I thought of the people I wanted her to emulate and decided to eat things that reminded me of them. They, too, were creating my daughter. The recipe drew inspiration from memories (grapefruit from the trees in my childhood backyard, the bread drawer with a sliding metal lid in my great-aunts' house that smelled, deliciously, eternally, of Oreos) and the hope of summoning those who have passed (a sardine sandwich with Kraft coleslaw dressing that my grandfather apparently loved). I even listed ingredients I hate: my friend Carol's peanut butter Christmas cookies, for instance, because they are what she gives (to the great pleasure of everyone else), and I wanted this child to know what it is to be grateful for a gift not because it is perfect but because it is given. I aimed for sensibility (the cheese from a shop in Little Italy that will not permit you to leave unsatisfied, or in under an hour) and the plainly delicious (my husband's spaghetti sauce). She will not have the pleasure of knowing my mother, so I made myself a bowl of banana medallions in orange juice, which she served as dessert when I was a little girl. Then I set about eating.
It was no simple task for me to get pregnant. When I flinched, certain I would give myself cancer if I tried fertility treatments, my friend Lyle was the one who said to me, "By the time you give yourself cancer, they will have cured it. Ya gotta live now." And so, you can see why my daughter had to be part Lyle. I begged him to make dinner for me, his specialty, an Old Bay shrimp boil. A plate of steamed asparagus. No utensils. He bought lychees on the branch in Chinatown for dessert. I have watched him care for his dying father, I have watched him fall in love, I have watched him work. I wanted my girl to have his fortitude, compassion, verve, the elegance of his mind. She is a meal eaten by hand, she is fluency, she is lychees, she is Lyle.
And she is Kenny, with whom I must have eaten a hundred meals, including an Italian lunch in December. He is, in a man, permission. A hedonist. A grandmother. A diva. After lunch we popped into one lovely store after another, with Kenny plucking things off the shelves, Here's a book you have to read; here, a toy for the baby. She is pumpkin ravioli and squid salad from that December lunch, and, I hope, his kindness, his largesse, good taste, zest for life, candor. She is also his finest cherry pie. (Kenny comes from pie people.)
And like wine, she is time. The weather during the months on the vine—how much rain falls, how cold and hot the season—determines what a bottle of wine will ever be. She, too, is made of our personal weather, the events that transpired during her months with me: cupcakes from Lyle's wedding, steak salad from Ian's graduation party, the fruit plate at my husband's grandfather's memorial. She is the burger I shared with David the day a test revealed she might have Down's syndrome, she is a glass of Champagne at a movie premiere. She is the big winter holidays and my favorite rituals, the ones we make up on our own: the wonton soup and orange soda I have at the cheap Chinese joint while planning our Thanksgiving menu, or the coffee we drink across from the high school band playing "Gonna Fly Now" the day the New York City Marathon makes its way through our neighborhood.
We Hear You!