My mother-in-law is amazing. I hit the jackpot with this lady and I know it. As her daughter-in-law, I reap all the benefits of her being my mother – she babysits my children (all the time), she has us over for dinner (weekly) and she sends over plates of her leftover homemade Greek food (every other daily) – plus I have the added bonus of not having any of that inevitable mother-daughter emotional baggage since she didn’t have to raise me during my early teenage years. She’s adores her grandchildren and she doles out lavish amounts of love and an even more generous quantity of chocolate chip cookies. She is a master in the kitchen and right now just thinking about her food is making my mouth water.
Today she taught my youngest how to make homemade phyllo dough. She put together the dough, took out a small handful and opened it up on the counter using a thin wooden dowel.
She rolled the dough out into papery sheets and then used a paint brush to swipe on melted butter before adding a cheese filling and rolling it up, turning the phyllo into a rose shaped cheese pie.
My daughter stood on a chair pushed up to the counter and watched her yiayia attentively. She doesn’t usually stand still, but when she watches her grandmother cook, she hardly moves a muscle, her eyes stay fixed on Yiayia, other than when she briefly glances at me, standing right beside her, to share her excitement with a smile. She helps Yiayia mix the cheese filling. Yiayia shows her how to roll out the dough.
After a tutorial, Yiayia hands over the paint brush and lets her add the butter to the phyllo sheet she has just rolled out.
As I watch these moments my children get to experience with their yiayia, I am thrilled for them. I will them to remember every bit of love she dispenses, every word of Greek she utters, every cooking tip she bestows. Their yiayia gives them so much that no one else can offer – not even their own mother. Her love looks different than mine does. Her language is different than mine is. Her food is so much better than mine will ever be.
As I devoured my portion of the cheese pie I tried to savor each bite. There was no way I could make myself eat more slowly, but I tried to be as present as I could be while I enjoyed my dish. As I ate, I reminded myself that Yiayia’s cooking, just like Yiayia’s love, won’t be around forever. I try to think up ways to preserve her memories and preserve her recipes, but I know that no matter what I do, I will never be able to recreate this day, or this dish.