On Thursday, when I was making Twice Baked Potato Casserole for the Thanksgiving brunch I hosted, I went looking for something to “mash the potatoes a little,” just as the recipe had instructed. At first, I used a big fork, but it wasn’t doing the trick. Then I remembered Mom’s old pastry cutter.
The first time I married—foolishly, in 1972, when I was 17—Mom went through her gadget drawer and pulled out some utensils she thought I might need for my new domestic duties. In the box she handed me was an old steel carrot and potato peeler and the pastry cutter. Picking up the peeler back then immediately brought to mind memories of Grandma coming out on the train from Los Angeles to Lakewood (a 20-minute drive in a car these days), Dad picking her up at the train station, Grandma bringing day-old cinnamon-raisin bread (because her boyfriend worked at a bakery), coloring books and crayons. She was always laughing. (Not so, my mother.) The two would sit in the kitchen for hours, preparing Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, occasionally conscripting me or my sister to peel potatoes (never the boys or my father). I would stand on a kitchen stool over the sink, peeling and listening, trying to understand the conversation of two aging women quietly denigrating men, marriage and menial chores. If only I had understood more….
After I married, I used the potato peeler often, and the pastry cutter as well, baking pies from scratch and other delectable goodies that my husband hardly took time to smell before consuming. I baked my own bread for the twelve years that I was married. After becoming single, I didn’t bake bread for almost two decades. Now I do again.
And I’m cooking again, at least when I have guests over. (Seems to be a lot of trouble to go to just for me, so most days it’s frozen vegetarian dinners for me.) A few years back, when I began to entertain and cook for others, I thought I should replace some of my utensils, get some nice, shiny new stuff in case one of my guests offered to help with the cooking. At Target, I found myself staring at a wall of bright utensils, wondering if, when I bought new ones, I’d be able to toss out those things Mom had given me so many decades ago. When I realized the answer was no, I turned and walked away.