Food, Family, and Memory

rackribs.jpgamy ephron colorI have an image of my father wearing a blue and white canvas pin-stripe apron over his clothes that my mother gave him (with good reason), standing over the barbecue in our backyard alternately spraying charcoal fluid (with big effect) on the briquettes and a few moments later spraying, using his thumb as a spray cap, a large bottle of Canada Dry Soda Water filled (and refilled) with water from the hose onto the resulting flames from the barbecue that were threatening to ruin his perfect barbecued ribs.  They were perfect which is sort of surprising since my father couldn’t really cook at all.  Scrambled eggs and burnt bacon is about all I remember from his repertoire except for the night he exploded a can of baked beans since he’d decided it was okay to heat them in the can (unopened) which he’d placed in a large pot of boiling water and, I think, forgotten about them.  Tip:  don’t try that at home.

But his barbecued pork ribs were perfect.  The secret was the sauce.  The secret was that he marinated them religiously overnight (turning them constantly).  The secret was that he cooked them perfectly albeit with a strange method that involved alternately kicking the fire up to high temperatures and then knocking it down.  It was a method that I still remember and it was before we knew that charcoal fluid is truly bad for you so don’t try that at home either.

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apple_pie.jpg Three years ago my father remarried, had a baby and moved to the suburbs.  He went domestic in a way only my father could.  He is from Israel; his wife is from Poland; and the suburbs previously mentioned are Harrow, right outside of London.  She has a brilliantly Goth 16 year old daughter from a previous marriage, he has three cynical Los Angelian children (including me), and the baby, as of now, speaks only Polish with a slightly British accent.  Last weekend I went to London for my birthday.  On my last night there, his wife and her daughter baked me, of all things, an apple pie.  We all sat at the table and I stared out the window past my post-nuclear family to their white picket fence as Don McLean played in my head. Bye Bye Ms. American Pie.  The pie was fantastic.

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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My favorite all time saying is that 'you can pick and choose your friends but not your family.' Perhaps that's because I have some extended family members who are constant reminders of that famous quote.


My immediate family is very close as well as my 1st cousins, aunts and uncles and for the most part, I would choose to be friends with them. However, I do have some cousins "that don't know me and I don't know them" and would prefer to keep it that way. I have been known to desert my grocery cart and flee when I catch a glimpse of them at the grocery store. These people and their lifestyles made Jeff Foxworthy rich and famous.

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rivercafe.jpg The good thing about having a sister who owns a restaurant – and The River Café is a great one in my opinion – is that when she’s cooking my son is allowed to order ‘off the menu’. In his case it’s a plate of the most wonderful creamy pasta carbonara. Made special for him with egg yolks the color of oranges, peppered pancetta and the parmesan cheese hand carried from Parma, I suppose. The bad thing is that my sister won’t let me have any. “You don’t need it”, she says looking at my waist. So it’s the regular menu for me.

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