But to call this a cookbook is inexact, inadequate.
This book is a guide to a Moroccan way, a glimpse into the living soul of a cuisine, and perhaps of a man.
The opening essay is a memoir of how the author came to cooking. His loving stories of childhood in a multi-generational home in the medina of Marrakech are tempting and compelling.
The conclusion of one section — he accompanies his grandfather on the daily market run to the souk, with produce first, then meat — ends with the arresting sentence I quoted at the outset. That sentence grabbed me and caused quick, happy tears as memories of similar learning exploded in my mind.
I did not know my maternal grandfather; he died when I was six.
But I have much of my father in me, and much of his father.
Pop Carter, who died in 1985, had a short fuse. I do too, although I like to think this is mellowing with age and self-realization.
He also had a patience about him, and an orderliness that came with being a draftsman. I remember the organization of his workbench, with screws and nuts and nails and washers and tools and implements all carefully sorted and stored. I remember how he used the word “kindly” in unexpected places in sentences. He was gentle. And respected. And sincere.
I never really knew him, though. We lived apart, and we saw each other in visits several times yearly. I have no idea of his politics, or what he liked to read (if he read at all).
What I have now, in my late 50s (how strange it is to write that!), is a lasting memory of love, of kindness to others, of the gift of banter and putting others at ease, of watching him at ease in his world. Of being centered.
And I think that is a part of what it is to learn to be a human being.
I pause to wipe my eyes and love a bit on MacCarthy, my new companion who is more at ease today as I write than he was yesterday. This poor damaged dog, so in need of love . . . .
My own father had that same gift of banter. I saw him do this any time I went to the bank with him. He had a kind word for anyone he met there. I’ve written on this blog previously of this gift that I do think he passed on to me.
I am writing on Sunday, after watching this morning the Sunday Eucharist from Washington National Cathedral. A mention of a Red Cross blood drive in the District of Columbia pinged quickly to memories of my father’s involvement with the local blood drives in Lee’s Summit. And again: strong recollections of him greeting, joking, counseling, soothing.
Unless I’m delusional, I think this same spirit lives in me.
Watching him with others = learning how to be a human being.
The kitchen was a central place at family gatherings. While others were watching sports on television, I preferred to be in the kitchen with my mother and other female relatives who were cooking our feast. I am not part of large extended family. That relative was most often G-ma, and sometimes Aunt Esther. I don’t have strong memories of chatter or gossip or teasing in the kitchen, though I’m certain that kind of chatter happened. And if I was in the kitchen, I was listen and observing . . . and learning how family works.
Wads of my domestic memories are wrapped tightly “with those whose rest is won,” as the great hymn text says. Last Friday, I was in the kitchen working on lunch while I attended a virtual meeting, my camera and mic on mute. And I had a sudden flashback to Aunt Esther’s kitchen. She’d be cleaning up the breakfast dishes and prepping for lunch whilst listening to the daily Kitchen Klatter talk show from Shenandoah, Iowa. In an instant I felt as if I were channeling her spirit . . . .
From these strong women I learned how to be a human being.
I don’t know why that phrase struck me so forcefully Sunday morning. Perhaps it’s a result of the physical isolation brought on by this damn virus. Perhaps I was just in a place of tenderness and emotional need. No matter. I’m glad to have had the nudge to remember, and reminisce, and realize.
I was talking with colleagues the other night about night-time rituals as a youngster.
We were sweltering in the heat at Carondelet Park, and we were watching the children (two aged 6 years, one 4 years) run and play and overheat and not worry about it.
Then came the stories of our own childhoods.
Hannibal, Missouri. I was 7 or 8 years old. After supper, we’d go back outside to play; our house had no air-conditioning, so outdoors was at least as cool as indoors. Sometime around dusk the mosquito control truck, belching fog to kill the varmints, would be spotted down College Avenue, heading our direction. We pack up and go indoors quickly.
I would take a bath in the upstairs bathroom. My sisters shared a bath in the downstairs bathroom. We’d crawl into pajamas. And then we’d bundle into the car for a trip to Dairy Queen, almost every night.
Imagine — freshly bathed children, in pajamas, just waiting to get sticky Dairy Queen goodness all over us.
My order was a Mr. Misty, cherry flavored. Brain cramps would ensue. Karen would order a Dilly Bar. And youngest sister Beth, not yet fluent in English, would order “a ‘poon with a dish.” (Translation: a dish of ice cream with a spoon.) And we’d sit there at Dairy Queen and have our treats, or sometimes drive up the main road to the riverfront and watch the Mississippi go by.
We followed the same tradition in Lee’s Summit, as I recall. Living in a subdivision with constant construction made for ample opportunities for me to get dirty. And of course a ten-year-old on a bike can always get sweaty too, especially in summer-in-Missouri heat. The Lee’s Summit house only had one bathtub, though, so I have no idea how we all got cleaned up and ready to hop in the car, clad in pajamas, for the trip across Langsford Road and then 3rd Street to the Dairy Queen on Douglas.
I’ve not had a Mr. Misty in years. I think I shall have one this week.
