When I was in second grade, my father remarried. I couldn’t have had any idea then, when I first met Carli, how much of an impact she’d have on my life. After an initial period of being quite uncomfortable and a bit intimidated by someone with such an amazing lifeforce… someone so different than anyone else in my life… she became someone that I would grow to learn from, rely on, and absolutely cherish. Her smile, her stories, her love of food, all shaped a great deal of who I am now. Her absolute insistence of being real and honest with ourselves about who we are, where we came from and where we are going.
I’ve thought a lot about Carli this week, as April 15th was her birthday, right in between my own birthday and my daughter’s. She died, about 10 years ago, from cancer that we had once thought was cured, and then came back with a vengeance. She was still in her 50s. I miss her dearly.
Just recently, I stumbled upon an old treasure… a cookbook that she and my father made for all of us kids of her recipes back in 1989. There are well over a hundred recipes, all formatted and annotated and bound up in a red binder. Notes stuffed into the binder pockets with late additions (as well as some of my own). The book had been missing for years, tucked away in some box during one of my moves years ago. I am thrilled to have rediscovered it, and I’ve spent hours now leafing through the old stained pages, smiling at recipes like “Kitchen Cacciatore” and “Carli Cake”. Recipes that I didn’t even remember that I had forgotten suddenly appear and bring back images of great times. And, tucked in are dozens of recipes that I don’t even recall, but am now anxious to try. Of all the cookbooks on my shelves (including some beautiful new ones recently procured), this family cookbook is the one I’m sure to be cooking from over the next few weeks. The recipes aren’t complicated, but are, like Carli, honest and real. Food that you come home to after a long day. Food that is healthy and comforting. In Carli’s words, food that is “very unusual, very traditional, very cheap or very easy.” Food that is about nostalgia and enjoyment, love and family.
With a book like this, I hardly know where to begin. So, I’ll start at the very beginning, with a simple appetizer: Bee Cheese. I don’t know why it’s called Bee Cheese. Most likely, the recipe came from someone called Bee. Maybe it’s that there is so much stored energy (ie, fat) in the cheese and butter, it will get you buzzing around like a bee. Whatever the reason, I’m sure it was a favorite because cocktail hour was always big in my house growing up. As kids (my two brothers, my sister and I) would start clamoring about being hungry and what’s for dinner, Carli always managed to pull out some sort of cheese or fruit or bread or crackers to snack on while dinner was being made, and while she and my dad would engage us kids in deep conversations about poets or politics or just even what happened in our day. We’d snack, they’d have some wine, and the dinner time production would begin.
Note: You’ll need to start a few days before you need this crocked cheese… and you’ll need a cheese crock or jar. Also, the original recipe didn’t call for the parsley, but I know that Carli always added herbs to everything… she’d definitely approve of the addition.
10 oz sharp cheddar cheese
6 oz softened butter
2 T sherry
1 T horseradish
1 clove of garlic, peeled and minced.
2 T chopped Italian flat leaf parsley (optional)
Grate the cheese. Then, mix all the ingredients together and pack tightly into a crock or jar. Refrigerate for at least 2 days before serving. Keeps for about 10 days in the refrigerator.