*PLEASE NOTE…this post is Sara Seinberg’s. Sometimes technical difficulties assign authorship to the wrong authors.
1979 marked the year I became inducted into the world of the kitchen. The tiny television babbled, the waffle iron stood at blistering attention on the counter, bacon hissed on a non-stick pan on the electric stove, and my mother had to crack eggs with her back to the televised event. We were glued to the women’s Wimbledon Finals. The year before, Martina Navratilova had won her first championship on the famed perfect grass court, defeating Chris Evert, soon to be Lloyd, in what would become a new era of their famous rivalry. My mom was rooting for Crissy, as her fans called her, a stark girly contrast to her hulky opponent who, even at 8, gave me funny and fascinating feelings that resided far from tennis. All dykey foreshadowing aside, I think it was my mother’s distraction that finally talked her into letting me figure out how to scramble an egg so she could watch. And for the record, Martina beat Crissy 6-4, 6-4 because Martina was EPIC.
This was the kitchen that reared me. It was my mother’s domain, not a family kitchen. “I think maybe I was just a wee bit selfish in the teaching you too cook department. I didn’t want you kids to mess up the kitchen.” Turns out that’s how it was for her too. She learned her basic skills in Home Ec class, back when schools had funding for things like books, pencils, TEACHERS, and apparently: ovens. I can barely imagine such utopia what with libraries being shut down and money shuttled off to more metal detectors for our greatest resource: The Youth. In my mom’s house, you could watch Nanny Bert (Bertha Linchitz, the maiden name. Can you believe it? She sure was some kind of lady.) cook, but it was her kitchen to rule. And like her mother before her, you could hand off recipes once your daughter struck out on her own and had her own kitchen to clean, but until then, you had to just watch, and wait.
There’s a way that the food happens I always think of as Jewish. But I think of lots of things as Jewish that maybe are not. My mom remembers the family’s most cherished meal to be corn fritters with syrup (Aunt Jemima), “some kind of starch, potatoes or something”, and baked ham. Not Jewish. Did we eat vegetables? I remember silver cans of peas, creamed corn, and thin little string beans, maybe a French word at the top of the cylinder. Then the Jewish part would kick in where there was always horseradish at the table, chrain, for my dad. We didn’t snack, we noshed. And my mom baked constantly, mandelbrodt, an eastern european almond bread like biscotti, but soft. She made rugelach to die for I would bring to hebrew school, call it a patschkie, not difficult, but a pain in the ass. She remembers a cream cheese and butter dough, chopped walnuts and cinnamon, and a pile of sugar. What she also remembers was that at first in her young motherhood, there wasn’t much money for all five of us. What we ate depended on sales, coupons, what was in season and cheap. Inspiration seemed a luxury in such times.
We both have terrible memories. Thankfully we save things that trigger family history, and for me, that’s the big tug of the kitchen. When I ask about her favorite things, she weaves around expensive gadgets, dodges fancy appliances, and drags out Nanny Bert’s stuff. This is a woman who has collected many kitchens worth of kitchen stuff, but immediately she goes for the old treasures. It feels like Nanny has always watched over our kitchens. Everything homemade from her. You never went to someone’s house without a gift and for company you always cooked from scratch. And I remember a glass white ashtray that sat by the sink. There was always a Merit Ultralight burning it in while my mom worked. Sometimes the white sticks would just burn out before she even got to them. She’d curse, clean the ashtray, and light another. You never found a butt in the tray. Ever. I smoked in the kitchen just like her for many years. But not ultralights, Marlboro Reds. And not cleaning the ashtray. Mine were packed.
My mother insists she’s not a good cook, that she just follows recipes. When I would ask to learn something she’d say, “Sara, if you can read, you can cook. Just follow the recipe,” and then kind of shoo me out of her way. But it all looked magical to me, part chemistry class, part alchemy, part circus. How did things go from cabinet to dinner? But still, she insists she is a mere soldier, a follower of the written word. I suspect this is inaccurate and my Aunt Enid comes to my rescue on the phone.
