Being an intuitive and creative cook, my mom never measured. For her signature hearty Italian stew, she cooked several portions of beef, sometimes fowl, and mild, sweet Italian sausage in olive oil infused with fragrant, whole bay leaves. The flesh sizzled as it seared. Her trusted meat vendor in town saved her choice cuts. She added slender slices of sweet green peppers, brown skinned onions and celery. I peeled and she diced crunchy orange carrots and papery white garlic. I opened and she added the contents of two or three cans of whole red tomatoes and a can of tomato paste.
I was taught to cook by layering, applying, editing, marinating and waiting – but mostly by tasting, smelling, listening and experiencing the preparation and finished product in all its stages.
But today, my grandmother was making and teaching me how to make homemade pasta downstairs in my mom’s sewing room. My mom had embarked on the savory process earlier without my help. I performed my Saturday chores, cleaning the bathrooms as well as tidying and vacuuming my bedroom. Broadway tunes blasted from our RCA record player and stereo speakers as we worked
After stirring and surreptitiously tasting the sauce, I joined my Abuela (grandma) downstairs, in the hobby/laundry room. She visited from Argentina and lived with us for a little under a year when I was ten years old. She had scoured the silver splattered Formica topped table to a polish. A strip of ribbed shiny chrome curved tightly around the edges of the table, like a rimmed, sleek headlight on a 60s winged Chevrolet, driven with swagger by a lacquered – haired rebel without a care in the world. The table could be enlarged using an extra piece you inserted into the middle. I helped center the wooden nubs into their respective holes from one end and pushed.
My mom spread, laid out, pinned and cut her inexpensive fabrics using sheer tan McCall or Simplicity patterns on the work surface, producing practical outfits for her daughters and herself. I learned to make gnocchi, pasta, and pizza atop the smooth, level plateau. I performed my home – schooled Spanish reading and writing on the sewing room “desk” while my mom manually pressed her foot on her Singer sewing machine or fed our clothes through the pins that squashed our laundry dry while she washed clothes.
Initially, when my parents immigrated from Argentina and lived in apartments, it was our kitchen table. After purchasing our first home on Long Island, in the town of Kings Park, on Thistle Lane, it morphed into a “behind the scenes” activity center.