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Wendy Gaynor Headshot

Family and Food, The First Supper

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I threw my first "grown-up, from soup to nuts" dinner party when my daughter Ruby was three months old. The occasion was a surprise birthday party for my then-husband, Richard. Thinking back 36 years, I can't for the life of me recall where I got the mettle, at 29 years old, to think I could cook for 50, since up until that evening, I'd never cooked for five guests, let alone 50, and with a newborn baby nestled in a snugli front pack, no less! It wasn't that all of a sudden I thought I could cook, it was that all of a sudden I knew I could cook.

I didn't realize it then, but looking back, I can see that it was Ruby's birth that allowed me to find my voice and give me the confidence I had been searching for all my life. I would have been loathe to admit it back then, too, but I was indeed following in my mother's footsteps. There was no better hostess than Ray Rubin. She might not have done the menu planning, food shopping or cooking (our housekeeper Lulu did all that) or parenting, for that matter, but she sure knew how to throw a sophisticated, dressed-to-the-nines shindig.

Needless to say, I can't remember the menu verbatim, I barely remember what I ate yesterday, but I do remember making Julia Childs' steak tartare and caesar salad recipes. Surprisingly, dishes I still make to this day! A philosophy I adopted that first night continues to this day... plan a menu that enables you to be finished with the cooking a few hours before guests arrive and always make it look effortless. It turned out that figuring out how to create a menu, food shop, follow a recipe, gussy up my apartment and welcome company was as easy as pie. No pun intended! That evening, I found my calling -- cooking and motherhood. Unbeknownst to me, I created a family tradition that evening. I became a natural at throwing dinner parties, large and small... birthday parties for 10-75, graduation parties for 100+, weddings (mine to Michael, Ruby's, Violet's) for 150-250 guests became the outward expression of the love that was finally mine.

Its hard for me to conjure up the "woman" I was pre-Ruby. I do remember that I was immensely shy, insecure, needy, afraid to love, purely and truly. I was a sexually abused child, a victim of my father's psychopathy, my mother's apathy, a lost soul. I met Richard when I was 18 and nagged him into marrying me when I was 22. A recipe for disaster, for sure. Thank heavens, I lost my father when I was 27, otherwise, I would never have had children. Just the thought of him being anywhere near a child of mine would cause me near hysteria. Once I got over the shock of his dying of a heart attack in the middle of the night, I seemingly, overnight, became a different person. The ties of victimization that bound me to him were broken. I was free. I went from being a Shrinking Violet to "I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar."

For the first time in 29 years, I knew what I NEEDED, I knew what I could not live without: a baby. And so the nagging continued until Richard relented and I got pregnant. Another recipe for disaster, for sure. Ruby was born at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City in the summer of 1977. Ruby's birth would be my rebirth, true and pure love would reveal themselves.

On that Saturday evening in October, 1977, I was, on one level, literally celebrating Richard's birthday but I was glorifying something much grander, indefinable really. I was turning my back on what was, and writing my own future. I really was invincible.

Violet Moon was born when Ruby was two. I knew she would be my last baby because I knew the marriage could not survive, should not survive. As it turned out, Richard and I were 100-yard dashers, not marathoners. Ruby, Violet, from the moment of their births to this writing, through the sublime and the grave, have been my reason for living. Food has been my way of celebrating.