Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe: Recipes for connections

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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

Recipes for connections

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

It’s strange how things intersect. Here I was thinking about secrets around recipes, and then just yesterday I was given a very special cookbook. It’s called “Emily’s Table.” The recipes in it are from the kitchen of Emily Mehlman, a beautiful woman I had the privilege to know as a friend.

Emily was a homemaker in the finest and largest sense of the word--a community-maker, with her table as its center. She was one of those people--mysterious to me--who always “knows”--how to get cut flowers to open, how to store sweaters properly, where to shop for a new car, how to make Jordan Marsh’s blueberry muffins, how to get any kind of stain out of any kind of fabric. She was the wife of Bernard Mehlman, former senior rabbi and now senior scholar of Temple Israel in Boston. When the temple was active in helping bring people from the former Soviet Union to Boston, she instinctively understood what the newcomers would need to know and when. A few weeks after they had arrived, when they had caught their breaths from the first frenzy of moving in, she would arrive to make sure they knew things like how to adjust the thermostat in their apartments, how to take publc transportation to wherever they needed to go, how to find a doctor.

When Emily died in 2006, a group of her close friends decided to collect some of her favorite recipes into a book. It’s a book much like Emily herself--beautiful, thoughtful, filled with goodness. These are recipes for meals eaten with family and friends. They are not, by and large, recipes for special occasions as much as they are recipes for making a special occasion of every day. You can picture people gathered around doing what human beings have done throughout our existence--sharing sustenance, talking, making the necessity of food into something sacred.

Sharing recipes, like sharing food, is a generous and nurturing act. It is an act that defies mortality. It lets us, in a very immediate, concrete way, keep close something real about those we no longer have physically present in our lives. It’s a line drawn through generations and across borders. What more basic human act can carry us through time and space than the words on paper telling us, "This is good--try it."

Looking through “Emily’s Table,” I am tempted by one recipe after another. And as I remember this extraordinary woman I think, too, of the extraordinary women--her friends--who took on an enormous project in order to preserve their delicious memories of her. They created a worthy tribute. Anyone who knew Emily will treasure this book. And anyone who didn’t know her would be well advised to try the recipes.

I have a food spatter on one page already.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Ellen,

I particularly loved your blog today, and your notions about the value of sharing recipes.It really elevates the act of sharing recipes. I have certainly
benefited from the ones you've shared on your blog. Emily's Table sounds like a lovey book.

Deborah Melone (I had to pick anonymous because none of the other choices seemed to apply to me.)

December 9, 2009 8:08 AM

December 9, 2009 at 8:12 AM  

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