Coming Home to My Mother's Kitchen

I am home in Los Angeles for some meetings and a little early Thanksgiving with my family. I grew up in this town and the four generations before me grew up in Santa Barbara barely two hours north of here.

This is the house my parents bought the year before I was born, so I'm lucky to return to the stability of walls that held me as a child. The one room that is gone, though, is the kitchen. When I was about eight years old, my mom and her team of worker bees took an axe to the original kitchen — small, chopped up into kitchen, breakfast nook, washroom and dining room — and built the room that now serves as the larger, brighter hearth of the home.

Arguably it is warmer and more comfortable, certainly for cooking. But that little girl in the photo above didn't need much space to learn to cook, nor did the generations of cooks before her. With her rear perched on the scratched Mexican tile counter, she learned how to mix and chop and fall in love with kitchen chemistry. When I come home to my mother's kitchen, we cook a lot. I also get to request those comforting, childhood dishes that only an elder can replicate. Now, as a mother, coming home means sharing those taste memories with my own daughter, and thus the generational links begin forming their chain.

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Yesterday we invited the neighborhood over for a Lantern Walk. Last year I wrote about this event (and the Cheddar and Leek Muffins we brought) held annually at my daughter's school, where children march around a community garden holding glass jars with lit candles inside, and afterwards huddle together in the chilly November dusk to share some snacks. Because we are in California, we missed this year's Lantern Walk so we recreated it in the park across the street from Mom's house.
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Mom made mac'n'cheese with frizzled pieces of prosciutto and thyme and a fall fruit salad for the children. Ursula chopped persimmons with the blade of a pastry scraper.

After the procession through the park, we returned to the house and lit the dining table's runner with the children's lanterns. I sat back and took in the energy of a dining room table filled as it's never been with small people, and felt thankful, days before turkey and stuffing, for the memories I have of this place and how they live on, long after the tile is smashed and replaced.

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(Images: Karen Gillingham and Sara Kate Gilingham-Ryan)

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