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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

She Still Takes Care of Us

A few weeks ago, Anne made me dinner.

For some of you—my friends who knew her only through this blog, or those few lovely people who discovered this site on your own—this will seem entirely mundane. This blog testifies to the fact that she loved even mundane weekday cooking, and in the first few months after I moved here she invited me over for dinner quite a few times: tastes of home, in the difficult first few months of adjusting to a new city, and a new post-college life.

The rest of you are probably wondering what the hell I meant by that first sentence.

When we started this blog, Anne had already been diagnosed with cancer. Writing it was her idea; something we could do together, a reason to talk more and to enjoy more time together. It was early days then, and I was younger and less well informed, but I think even then I knew in the back of my mind that that statement came with a clause that neither of us wanted to vocalize. "While we have time," written in invisible ink.

As it turns out, it wound up being quite a bit of time: the first post went up in July of 2010, and though we could never keep a schedule, we did so much here together. Anne and I have been cooking together since I was a child—my first post here referenced the story of Ice Pie, which I should certainly tell some day—and almost every visit, we'd conspire about what to make. Now, though, the conspiring could go on all the time, because even when we were on opposite ends of Massachusetts, or opposite sides of the planet, we were still collaborating. Anne had always been the one to reign in my crazy ideas, to teach me technique and patience, and through this blog she taught me more lessons: to be creative within a budget, to understand the value of recipes and inspiration, and to write things down while you can, lest you forget them. When we came together, we cooked together- dinner parties and thanksgiving feasts, and ordinary meals—and she always remembered to get pictures, and to document everything we made. 

When I finished up at Williams, and moved out here in August of 2012, one of my ideas was that now, away from the insanity of college workload, and a half-hour's walk from Anne, we could do more with the blog. That happened, a little. I went to farmers markets and called her to talk excitedly about what I'd gotten. I made interesting things, took plenty of pictures, and planned out posts in my head, two or three of which actually made it onto the site. On the whole though, the grand resurgence never really happened. Partly, it was because I was alternately busy and lazy, and have never been great at doing things that should happen soon, but have no fixed deadlines.

Partly though, it's because Anne wasn't up to it. She was tired more of the time, up for shorter visits with less exertion. The drugs from the last trial messed with both her appetite and her taste buds, and what wound up as her last post, a recipe for gazpacho with one of her characteristically elegant introductions, went up in September of 2012.  We did eat together quite a few times after that- including a few memorable meals around Harvard Square at pleasant places I always managed, despite my best efforts, to be late to. Without realizing it though,my chance to cook with her slipped through my fingers. And then, this past May, so did she. 

For most of the last six months, I haven't been able to think about this blog. This was something we did together, and I couldn't begin to wrap my head around the idea of doing it alone. 

And then, she made me dinner.

I'm staying here for a little while now, with Ken, in her house, sleeping up in what even they always called "Colin's Room." I've been doing a lot of the cooking, and one day we needed red sauce for something, and rather than use something in a jar, Ken mentioned that I should check the basement freezer. I went down the creaky old stairs and there, in the freezer I'd never opened, were two quiches, several clear containers of her meticulously-made stock, and three pint containers of red meat sauce, all of course, in recycled containers and exactly labeled. 

We brought it upstairs, boiled pasta, sautéed peppers and onions and garlic, opened a bottle of wine, and sat down, at the table on which so many of her creations had been served. It was, of course, excellent.

As you can see above, I do not have Anne's gift for food photography. As you can see above, I do not have her gift for brevity either. I don't know where this blog will go from here, though I imagine it will still feature some recipes, the odd restaurant review, and certainly plenty of our beloved Random Musings About Food. But I do know now that I can carry it forward. I've realized that even now, and even when the food in the freezer has all been eaten, and even when the spices in her spice rack are exhausted and replaced, and not when the kitchen equipment has broken down, and  even when I am far away from this house and this table and these memories of where I learned to love cooking and companionship so much, I will never have to do this alone. 

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