Monday, February 18, 2013

Notes from the Field: On family, and Vanilla Speculoos Pecan Praline and Bourbon Caramel Cupcakes

Yesterday I took a bus. 

Well, to be fair, I took a subway to the middle of Central Park South, with hot coffee and a black and white cookie in hand, and got on a bus to Staten Island. We zoomed down Broadway, past the Freedom Tower and Bay Ridge, and over the Verrazano Bridge to where my dad and uncle picked me up. We were there for Sunday dinner. It was 1pm. 

My father's parents are south for winter, but we got a little treat anyways: my grandfather and his siblings still meet for Sunday dinner each week. They are 80-96 years old and they are amazing.

Dinner was cooked by the girls, at nearly 94 and 96, but Uncle Eddie dropped off his lasagna before he left. He's the baby, and the one that came back from a trip to Italy wearing a basil leaf behind his ear. Uncle Freddy was a butcher, so he carved up the chicken, to go with the antipast, bresaola, the rigatoni and the greens and olive salad.

Dinnertime topics included getting a movie projector in 1936 and rent costs in the 30s ($25/month). They argued about the merits of having dishwashers, and Aunt Lucy proclaimed that she never wanted a machine to take away her beloved chore. My dad and uncle did the dishes. The men went to watch golf. I stayed to talk with the ladies in the kitchen, but out of the corner of my eye, I spotted by 61-year old father get on the ground, grab his 88-year old uncle's foot, place it on his knee and tie his shoe. 

And this is when I turned off my phone and really listened hard.

Aunt Ann talked about cruise ships and somehow we got into talking about deep sea fishing off Sheepshead Bay. I learned the best way to cut the head off big fish (with a saw) and escape seasickness (only drink bouillabaisse). Over Sambuca, cannoli and savoiardi, we talked about getting drunk on Courvoisier and where to buy low acid instant coffee for my grandfather. They talked about humility and each other. They talked about us. They talked about life.

These people have a longevity that amazes me, and yet, they also must have done something right. They've seen life in motion go from 8mm movie projectors to Blu-Ray discs. They've gone from sepia to black-and-white to color. They've been through more wars, births, deaths and changes of office then some of us may ever see. 

But, they are together. They know the importance of family, whatever "family" might mean, and constant support. They can hear strains in each other's voices. They took each other in during times of hardship and even today, when one is down, another stays with them for a week. They still eat together, and they are really together when they do it. They know what they have. They are reminders of a different time and place. 

So what does this have to do with vanilla cupcakes with speculoos pecan praline cream filling, bourbon caramel buttercream, and chocolate dipped waffle rolls on top? I suppose everything and nothing at all.

I always loved those articles about the people who forget to die or the island of lifelong happiness, but I have my own old person club right across the bridge. This is a lesson. This is why I am who I am today. These people are my living history; the best teachers I could have. I am very lucky.    

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