There’s no escape. The governments are running amok, in both my countries. In America they’ve actually closed up! How in the world can a government close? Is it, sort of, like the supermarket closing when my fridge is empty? What exactly does it mean?
And it’s just impossible to escape all the breaking news. His fault. Her fault. Their fault. No, their fault! I don’t want to hear another word.
It’s TV, radio, internet, newspapers. Help. No way out.. I’ll go and make some meatballs. That’s the cure. That’s the comfort. I wish I could make my mother’s meatballs though. Sadly, I don’t know how.
That’s why when two of my grandchildren, at separate universities, each recently called me within a week of each other, I was so happy to share my recipe, such as it is. Ma’ayan and Benji both wanted to make my meatballs. And so it was.
I rarely use recipes when I cook anything. I’m a cook of the taste, look, or toss variety, meaning if it looks right, tastes right, I’m good to go. And if it doesn’t, just keep tossing stuff into the pot until I’ve got it. It works for me, as unscientific as it may seem to you.
That’s how my mother cooked too. And she was really a chef. She had learned cooking as the daughter of a hotel owning family where her mother was just about the entire staff. So, Bubby milked the cows, made the butter and cream, did all the baking and all the cooking. My mother always attributed her mother’s early death to overwork in the Catskill Borscht Belt. Who knows? But my grandmother was known as a legendary cook and my mother was no slouch either.
Mom also learned the lingo. Meatballs were never just meatballs. That didn’t look appealing on the menu or when the college boys serving as waiters spouted out the evening’s offerings. So my mother’s meatballs, on the menus at our Bauman House hotel, were fricassee with meatballs. Somehow that made the guests think they were eating something fancier than they got at their Brooklyn or Newark homes where they ate in a kitchen, not a hotel dining room.
My mother served her fricassee with meatballs several times a month, always on Friday nights for the big family dinners. The last decades of her life were spent, with my father, in an apartment in Herzliya. Invites were not necessary. Friday night dinner was always there and their small dining room, in the Jewish tradition, stretched to include everyone in the growing family.
Even my sister’s white German shepherd, the brilliant Yogi. He was given special treatment on Friday nights. He would arrive at my parent’s house, barking joyfully as he charged up the single flight of stairs, knowing full well what awaited him in the cramped kitchen. A big bowl of fresh water and a veritable feast of leftovers, including chicken bones (which Israeli dogs are allowed to eat, while their more pampered American cousins are likely to immediately choke to death from imbibing even one), often drowning in the inimitable gravy from the fricassee with meatballs.
Yogi’s meals on Friday nights were so exquisite and delicious that, long after my mother died, and my father moved into an assisted living facility in Raanana, he would escape his own home, at least a mile away, with numerous dangerous crossings, and arrive at my parent’s apartment looking for the fricassee and, even more, for my parents. Always, however, on Friday nights. He knew when it was Friday and he knew where he should be! Try to explain missing people to a dog, even a brilliant one like Yogi. If he himself were not in olam ha ba, he’d still be looking. Of this I’m positive.
My mother’s meatballs were definitely her signature dish. I would, like Yogi, love drowning my challah in the gravy. I just couldn’t get enough of it.
But, silly me, I never asked her how to make them. Until it was too late.
She was already in the final weeks of her life when I finally asked her how she made the meatballs. Her mind wove in and out but, make a grammatical mistake in her presence and she’d pick up on it in a flash. So, surely she could share her meatball recipe.
So, I asked and she said, It’s so easy. You know. And I didn’t know. So I told her, I don’t know. And she again said You know. And we were back and forth like that. And I never got the recipe.
Believe me I’ve tried to replicate it. She didn’t have exotic ingredients in the house so I knew it wasn’t some spice from India or anything not on the supermarket shelves. I looked and tried but I never got it right. And I still haven’t.
Meanwhile another generation has started cooking. My grandchildren. And they think my meatballs are something special. Fancy that! I know that mine are a feeble imitation of my mother’s. I don’t think Yogi would risk his life to get to my meatballs.
But Ma’ayan and Benji followed my instructions and both sent me pictures of the delicious looking meatballs which were declared a success at each of their campus Shabbat meals. And, happily, they now know how to make them.
As to my mother’s, well I still don’t know, but even thinking about them in this crazy world we live in, makes me calmer. That’s the joy in comfort foods.