For reference, this is what my sisters and I looked like in 1970, at Eastertide in Adrian, Missouri:
My heritage . . . how I got be here . . . my ancestors . . . the tree that rooted from immigrants and produced this one bow . . . this has all been on my mind the last few weeks.
I really don’t know why.
After my sister Beth decided that our family meal this last week (I spent 24 hours in Lee’s Summit) would be a re-creation of a Blocher family Sunday meal, I knew that we’d spend some time reminiscing too.
That led to an all-out few hours of genealogy conversations.
The meal? I made brisket. Karen brought green rice (broccoli/rice casserole) and a peach pie. Beth made funeral potatoes and opened a can of Le Sueur peas, just like Mom and G-ma used to do. I contributed the lime pickles.
And the genealogy. Beth had asked me some questions the other day about who people were in various photos, as she continues to sort through my father’s belongings. (We are now down to century-old photos, but of both sides of the family.) Karen has the Ancestry.com family tree, and I had much of it in mind myself.
I’m the only one of us three old enough to remember the great-grandparents. My mother’s paternal grandfather was alive when I was born, and I met him, but he died less then nine months after my birth. I do remember Gram Blocher (Edna Stolp Blocher), my maternal grandfather’s mother; and Alvin Carter and James Slade, my paternal great-grandfathers, both of whom died when I was five or six.
The Carter side great-grandparents were named Carter and Slade and Fields and Ratliff. That’s a pretty British bunch. And the Blocher side greats were Blocher and Stolp and Gutshall (anglicized from Gotschalk) and Ficklin. Only that later name is British. The rest are German. From what I can tell from the lineage, these folks tended to marry within similar countries of family origin, and within similar faith groups. One of my great-great-great-great-grandfathers was an elder in the Dutch Reformed Church in New York. Many of the ancestors were Methodist or Baptist. And of course I am the child of two Baptist missionaries whose parents were instrumental in their own faith journey.
From my journal this last week:
Visiting the cemetery yesterday, I prayed for the repose of my parents’ souls, and gave thanks for their example. Some day they will be but a memory only to us three children. Mom is warmly but hazily remembered by Blayne and Kristen [Karen’s two children, now adults and parents themselves]. All will be gone, and I for one want them to live a while longer in my own memory. Mom is not quite sainted for us, but she’s on the short list in spite of her foibles and all-too-apparent humanity. Their memories are sacred to us, though — as parents, as exemplars, as guides to how we might live and die, even as we learn from their clay feet too.
As we examined photos and unraveled genealogy, my mind filled over and over with memories. I remember visiting Gram Blocher at her small house south of G-Ma’s, and her funeral — how fascinated I was by the accordion device that held the casket. Of course, that device was at my eye level!
I remember visiting James Slade in his upstairs apartment on Jefferson, and in the nursing home. And I remember that we were farmed out to Harold/Shirley Ward on the day of his funeral.
My paternal great-grandfather visited the Clayton house in Columbia. That’s my only recollection of Alvin Carter.
Beth told me a story last evening that I never heard, of my first Christmas and a blizzard and Mom peeing into one of my cloth diapers and me drinking cold milk since we were stuck in the blizzard. She heard this from Mom or G-Ma.
Last evening, lineage tracing back to Staffordshire, England on the Ficklin side, and to Germany for Gutshall and Stolp. I’m a seventh-generation American on the Stolp side; sixth-gen on the Blocher side; and seventh-gen on the Ficklin side. I have maternal ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary (Johannes Peiters Stolp) and Civil Wars, and one who was listed on the first USA census in 1790. Jacob Blocher’s house was used at Gettysburg as a hospital.
I’m a year older today. My 58th year on this planet was a good one indeed. May the next be so too.
To be clear, today is the 58th anniversary of my birth in 1961, and the beginning of my 59th time around. I’ll celebrate 59 next year. My Asian friends would say that I’m 59 today, since the day of my birth was my first birthday. I’ll stick with the Western way and say I’m 58 now.
1972. My parents were on their first summer mission trip with adults and teenagers from First Baptist Church, Lee’s Summit.
The ten-day trip meant that my sisters and I were farmed out to grandparents. I spent that first weekend in Adrian with G-ma Blocher, then was handed off to her sister, my sainted Aunt Esther, for the remainder of the trip. (For several summers thereafter, I went to stay with Aunt Esther for a week, just because I loved her and I loved being her.)
Apparently I was collecting pennies in 1972, and working on getting a full set of Lincoln pennies. G-ma ran a greenhouse, and I ransacked her pennies on site. I remember this, and I remember my happiness at finding some of the World War II pennies that were steel.
From Columbia, then, staying with Aunt Esther and Uncle John, I ‘typed’ a letter to my parents.
This appears to be the earliest letter I ever wrote. I was three days shy of eleven years old.
And for the record, today is the 111th birthday anniversary of G-ma Blocher.
The envelope is telling. The letter was posted and postmarked the same day from Columbia, and sent to my parents in New Mexico, where it was apparently received in due course during that same six-day work-week. Who today would post a letter on Monday afternoon and have expectation that it would make it that quickly?
The letter was amongst my father’s belongings when we sorted them last year. I’m glad to have it now, and perhaps not as grumpy about his packratism as I was at first after he died.