She testifies to catching her sister claiming the same thing: no creativity, a slave to the printed word, and blah blab blah. “Your mother, first of all, sets an extraordinary table. Just exquisite dinner parties. And I know she, for whatever reason, doesn’t have a lot of confidence in her cooking. But I’ll ask her about something delicious and she’ll give me the I Just Followed the Recipe Story, kind of shrugging. Then I’ll needle her a little more and she’ll say, well, I switched this and I added thus and such…” (The women on my mom’s side always say “thus and such”, which I love.) Meanwhile, let me tell you that Enid is also a phenomenal cook, sometimes shaking down tastes from recalling a certain meal from someplace. Maybe not exactly, but she’ll remember the gist of it, like a melody and find the groove, humming along until her new version appears. And It seems like we all cook alike. We cull a bunch of related recipes, read them all, maybe use one as a main guide while we dice and chop and stir, and pretty much do what we want after that. Since I got to here to Albany four days ago, my mom, who claims she “can’t be bothered anymore in the kitchen”, is on her second batch of homemade applesauce, baked her own granola from scratch this morning using pure maple syrup to sweeten it, marinated pork loin for Pop to grill, which was perfect in a hot sesame oil and soy, garlic outfit, and fixed up some chicken breasts for my arrival dinner. Each meal arrives with an enormous salad, all homemade dressings, and on a beautiful table with a different plate for each undertaking.
“I always loved cooking for company. I love to entertain”, she says toying a little bit with the gold lion she wears on a chain, a Leo present from my dad on a past birthday. We’re both Leos. Both with Libras rising. Which means we both thrive on people and beauty. Not to be shallow. We also both have gorgeous and fantastically fragile egos. It’s amazing there was room for both of us in the same house, let alone the kitchen. But with people, we do pretty well, especially Mom. When people come over, my mom couldn’t be more beautiful, really. She’s the kind of extravert that draws energy from a crowd, dazzles a room. She’s funny and gracious, friendly, acts as though everything was no big deal, and your awkwardness fades as she offers you shrimp cocktail.
It makes you feel like you too could throw a party, that the details would come together effortlessly, that the pots and pans would all wash themselves and you’d never have a hair out of place. Your pants would remain perfectly pressed, your mascara adorning only your lashes and never running, and the shoes you’ve had for years would still look brand new. But really, although my mom is gifted, her focus is on the guests. She loves to give people an experience. One time she made some crazy thing at a party she remembers, a surprise party for a family friend, Kenny Ashman, who had made life masters in bridge, which I guess is some big deal shit. She served Coquilles St. Jacques to a man who thought he didn’t like seafood and had two helpings. I can just imagine her beaming. My mom is a great looking woman, always put together, just so. With one tiny exception:
Most days you can find her in stretch pants and this horrific oversized fleece schmatta that was a little too small on my dad. He’s 6’5″, so on my mom, the thing is enormous. I refused to take a photo of it, as I really believe in an esthetic way, that all polartec fleece, performance fleece, and all that kind of synthetic hideous fluffy shit should be banished from the planet along with the ill-fated new crop of unforgivable harem pants. I said it. Sue me. Now aside from this bizarre zit on the ass of classy broads, my mom is a dashing lady. She’s drawn to classics, tailored and clean with a hint of ladylike. A couple ruffles here and there, but not flouncy, in fact these ruffles are the kind you might find on a dandy gent: accents, not main events. And you can be sure if there’s a ruffle to be seen, it’ll be cut with angular lines and solid, handsome, timelessness everywhere else.
Fashion for my mother is guided by comfort, the thrill of an amazing sale, accessories, and emotional attachment. Two women played enormous roles in Mom’s wardrobe, the one I am going to honor, not the fleece one I am in denial about. First there is the aforementioned Bertha Kries, nee Linchitz. Then there is my mom’s best friend, Audrey Albert. Aud was five foot nothing, if that, and always looked sharp as a Bon Temps fang. She spent a fortune on clothes and it showed. She was probably in hock up to her beautiful smokey eyes, but man, she looked good. Before she passed away my mom would go visit her while she was sick. They’d be together for weeks, sometimes laughing, sometimes facing cancer, and sometimes just gals gabbing about clothes. And Audrey told my mom, “Jesus Christ, Linda. Get things that fit you. ” That, and she gave my mom a truckload of cashmere sweaters. And since then, my mom has a tailor she sees. She’ll find real expensive jeans on sale for like eight dollars, and then have them tailored. I think she might dry clean the things too because the seams are like razors on them. EIGHT DOLLARS. I am not shitting you. That is the other thing that makes my mom’s style amazing: she is the best bargain hunter I have ever seen. It’s insane.
