“When an old person dies it's like a library burning” ~ Overheard at The Nantucket Project
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I've owned many houses in my 40+ years, although one neighborhood, in particular, will always hold a special place in my heart.
It's the neighborhood where I became a homeowner for the first time, as well as a parent. The neighborhood of second houses, and a new daughter. The neighborhood I returned to after life knocked me around a bit, and I longed for a place of familiar
a place to retreat
The kind of neighborhood filled mature trees and houses with old-time woodwork and squeaky hardwood floors. The kind of houses your father furrows his brow at, while you gleefully show him around, and advises you against buying because all of the systems that matter are old (ps: he was right)
The kind of houses where the windows leak like sieves, the garage tilts slightly to the left, and a bat or two flies around in the attic. The kind of neighborhood where the houses, as well as their inhabitants, are filled with
Although I moved to the other side of town, my route to the co-op often finds me driving through. This week I noticed the “For Sale” sign in front of her house
She had to have been in her nineties by now, her husband having long since passed. The only child of parents from the Great Depression, she had an impressive collection of nearly everything. Tupperware, yogurt and soup containers, and cookie jars.
The Pillsbury Doughboys were her favorite
I loved that she hid envelopes of cash in them, much the way my great-grandfather did with empty Planters peanut cans. “Oops .. don't look in there. That's my going to the casino money” I can't remember a single time she went to the casino.
She mothered three children, eight grandchildren, and anyone else she took a liking to (which were many). She held opinions and perspectives on mothering that she never wavered from, nor forced upon you. Something tells me
she did a darn good job
Her trade was baking. She worked part-time in the bakery, well into her late seventies. She forever had streaks of flour in her hair and a piece of pie in the fridge
She was both private and talkative in a way that I could never quite put my finger on and made friends wherever she went. A spirit that was so, so beautiful.
After I married and left the neighborhood for the very last time, I slowly lost touch.
I regret that I didn't stop when I heard she was slowing down — not a visit to mark a holiday or a quick passing through. Instead, to sit with her at her kitchen table full of newspapers, coffee cups, and memories. To simply chat.
I think back to the days when my kids were little; when neighbors left hot bubbly casseroles on front porches. Somehow she always knew when a tuna noodle casserole was the thing I needed most. An intuition that comes only from years and years of observation.
As she grew older, I noticed our roles had slowly reversed. Now it was my turn to show up with hot pad holders and pots in hand, or run inside for her glasses so she could work in the garden
It's an interesting and beautiful thing, this watching as another person ages gracefully. The relationships that shift, ever so delicately that one hardly notices. Like a tide changing, or puppies growing; you don't see it all at once. But at a point, it strikes you that
something is different
A conversation my daughter and I have on repeat as of late “Sweetie, I've been cooking today, can I stop with dinner?”
“Mom, why didn't you cook like this when we were growing up?”
“Kiddo, the only thing you'd eat was noodles with butter and parmesan”
And as I say the words, I'm transported to our back-yard conversations two decades ago. She'd tell me to sing to the kids when they were babies and up in the night. That no matter how tired I was with a baby and a toddler underfoot, that the college degree I was pursuing? It would pay off in the end
She'd smile as a little girl sat on her front porch, spoon in hand, attempting a bowl of buttery noodles. She'd tell me not to worry; this too shall pass. That eating should never be a forced or stressful affair. Promising that by twenty-one she wouldn't wear her swimsuit and tap shoes everywhere, and her culinary choices will have expanded
And, truth be told? Buttery, cheesy noodles really were
How I wish I had one more chance. To tell her how very right she was, and thank her for friendship over the years
While the little girl with parmesan in her hair did grow into an adventurous eater, she's yet to abandon her love of pasta. Therefore, I've included it in some of the recipes I pass her way. Ideas for nutritious dinners she can make for her family.
This one fits the bill. It's easy, quick, and filled with flavor. It's perfect for casual dinner parties or an everyday dinner. Especially when served with a salad on the side and a glass of wine
~ Adapted from Bon Appetit | December 2002
Roasted Mushroom Pasta Salad
- 1 lb fresh mushrooms, washed, stemmed and sliced
- 8 oz grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
- ½ onion, sliced
- 4 -5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 Tbsp dried oregano
- 6 oz whole grain pasta (or pasta of your choice)
- ¾ - 1 lb chicken tenders, halved lengthwise, then halved crosswise
- 1 tsp thyme
- 1 tsp rosemary
- pinch of red pepper flakes, optional, but nice if you like a touch of heat
- 1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
- ½ cup low-salt chicken broth
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- 2 Tbsp capers
- 1 (15 oz can) white kidney beans (optional)
- Roast the Mushrooms and Tomatoes
- Preheat the oven to 450° F
- In a medium-sized bowl add the tomatoes, mushrooms, onion, garlic, oregano, 3-4 Tbsp olive oil, a strong pinch of fine grain sea salt + freshly ground black pepper
- Line a baking sheet with foil (or parchment paper) and spread the sliced mushrooms and tomatoes in an even layer
- Roast 25-30 minutes, or until the mushrooms are light brown and the tomato skins have begun to split
- Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the package directions until it's tender, but still firm to the bite; drain and let stand in a colander
- Season the chicken with a pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- In the same pot you used to cook the pasta, heat the remaining Tbsp oil over medium-high heat.
- Add the chicken to the pot and saute until brown and cooked through (~ 5 - 8 minutes)
- Lower to the heat to low or simmer
- Add roasted mushroom and tomatoes mix to the pot. Add the pasta, feta, Parmesan, chick broth, capers and wine; toss
- Simmer, stirring occasionally (so the cheese doesn't clump), until the dish is heated through and the sauce has coated the pasta (~ 4-5 minutes).