Regret found its way into the recipe, as it does. She is the things I wish I hadn't done and many others I failed to do. I'm sorry to report that she is strawberry Pop-Tarts. I never did get to Di Palo to order ricotta and olive oil and talk recipes with everyone at the counter; nor did I actually eat one of Carol's peanut butter balls. When my brother visited, we giddily ate the food of his childhood, Devil Dogs, for breakfast. But my kid is also made from the tension that now clouds our relationship, our strained conversation at dinner over cauliflower and bagna cauda, because sometimes we gather at a table with people whose lives we can't fathom as surely as they can't fathom ours, but we keep trying. She is heartache and abiding love. She is Devil Dogs.
She is so very many ingredients: candy-striped beets, a hot dog from Shea Stadium, a curried chicken sandwich, black grape raita, chocolate milk, prenatal vitamins, doughnuts, lots of doughnuts, licorice Scottie dogs, peaches and apricots from the farmers' market eaten standing over the sink, bowls of fresh watermelon, pineapple chunks, Earl Grey tea. And so many people: Ana, James, Kathy, Meera, Jack, Megan. My daughter is Coca-Cola, which, to my own surprise, I started drinking again after Cormac McCarthy wrote about the last can on Earth in The Road, claiming it as one of life's simplest, greatest pleasures.
Although I could not know it then, the recipe was complete late on a January night, her due date. That meal was shared with my best friends, David and Ian, at a restaurant called Momofuku. Together we slurped salty ramen, then went next door to a café and shared something I can only describe as a Twinkie coffin, a little box of sponge cake, cream, and strawberries. Five hours later, David and Ian were asleep and I was in a car on the West Side Highway, slipping past the Cunard ship afloat in the Hudson, on my way to the hospital. The next day my girl arrived during a brief moment of snow. We named her Bird.
But that is another story and there are too many to tell here, too many ingredients to list. I wrote them down, everything I ate, with whom, why. It seems to me now to have been a way of orienting myself in the face of enormity. I was scared. I needed all the help I could get. Still do. Only now do I see this was a project born of longing for my mom and my fear of being unqualified to raise a child well. It was the only way I could manage to focus or remain hopeful when I was not. It helped me create her, but perhaps it helped me, an unlikely, uncomfortable mother, create myself. I discovered a way of organizing a lifelong conversation, a way of telling her what I value and hope for her.
After all, with food comes story. I can tell her the stories over the many meals I will share with her over the coming years. These are the things you are made of: friends, memory, and pork ramen from the East Village. But this, too, is true: She is everything I ate and still she is a mystery, that unnameable, unknowable ingredient none of us contributed, whatever it is that makes her her. That is a story she will have to tell us.