexis and I began cooking together early in our relationship. One evening, while rummaging through my spice cabinet, he pulled down several unopened canisters of paprika, checked their dates and exclaimed, These spices are from 1999! I joined him on a stool to survey the upper shelf of the cupboard, moving aside the sealed jars of marjoram and thyme and allowing Alexis to inspect the expiration dates. You haven�t lived near Fairway in five years. Isn�t it time to replace these? The fact of the matter is that I had never intended to use them. Those Fairway jars sat in the upper cabinet of every apartment I had lived in during my post-baccalaureate years in New York.
My Aunt Lisa discovered flavor after watching the Food Network during her second round of cancer treatment. When it became clear that her fifth floor walkup was not conducive to chemotherapy, she moved in with my parents on Long Island. While there, she critiqued my mother�s use of one cutting board for both poultry and legumes, worried about our lack of organic produce, and drove everyone crazy regarding their daily food intake.
Throughout her treatment, Lisa would spend hours watching cooking shows. When they were over, she would compile her best choices, print out the recipes and request a dish upon my mother�s return from work. This ritual would continue until hospice care, through the point in which the cancer began to eat away at her stomach, ceasing all ingestion of solid foods. In the end, my parents would put Lisa�s meals in the blender and she would eat whatever she could. At middle age, three months before her 49th birthday and, two weeks later, her death, my aunt discovered the wonders of food that tasted good. In one of those wonderful life twists, she could not eat any of it.
My aunt loved New York as much as I love Brooklyn. For a few brief months after my college graduation, I helped care for Lisa in her tiny studio apartment on the Upper West Side. For what turned out to be her last walk in Manhattan before her death, she requested that we go food shopping. Together we dragged her gigantic granny cart down Broadway to Fairway, whereupon she proceeded to purchase a restaurant�s worth of spices�nearly one of each from the display. She would never use them. Four months later, I removed the same items from her kitchen shelves, placed them in a "to take" pile, and continued to clean out 5B of West 83rd Street, my aunt�s life.
When we moved into our current house, I stocked the spice cupboard. On the top shelf, too far to reach without a stepladder, I pushed in four sealed canisters of expired paprika, dated 1999. These bottles serve two uses. The first is memory, with the obvious connections, and the second is as a reminder. If I have learned anything in my life thus far, it is that living frightened and closed can only result in taste buds unrealized. There is nothing more precious than trying something new. One should never fear the flavor of life.
This April, Fairway will open and I will be one of the first people on line. In the spices section, I will buy one of each canister from the display case. Later that evening, Alexis and I will cook together, and when the house fills with smells of dinner, I will think of Lisa. There are a lot of things that would make her proud of me�loving Brooklyn, finding Alexis, job stability, my daily intake of vegetables. Mostly, though, it is the simplicity of happiness. In the years since her death, I have struggled to find the space within myself to move forward and grow. Recently I realized that I have far surpassed that battle. There is so much joy and that would make her smile.
Posted by callalillie at March 31, 2006 10:54 AM | Introspect , La Familia
good that you're keeping them.
and i assume spices go bad? i mean, it would make sense.
Posted by: tien at March 31, 2006 11:02 AM
yikes. i so meant to publish this on monday. oh well.
yes, spices lose their flavor after a while. you can still use them but they are milder...i used an old bottle of cumin the other day and it made the dish much blander than usual.
Posted by: corie at March 31, 2006 11:15 AM
I'm sure it's just the pregnancy hormones and all, but I am now BAWLING.
Just cause I'm so happy for you.
Posted by: phc at March 31, 2006 11:20 AM
that was absolutely beautiful.
Posted by: jason at March 31, 2006 11:59 AM
what a wonderful story. thank you for sharing it. holding dear memories like those will take you far in a happy life.
Posted by: stacia at March 31, 2006 12:03 PM
What a wonderful way to remember Lisa! It makes me feel so good that you have taken some lasting positives from that whole ordeal. Lisa would be so happy that she touched your life in so many ways.
Posted by: nancy at March 31, 2006 12:03 PM
what a wonderfully sensual and beautiful tale. it was an exquisite treat that captured so much of your aunt, your relationship, your life and your happiness. thanks....
Posted by: sonnet at March 31, 2006 12:19 PM
That was very moving, thank you for sharing it with us.
Posted by: Manuchao at March 31, 2006 12:39 PM
This is a beautiful story... I suggest you watch "A Touch of Spice" if you can... It brought me back to days I would cook with my grandmother a zillion years ago. Except I'm a little more familiar to the whole Greek -Turkish thing, but I bet you'll like it..
I enjoy reading your blog. I guess today was my day to break-in and say hi.
Posted by: Asli at March 31, 2006 12:42 PM
You should work this into an article for a cooking magazine or web site. I was very moved by it and it has beautiful themes in it that resonate. Death and holding on, growth and discarding expired ideas, and how food weaves through these intertwined relationships. It ends so hopeful.
I love your site and photography. It's inspiring. I tend to take few pictures and not think about the art of it.
Posted by: Janet at March 31, 2006 1:22 PM
wonderfully written and very moving. thanks for sharing.
Posted by: emily at March 31, 2006 2:29 PM
Very beautuful and a touching tribute to your Aunt.
There were many different moments in Spice to think about.
Posted by: petrie at March 31, 2006 4:28 PM
lovely. thank you. crying now.
Posted by: cuddles at March 31, 2006 4:29 PM
That was so beautiful. Thanks for the simple reminder to live life and be joyful.
Posted by: Jessica at March 31, 2006 4:59 PM
lovely, I'm glad Alex is the type of person to understand the significance of the spices.
Posted by: Lala at March 31, 2006 5:13 PM
How beautiful, Corie. A toast to Lisa next time you add a little spice to your life. I can see her smiling now.
Posted by: Vickie at March 31, 2006 7:18 PM
i'm so proud of you corie, i love you.
Posted by: gg at April 1, 2006 7:27 PM