Some of the sweaters over here were Audrey’s. Some are from sales in which each one cost about twenty bucks. Cashmere. I really don’t understand how this happens. Who the hell finds cashmere sweaters for 20 bucks? Anyhow, chilly days you’ll find her clad most of the time in this: Jeans, cashmere sweater, classic loafers and hunks of jewelry that mean something to her. The spring and summer find her in man-tailored goods, shirts that say, Do No Even Dream About Fucking With Me. Her smile, in contrast, is a beacon of welcome, overriding the keen look that might intimidate a person. It’s the kind of smile that’s always going to ask you to sit right down. Have a nice glass of wine with her.
Almost all the jewelry came from people who love her. Her husband of 46 years, otherwise known as my dad. Friends. Passed down from Nanny. Or presents from Audrey. These are her favorite necklaces and rings. The lion I already told you about. The heart is from Audrey who got it from her friend Tiffany And Co. In one of those turquoise boxes that gives people heart attacks.
The engagement ring is keeping company with the LOVE ring and the Peace, man, ring. I don’t know if you can tell but the LOVE ring is square. My mom saw it one day in a store and fell quite madly for it. She even called my dad at work. Now, I know you are picturing her pulling out her cell and calling him, but since we are talking about the seventies, not only did she have to go home to call him, she also had to stand by the phone because it was connected by an actual curly wire. How about that for a reality check? The ring cost fifty American dollars. It’s gold, right, so it’s effing EXPENSIVE. “Well, I couldn’t spend 50 dollars on a ring. Certainly not without telling Daddy about it. So I called him and k’velled about how it was so different, so unique. And I finally just went back to get it and it was gone. The lady told me a gentleman had been in earlier and he too, loved it and got it for his wife.” So was the gentleman about 6’5″? Cute, right?
I wish her shoes fit me. My feet are about half a size bigger than Linda’s. Even though I never had kids and she went through three of us. I love how no matter what year it is, my mom looks totally current. Tod’s went and asked Anne Hathaway to be their “face” when they clearly could have had Linda Seinberg be their “feet”. Fools, I tell you. Fools.
Somewhere along the way, people of my mom’s generation learned to dance. That is a kind of style that is largely lost. I don’t mean that our generation can’t dance, but I mean this kind of dancing. We’d go to bar mitzvahs and I’d watch my parents hit the floor. Mom would be wearing what she calls her spikes and Dad would walk her out to the floor and she’d just go. Dad would stand and kind of do what needed to be done, a Maypole in a suit, and Mom would spin and move around him, in some secret language she would go hither and yon, behind him, in front, the tossed off to the side. She twirl, they’d unlock hands and then come back together, feet always at a shuffle and hips set to shimmy. It’s not like my generation. We learned head banging a degree past whiplash, and a hip sway close to humping at a vertical. And I’m not saying these aren’t useful skills or that I’m not fond of these undertakings and their attendant Metallica/Jay-Z live performance experiences. I’m just saying whenever I see couples twirling out there, I see my mom and dad, really, and the style of it all makes me a little wistful. My mom still wears her spikes. She’s got pretty great stems.
And , in closing, obviously a lady needs a good purse. Because my mother knows how to take care of things, her purses stay nice for decades. Not me, man. I throw my shit around and beat the hell out of it. She will get herself a real nice bag and just have it for years and not need to get another. Her closet has a lot of famous labels, but really, what it has is a handsome kind of chic. Even all the stuff that doesn’t cost a lot looks like a million bucks on my mom. She’s a lady like that. Even I look better when I stand by her, no matter how many tattoos spill out over my hands. I could tattoo my face and still look like a homecoming queen if I stood by my mom. I’ve been here at her house for almost a week now garnering a few extra days from a mechanical malefaction courtesy of Delta Airlines. And so that’s what I am, really, because of my Mom. A homecoming queen. And I think it’s really sweet that you believe you have the best Mom in the world. And it’s ok that you’re wrong. Because even if every piece of kitchenware and every stitch of silk and each Italian leather jacket vanished overnight, no one could ever take my mom’s heart which is her, at her classiest. Epic and strong like Martina. PS: I would go on and on about my Dad too, but frankly, I covet her purses a little more than his.