Food, Family, and Memory

From Luchen and Lo Mein

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by Paul Mones

noodle_kugel.jpgEven in turbulent time like these there are certain constants in life – like noodles. Noodles have played a very important role in my life. Whenever I got sick my mother would cook luchen (‘luxshun’ for those jews and non-jews unfamiliar with yiddish pronunciation) and cheese. I have vivid recollections of her bringing me a steaming bowl (not just a bowl but a BOWL) of wide egg noodles (like pappardelle but eggier and chewier) bathed in butter, cottage cheese, cream cheese, cinnamon and a touch of sugar and salt. It was the only thing I had to look forward to when I got sick. If the noodles were hot enough, the sugar and butter would melt into a glaze over the whole dish. And in college when I got sick I would routinely make myself a bastardized version of the dish usually with just spaghetti, salt, butter and cottage cheese. As I got older and began moving around the country for different jobs the luchen and cheese unfortunately receded into my history.   

Luckily noodles crept back into my life. It was the first date I had with my wife Niki. We had just seen a late movie in Santa Monica and were starved but nothing was open that appealed to us so I said something like, ‘let’s go back to my place and I’ll cook us up something.’ When I said that I really didn’t know what I had in my refrigerator, however I was out to impress her with my cooking skills. Upon getting back and examining the provisions all I had was Hebrew national hot dogs, spaghettini and celery. So I thinly shredded the dogs and celery, boiled and drained the noodles and fired up my ancient wok. A few drizzles of soy sauce, pinch of black pepper and a little maple syrup and voila! A first date meal that won her heart. 

Thank You and Happy Birthday, Lucy Dahl!

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by Brenda Athanus

greenspotlogoMy sister and I have a pretty terrific food store called The Green Spot we have owned or more accurately been the worker bees at for many years., It has an energy all it's own. It’s a gathering place for people to come to when they are happy and it is a place people run to when they need good solid honest advice of the non-food type, if you know what I mean.

Each day we never know what will unfold when it is time to open the doors at nine o'clock. One thing, or well maybe two things, that we do know is that it is sure to be interesting without question and second what every figurative ‘fire’ needs is dousing. And we surely know how to do that with grace.

A few years ago Lucy Dahl who summered on a lake not too far from our store said that her Mother was coming to visit for a long weekend and she was excited to introduce us. Like anyone expecting company we wanted our store to be perfect because Patricia Neal was coming to visit. Oh my, Patricia! How proud our mother would have been because she admired her tenacity and talent so much. Patricia Neal was coming to our food store in a little town in central Maine. I was humbled and speechless!

The Lighter Side of Death

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by Tom Maxwell

cemetary.jpgMy father always said the worst thing about getting old was watching your friends die.  Second worst was diminished distance off the tee.  Now that I’m over sixty, I can attest he was right on both counts.  Nonetheless, even death and the rituals that accompany it, somehow never fail to offer up a little comic relief.  On the other hand, there’s nothing funny about losing yardage. 

Of course, the memorial services for friends in show business are always filled with laughter because on those occasions you have talented, funny people telling stories about other talented, funny people.   However, non-pro deaths offer their own moments of black comedy.  As cases in point, I offer the following two examples.

After my mother died, my father, my sister, her ten-year-old son and I went en masse to buy her tombstone at a place called Swink Monument.  I have no recollection exactly why we picked them, but price may have been involved. Their office was in a mobile home surrounded by a concrete slab, on which various markers were displayed.  (In case you haven’t guessed, this is in North Carolina).  My father, following through on his philosophy to the end, picked neither the grandest stone nor the plainest.  Then, we went inside to fill out the paperwork, except for my nephew who remained out doors, skateboarding through the monuments.

Dotsie Swink, the heavy-set woman who was assisting us, took down the basic information, then asked a question I’ve never heard before or since:  You want slick on top?

Bread and Chocolate

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by Fredrica Duke

southoffrance.jpgThere is an edible experience I had as a child that remains unsurpassed. The year was 1963, I was ten. I still think about it and have tried many times to recreate it. I need to ask my brother if he remembers the moment as vividly as I do.

We were at our friends’ farm in the country, just outside of Paris. By day, I ran around chasing wild cats and at night, recited (for a very small audience) “Cinderella,” in French. Given as an assignment by my teacher at home, Monsieur Willmaker, I knew it by heart. Other than “Cinderella,” and announcing “Je m’appele Frederique,” I could not understand or speak a word of the language. I rocked the accent though, and I was extra proud of it, which is why I was the biggest show-off with my nightly act.

After a long day of running around the Constantines’ farm, their mom pulled us aside for a quick snack. We were way out in a field when I saw her approaching with a basket of goodies. When I saw that she had fresh baguettes with butter, I perked up. She spread the beurre (butter, mind you, from their own cows) on the bread and then took out a big hunk of chocolate, like a chocolate bar. And that piece of chocolate went on top of the bread. Looking at it, I thought, nah. I just couldn’t get my brain around it. But I was hungry and I was checking out everyone else’s happy faces. So, I took a small first bite. I am not exaggerating when I say that it was the most delicious taste of life.

Sunday Dinner

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by Susan Russo

auntiida.jpgHey, come over here, kid, learn something. You never know, you might have to cook for twenty guys someday. You see, you start out with a little bit of oil. Then you fry some garlic. Then you throw in some tomatoes, tomato paste, you fry it; ya make sure it doesn't stick. You get it to a boil; you shove in all your sausage and your meatballs; heh?... And a little bit o' wine. An' a little bit o' sugar, and that's my trick. - Clemenza teaching Michael to cook. The Godfather, Part I.

