Food, Family, and Memory

cornbreadpanMy Mimi told me something quite hysterically funny and dramatically morbid a few years ago…”If I die before your grandfather, he will have to eat something. I’ve taught him how to make cornbread. That should sustain him in between the three months I die and he remarries.”

Tears immediately streamed down my face at the humor and sadness that thought evoked. That is, however, a bit of my family’s humor in a nutshell… delightful and somewhat macabre running hand in hand. What has happened though is a rivalry between Mimi and Granddaddy as to who makes the better batch of cornbread. They both use the exact same ingredients, same iron skillet, and same kitchen and oven for baking, but there are slight differences I would like to address: first the title.

Since Granddaddy makes it himself, it is dubbed “Granddaddy’s World Famous Cornbread.” Mimi’s boasts simply as “Mimi’s Cornbread,” which I guess is the passive aggressive way of saying hers is best. Since everything she makes is wonderful, permitting Granddaddy to title his dish as such is totally apropos. Plus, that is Granddaddy’s personality – everything he or his children do, but especially anything his grandchildren take on, mind you, is the best, exceptional, or “world famous.” The feeling is completely mutual and reciprocating.

I’m proud of my grandparents and there’s never been a doubt they are of me or the rest of the brood. I think their only flaw is that they gave me deep roots and short wings, considering I live two doors down. The cycle continues. I digress.

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fair-poster-hog-wild-2013-226x300There’s barely a minute to breathe and yet I am practically hyperventilating. I’ve never been good at containing my excitement, and this year, I seem to be more excited than ever about Fair Week.

You could get really cranky around here during the third week in August when traffic tangles up and thousands of people descend on the Island. And I must admit, after an onslaught of farm stand customers—and traffic jams in our own driveway—yesterday, I was just plain exhausted. But I woke up to the clear air and blue skies today feeling giddy.

This year the President’s family vacation overlaps directly with Fair week, making things even more exciting (or more frustrating—depending on your point of view) than usual. We happen to be on the excited end of the spectrum on this one, too. Friday we were given the opportunity to contribute to a gift basket of local food heading directly to the chefs who will be cooking for the Obama family this week (at a house only a couple miles up the road from us). We sent cherry tomatoes and eggs, and a pint of Fairy Tale eggplants, too, which apparently the chefs especially liked. Roy is really hoping that the President is waking up to a breakfast of Green Island Farm eggs—but who knows?!

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cauliflowersoupWhen I was a young girl, my mother and father packed up the rented mini van and took  us four children and usually a few friends for my older brother and sister,  my widowed,  Aunt Else, on the ferry from England to Norway. We stayed at an idyllic hotel called The Strand Hotel for two weeks every August.

We spent our days fishing for our lunch in a little wooden boat and cooked our catch on a remote island, over a fire, made from collected twigs and dried seaweed.

My parents always said we were too many to feed every meal in a restaurant, and so when supper time came, the prepared hotel feast was always a relief and absolutely delicious after a somewhat usually chilly, but fun day catching fish and swimming in the sea that never dared to go above 65 degrees.

Supper always began with soup. My favorite was the cauliflower... Usually a tasteless soup, but this one was utterly scrumptious. Here is my own, very simple recipe, my comfort food.

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joycookingcoverI’m not a good cook. My mother was an outstanding culinary creator, my older sister following closely on Mom’s Beef Wellington tracks. Not me. I veered off the path and out of the kitchen to do something--almost anything--else.

When I was married I fed my family, but I have to admit that probably my major cooking achievement was meat loaf. You know, the kind with the goopy raw egg that you squeeze through the meat with your fingers: the loaf that you form and finish off with that strip of bacon on the top.

My family didn’t starve but neither did their eyes widen over my delicate soufflés or my perfectly browned, crispy-skinned, Thanksgiving turkeys. We went out with friends to a local club for our Thanksgiving feast. I confess to never having cooked a turkey in my life.

Then, as the gods would have it, there came a time in my mid-forties when - because my second divorce was pending - I found myself living alone for the first time in 23 years in a rented 200 year-old farm house in a town where I knew no one. So stressed was I that all I could manage to eat was soup and Campbell’s quite quickly lost its appeal.

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mehagian familyThe following is an excerpt from "Siren's Feast: An Edible Odyssey" by Nancy Mehagian, a culinary memoir that captures a colorful era and features over 40 traditional Armenian and vegetarian recipes.

When I was growing up nobody talked about dysfunctional families, so it took me a while to realize how fortunate I was to have the parents I had. They never argued in front of us and truly seemed to enjoy life and each other. My brother and I were rarely left behind on trips, including seeing the Folies Bergères when it first came to Las Vegas. I have to admit my childhood was somewhat idyllic. Perhaps too idyllic.

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