Food, Family, and Memory

androuetcheeseHow did it happen that the Androuet Restaurant in Paris could quietly disappear without fanfare or protest? How could it become a dilapidated sign over a store front; soulless, diluted and gone? Why have I waited so long to write about it? Secretly, I hoped that somehow it would come back to life.

The original cheese shop, ripening caves and restaurant was located on Rue Amsterdam. Rue Amsterdam was quirky and not so nice an area. The street was long and one-way. We would circle around for half an hour to be able to park close enough to be safe after dark. It was Mecca for a cheese lover - I am a zealot.

The tiny, refrigerated shop on the first floor was filled with every cheese made in every corner of France. Each one was ‘a’ point’-- perfectly aged and ready to eat. The three tiny, older women tended the inventory of cheeses constantly. When you walked in there was no grand greeting, only a quick look up and aloof ‘Bon jour’. I always wondered if they knew how difficult a place it was to find. If they did know how much effort it took maybe they would have been kinder. It doesn’t matter now because the best cheese shop in the world is gone. Maybe their intense concentration is what it took to maintain such high quality.

Cheese is like wine; it opens in your glass-the first long sniff of its’ aroma to the last sip of perfectness. Cheese is like that as well - birth, aging and perfection and it then it gone, too. These three women struggled to keep so many cheeses perfect. Most, barely lasting a day or two. I understood why they never looked up from their arduous work.

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barrelsofpickles.jpgEveryone in America has a childhood pickle memory, some great memories of the perfect pickle and some less notable. When my sister and I were kids there was a small pickle company located a couple of towns away and all the local grocery stores in the area had a 55 gallon wooden pickle barrel of their pickles with tongs and plastic bags for you to help yourself. On the side of the barrel was a sign that offered a free pickle to children under 7 years old, a brilliant marketing campaign to capture the next generation of customers. Well, they had me as a loyal customer after only one pickle!

These pickles were really a sour mustard pickle, a rather harsh sensation for a delicate young mouth. I trained myself to enjoy the intense sour flavor by eating slowly, but not waiting too long in between small bites so my mouth wouldn't burn. The company name was the Hescock Pickle Company. It was  located on a bucolic bend in the Kennebec River with 3 large outside cement pools where the pickles cured. All the farmers within a 50 mile radius raised white spine pickling cucumbers for this company to help raise enough money to pay their real estate taxes.

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frenchcooking.jpgI had just come back from marketing around 10:30 in the morning having gone to the Farmer’s Market for the arugula and Heirlooms, then just across the parking lot to the cheese store for some nicely gritty Gruyere. I had answered my emails and phone calls earlier. Dinner for eight wasn’t until seven. The house was clean.  I had a whole day for food—alone.

It was a Friday in Southern California and all the windows and doors were open, even in March. The dog lay on the deck in the sun. I turned on NPR.  I put away the glistening shrimp, the sausage, the peppers, the mussels. I was looking for the two paella recipes I often combined to make the best of both when I found my mother’s saved recipes in a blue plastic loose leaf binder.  The little notebook was buried on a crowded shelf in my kitchen eclipsed by my own slick hard cover and paperback cookbooks; Bobby Flay, Marcella Hazan, Julia Child, Chez Panisse and a host of others, plus my cobbled together collection of favorites in my own food stained notebook.

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sliceandbakecookies.jpg Sometimes it's surprising to find what a recipe box can hold.

I was going through my mom's recipes the other day. I remember telling her years ago that the only thing I wanted when she died was her recipe box. She'd always chuckle and say something like, "Oh, Sue, you sure don't ask for much." And at that time, I didn't think she'd ever really die.

Well, she died 14 years ago and now I have all her recipes. Her recipe collection is a picture of organization. She worked as an office manager for many years, and her recipe box is an indication of her typing skills, for sure. There are no newspaper clippings taped onto recipe cards. Each recipe has been typed with her own hands onto recipe cards. I'm so glad she saved the cards from friends who had handwritten recipes that she asked for. Those are in the box just as they were written. I'm sure my mom was very tempted to type those, too.

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toastiteI was walking past Zabar’s the other day and I noticed an ad in the window trumpeting the return of the Toas-Tite grilled sandwich maker. Just seeing the word – Toas-Tite – tossed me back six decades to my earliest childhood cooking experiences in suburban Baltimore. It seemed every family had one of these gizmos hanging on their kitchen wall or crammed into a drawer.

I entered Zabar’s and climbed the steps to the second floor, where they sell pots, pans and every cooking gadget known to mankind, and they had a whole stack of them, boxed neatly in cardboard by a company that calls itself Replica Products, which says it all. The Toas-Tite of my toddlerhood was cast iron and weighed four or five pounds. I had to wait until I got big enough to lift it. This replica – perfect to the eye – comes in at about a pound-and-a-half, tops. Okay, fine. That’s life.

I had to have it.

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