I didn’t like to share food growing up, and as an only child I felt entitled to this behavior. I am only now starting to acquire this sharing skill and I’m not sure how I feel about it. When my mom and I would bake cookies I always got first pick of the biggest and best one since it was just me. Sometimes my dad would try to pick first but I never let him get away with it. I was always first in line to serve myself dinner and I got used to this privilege too.
When we gathered with my mom’s side of the family for the holidays this dynamic changed. I would now be in competition with uncle’s, aunts, cousins and grandparents. This pressure did not sit well with me. I was always scheming a plan to make my plate first or get the exact piece of cake I wanted. I spent most of my time during these holidays by the side of my maternal grandmother, whom I call Gramary, helping her out in the kitchen so that she would sneak me a bite of something or give me first dibs.
I would often slink away from the group to cut myself an extra piece of cake or grab a few cookies that I would proceed to wrap tightly in plastic wrap and label with my name written large and clear across the top in black sharpie. I hid these in the back of drawers, fridges, and cupboards, strategically tucked away in the deepest crevices so that no one would find them. I would wait to go back to these treats later on, after the cake pan or cookie tin had been cleaned out and put away and everyone was wishing for more. I liked to savor Gramary’s deserts, but this was not possible with my fiendish uncles about the house, going back for piece after piece until there was nothing but a crumb left. For my uncles and my grandfather, whom I call Big Dan, there was no hesitation in taking the last piece, not even a second of consideration for anyone else when one of them spotted the last piece of something sweet. This is why I had to resort to my hiding tactic. Often times I ended up hiding them from myself.
My Gramary began cooking and baking months before the family descended upon her kitchen. A week after booking our flights the calls would pour in where she would tell us what she had just pulled out of the oven. Lasagna, blueberry muffins, kitchen sink cookies, pecan tassies—all headed for one of the three freezers my grandparents have in their two-story house. Throughout the visit new, labeled Tupperwares would appear on the kitchen island with goodies inside of them. This was in addition to all of the fresh baked treats Gramary made. Yet somehow I still felt the need to hide things away. I liked the security of knowing I could go back to them later. My own secret comfort.
Every time we made the left turn into my grandparent’s long gravel driveway those Tupperwares were on my mind. My heart would speed up as the car slowed down to soften the bumps from all the tiny rocks under the tires. When the car came to a stop I flung the door open, taking a brief second to admire the glistening ocean sprawled before me, and then I ran upstairs with all my bags. Within a few minutes, while everyone was still hugging and settling in, I snuck quietly back downstairs and began opening freezer doors. With three freezers, I had a lot of ground to cover. I took it upon myself to take stock of all the sweets my Gramary had hidden away for our visit before anyone else got to them. I had to know what all of my options were before deciding what to eat first. There was not a cookie, cake, or muffin that went unfound by me. Although I was alone downstairs, I pried the large freezer door up and open stealthily, keeping my secret guise. After rummaging around, I put everything back in place, to make it look like I was never there. My entire family knew I did this, but I liked the idea of sneaking around.
I was always sticking my nose into something in Gramary’s kitchen. Her oven worked overtime to feed our family. She was up before the sun every morning to take her four-mile walk and then she was in the kitchen making pie dough or getting a loaf of bread in the oven. She made all kinds of bread. My favorite was the cinnamon raisin swirl bread, the sweetest one she made of course. A thick piece right out of the toaster, slathered in butter that fell into all of the cinnamon-y crevices was bliss. While I was usually a helper in the kitchen, I always seemed to get into trouble somehow, opening oven doors when I wasn’t supposed to (which resulted in my first flat three-layer birthday cake), or taking one (or five) too many tastes of something before it was done and burning my tongue in the process. I was a nuisance and my Gramary loved every minute of it, teasing me incessantly about opening the oven door after the birthday cake incident. We bantered in the kitchen, shooting witty comments back and forth while I watched her hands delicately knead dough. I could sit there for hours and often did, impatiently waiting to eat what she was making.
Back home in New York City, usually about a month later, the thought would come to me in the most random places—I had forgotten something that I hid. I would giggle, pick up the phone to dial Gramary, and spill my secret that there was a piece of dry or moldy cake in some corner of her kitchen. There was a brief moment of disappointment in myself for forgetting my hidden treasure, but the sound of Gramary’s laugh reminded me how silly it all was, and that there would always be more treats waiting for me.