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A feast of memories
Scripps Howard News Service


April 25, 2005

What started it? Hearing the rattle of pots? Smelling the roast in the oven? Or watching the way that her hand waves a wooden spoon like a magic wand across the stove?

One minute, I was sitting in her apartment, shoveling hunks of cheese in my mouth, watching my daughter cook.

Next thing I knew I was gone - carried away on a river of memories, trying not to drown.

"Mom? Would you like something to drink?"

I would. She obliges and then resumes her slicing and dicing, sprinkling spices and fairy dust, leaving me to watch in awe.

It's an odd thing - wonderful, if a little unsettling -to realize you know by heart someone's entire culinary history.

The first time she waved a wooden spoon she was 6 months old, crawling like a box turtle with wide blue eyes, nectarine cheeks and scraggly wisps of sticking-up hair that offered no hope of curl.

As with most princesses, she expected undivided attention - which I'd have been happy to give her, had her father and brother not expected to eat.

To buy some time, I plopped her on the floor, put a wooden spoon in her hands, opened the cupboard and said, "Look, Sissy! Pots! Pans! Cook!"

And "cook," she did, pulling every container off every shelf, banging lids, babbling happily _ Julia Child in a diaper.

She loved "cooking" so much she soon persuaded her dad to build her a little fake stove and refrigerator that she used for preparing "tea parties."

We drank a lot of "tea" back then, she and I; her dad, too, and her brother and the dog.

Then she started to school and promptly lost all interest in cooking and kitchen appliances.

I remember the day she called home from college to ask how to bake a potato. I was so stunned I didn't laugh. Much.

The four years that followed are a bit sketchy. Her dad was diagnosed with cancer, and cooking for me became a matter of trying to come up with something he could keep down. I don't recall what I cooked then, let alone, how.

I suspect my daughter wasn't cooking or eating much either. I wonder if I ever asked her?

After he died, she moved back home for a while, and we started going out, just the two of us, treating ourselves to fine restaurants, applying food and companionship like a salve.

It was excellent therapy, even though, seven years later, we're still trying to lose the weight.

We still go out to eat together every chance we get. There's always lots to talk about, especially now with a wedding to plan. But tonight we're eating in. I'm her "guest."

"OK," she says, "it's ready."

Her boyfriend offers me the best seat with a clear view of the bay. Silly boy. He doesn't know the only view I care to see are their faces, his and hers.

So we sit down together at their new table and she serves a salad with avocado and raspberry vinaigrette. Next, steamed artichokes (which, as a child, she thought were animals and was horrified when we ate their "hearts").

Then, a perfectly roasted pork loin with smoky peach salsa. And finally, for dessert, my favorite: Tapioca pudding.

Oh my.

There are some things that you can know in life, and some things that you can't.

I knew from the start my daughter was a gift. I didn't know she'd be an education.

I knew someday we might plan a wedding together. I had no idea it would be mine.

I knew she'd grow up to be my favorite cook. Honest.

But how could I know that she'd grow up to be my friend?


Sharon Randall is the author of "Birdbaths and Paper Cranes." She can be reached at P.O. Box 931, Pacific Grove, CA 93950, or at randallbay(at)

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Ketchikan, Alaska