When Jeff and I were dating, we would on occasion deliver papers for his family’s Sunday morning paper route. I distinctly remember his mother’s detailed descriptions of whose paper went where: Mr. Lisi, the front door, Ms. Vitale, the side door, the Di Fusco’s, the front door if the screen was open but the back if it was locked. I also distinctly remember the smell that hit you when you walked up each of the little driveways early in the morning and opened the screen doors. Not coffee, not maple syrup, not bacon and eggs, but gravy.

Citrus is California

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by Charles G. Thompson

idyllwild250.jpgOr maybe I should say citrus was California?  But no, despite the Southern California citrus industry going the way of the subsequent aerospace industry, I still think citrus is California.  I was inspired to write about California citrus by an article that recently ran in the Sunday Los Angeles Times’ L.A. Then and Now column: “Southern California’s Great Citrus Had It’s Crate Advertising.” The article is about the colorful labels slapped onto the wooden crates the fruit was packed in, and how they were considered cutting-edge marketing at the time.  Big, bold, multi-color images of the fruit and the growers logos let the consumer know that the oranges, lemons and grapefruit of that specific grower were special, above average. 

When TV Snacks Had Style

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by Amy Ephron

ImageBack in the days when evening television was interactive family entertainment, when Ed Sullivan and "College Bowl" were on, my family used to gather in the TV room. In our house, that was the bar. It had a Fleetwood television built into the wall, with the controls built in next to the silk-covered sofa on which my mother would always lie, on her back, her head propped up by four pillows.

Next to her, on the coffee table, was a Dewars-and-soda on ice and a pack of Kent filters. My sisters and I would lie on the floor, my father would sit in his teak rocking chair, and we would watch television and eat TV snacks—clam dip baked on toasted Pepperidge Farm white bread; Beluga caviar, whenever anyone sent it over; a really disgusting (but great) dip made out of cottage cheese, mayonnaise, chives, and Worcestershire sauce, with ruffled potato chips; and Mommy's favorite, blanched and toasted almonds.

"Oh, goody," she would say, " 'College Bowl' is on tonight. Let's make blanched almonds."

A Map of New Orleans

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by Ann Nichols

folded-map.jpgHaving vowed (in writing, which makes it serious) to have a more open, less fraught relationship with my mother, I am making time at least once a week to take her to lunch and have a good talk. By that I mean that I drive, and she pays for lunch. If my mother lets me pay for lunch, and we are not sharing a meal to celebrate my new job, bonus, lottery winnings or inheritance, it’s time to begin steering her gently towards a neuropsych evaluation.

So yesterday we ended up at a lovely little sushi place where I could eat sushi, and she could have something else. She had already asked me to take her to Talbot’s, for me the retail equivalent of the Bataan Death March, and I had agreed; the whole point of our time together was that I would not look at my watch, think about what else I could be doing, or patronize her with my opinions of her taste in preppy shifts and cardigans. She is my mother, and it is not only unkind but backwards to assume that age and illness have rendered her a child requiring my guidance. As I dabbed a little wasabi on my spicy tuna, she made a second request: since my brother and his wife were going to New Orleans soon, could we stop by the book store so that she could buy them a map?

Before I could stop myself, before I could re-direct my automatic inner know-it-all, I said “no one uses maps, mom. I mean, I’ll take you if you want to go, but they both have smart phones, and he has GPS on his phone, and I just can’t see them hauling out a map.” She put down her chopsticks, and narrowed her eyes.

Dad's Cooking Guide 101

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by Paul Mones

cooking101.jpgWhen my oldest son left for his senior year of college in September, he was leaving the comfort (or more likely uncomfort) of on-campus life and trading it for a 4-bedroom apartment. No longer able to rely on cafeteria food, he was going to have to cook for himself. Over the years I had taught him a few basic things about cooking but never really gave him anything resembling real lessons. I guess I was just hoping he was going to pick it up by osmosis. Though he has watched me cook over the years and picked up some basics I wanted to give him a little more formal culinary send-off. Starting in early August I began to think about what he liked to eat and what specific skills he would need to cook those dishes. We spent a few days going over the basics – heat control, knife techniques, etc. I also knew that there were certain basic tools and ingredients he would need for his kitchen. Stuffed into his luggage were three knives, a spatula, frying pan and pot. Finally, I drew up a few basic recipes and cooking techniques that I emailed to him. The result was a sort of mini- cooking "Cooking 101."


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by Matt Armendariz

mattbreadpudding.jpgGrowing up there were just some things that this little pudgy boy would not eat. High on the short list of food items, along with sour cream and avocados, was this recipe called Capirotada. No matter how hard they tried I just wouldn’t move past the strange blend of ingredients that went into this Mexican bread pudding.

Now it’s the only thing I want to eat.

Capirotada is a Mexican bread pudding that’s normally served during Lent. Because of this it has always featured any ingredients that were on hand and someone on the humble side of desserts — a tad bit plain and not too sweet. And like most recipes coming from a country as diverse as Mexico, it’s also infinitely adaptable. It’s hard to find the same recipe for Capirotada when you begin to look around and speak with Mexican cooks.


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