My grandmother passed away at 104 and three quarters. She was a doer of crossword puzzles, a voracious reader, and a great cook. I remember her garden – there were early peach trees, and a giant grape vine, and a hydrangea bush so big and fragrant that it dwarfed everything. The back of the house was cool and smelled of sunlight soap. She cooked macaroni casseroles for the day we arrived, served with chutney. We ate fried fish and chips hot from the oven in the garden before she served dinner, and she made biriyani – an indian mix of rice, lentils, chicken and fragrant spices.
I’m sad that she is gone, sad that she never got to meet my little boys, sad that I have not seen her in 15 years.
As expats, it seems that there are two things we miss most: family, and food. We miss births, and deaths, and weddings. We miss Sunday lunch after church. We miss the comfort food we were raised on. We talk incessantly about the place to find peanut butter your kids will actually eat, the difference between vegemite and marmite, and the acceptable substitutes. (Fray Bentos for me, none for the Australians.) We talk about who got chocolate chips from the U.S. I know the (three) places in Lima where I can find whole-wheat flour.
But our food genealogy changes. My favorite biriyani is that of my grandmother despite my travels in India. My favorite foods of all time might be my other grandmother’s chicken casserole, my mother’s chocolate mousse, the t-bone steaks with salt my grandfather grilled over a half-drum. Of course, there is my husband’s award winning chili.
But now it includes more: the lamb curry we ate after a dusty day on the road in Rajasthan. The koshary we ate at Cairo Kitchen, the cilantro hummus so good that I would eat the leftovers with a spoon while cleaning up after dinner. Dates from the street corners. It includes my finds at the fruit market here in Lima – cherimoya, lucuma, maracuya, and the small sweet bananas. Of course ceviche is great, but my new comfort food may be Lomo Saltado – a saucy stir fry with asia and new world blended like the rice and French fries that accompany it.
My family has also grown. Our small circle is tightly knit, and I count the days until my mom comes to visit obsessively. But now, my family includes the family we make for ourselves when we are far away… the women I can call to pick my kids up from school when I’m stuck in traffic. The women who showed me Cairo, and the way to live with grace in this crazy life of ours. The families with whom we share Thanksgiving – to me, the most sacred of American traditions.
We miss food and family. We miss so much. We gain so much more.