Culinary Camp and Celebration

 

My niece Abby stayed with me this week to attend restaurant camp, a present Alvaro and I gave her earlier this year. I thought it would be cute to tell her through clues in fortune cookies, so I watched videos online that demonstrated how to wrap restaurant fortune cookies in damp towels and microwave them to make them pliable enough to open, pull out the messages inside, put in my new messages and get them closed again before they hardened. Completing just four of them required eight cookies because, of course, it wasn’t quite that easy, and I cursed the whole time, hopelessly burning all of my fingertips. It was worth it, though, when we read our fortunes after dinner and Abby realized she had this experience to look forward to. In the camp, students learn how to prepare and serve a full menu in an actual restaurant.

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I took Abby to another culinary camp in the same building last year. I had only just been diagnosed with MS before suffering my first major physical relapse, and recovery was slow. Besides teaching my classes, I was fighting to get treatment, chasing down vaccines, submitting to tests like a lab rat. I was deeply depressed, though the line between not knowing it and refusing to acknowledge it is blurred even now, hindsight offering no clarity. Abby was there through it all: the mood swings, the tears, the helplessness. Somehow, we managed to make it to camp each day. Somehow, she had fun staying with me. Somehow, she came back for another round.

Things are so much better this summer. On Sunday, Abby and I made cakes to mail to my brother Patrick. Today is his birthday, and we put together a box of treats to help him celebrate. Abby really pitched in instead of doing the small jobs we give to children so they can feel like they’re helping. She’s growing up so quickly. I keep catching glimpses of her out of the corner of my eye, temporarily startled by the young woman standing where a child used to be.

We had such a good time baking, singing along with Lizzo together as Abby licked cake batter and frosting from the beaters, no longer a child but not quite a teen yet either, suspended for now in that strange other time that is so fleeting. It will be gone soon, so I tried to capture the feeling and the picture of it to come back to later, when I am sure to wonder if it ever existed at all.

On Monday, we walked into the restaurant together for her first day of camp, and Abby hugged me before I left. Other students were standing around awkwardly, avoiding eye contact with each other, some with gazes that didn’t leave their feet. As I returned to the car, I looked back through the windows at the students. I spotted Abby, who waved enthusiastically, unbothered by what the others might think of her, and my heart filled with joy as I waved back. Once safely inside my vehicle and out of view, I teared up over the gift of it. My sweet girl.

Yesterday, Alvaro and I went to lunch at the restaurant. It was Abby’s day to work in the kitchen, so we ate food she had prepared herself. She was incredibly proud of it, and with good reason: highlights were a lovely roasted tomato soup with garlic crème fraiche, smoked gouda macaroni and cheese with peas, and pistachio ice cream with a lemon sable cookie. Today, the rest of the family joined me for lunch, where Abby worked the front of the house as our server. She knew the menu so well, confidently making recommendations, a professional at work.

It was a fantastic end to camp for Abby because everyone came to support her: her grandparents, her parents, her sister.

We sent Patrick birthday wishes to North Carolina while we were together, taking this picture to send with our love. I hope the year ahead holds wonderful things for him. Happy birthday, brother!

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