I learned most of what I know about cooking in Italy, from a family I lived with for two summers in high school and then for a year before college.  Mirella, the mother, and her daughter, Dodi, my best friend back then and still today, never measured anything, never really used a measuring cup or spoons.  Occasionally they’d pull out a scale, weighing in grams, eti, kili, but not much.  Their food was simple and elegant and the best Italian food I have ever had — lasagne and pasta al pesto and roast pheasant and spumoni and chocolate salami and involtini and pesce in burro.  I could carry on and describe it all and tell you, even, how to make it, but this is not a post about food.  It’s a post about measuring — about looking around at the world, at friends, at siblings, at ourselves comparing what they’ve got and are doing and giving against ourselves: what we’re getting and giving, trying to add it all up and make it equal and fair.  Just think off #franzenfreude.  “It’s not fair,” my children are constantly saying, it seems.  “You love him more.”

I am most impatient with myself most when I find myself measuring.  Growing up in a family with ten kids, there was a lot to measure: love, intelligence, beauty, work, money even. And family, of course, can be a microcosm for the world.  The other day, I found myself thinking about Dodi — she has a fantastic restaurant, Nonna Tata, in Fort Worth, Texas.  I was remembering visiting her there, watching her effortlessly prepare so much delicious food.  Beautiful dish after sumptuous dish emerging from her oven and stove.  A little of this.  A lot of that.  A master.  A star.  (As it happens, she just won a local Top Chef competition for Fort Worth, using no recipes.)  It occurred to me, quite simple really: if you know what you’re doing, you do not need to measure.

Martha and Dodi, Bay Head, July 1980

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One thought on “Measuring

  1. Oh, I so agree. I’ve written about my mother before and this is always one thing I remark on: her ease in the kitchen and formidable skill in preparing gorgeous meals with no recipes. I think it’s safe to say she would say I measure too much, that that evinces my caution.
    Also, have spent lots of time in Bay Head with my best friend! What a wonderful place.

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