Food, Family, and Memory

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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eating_ribs.jpgI grew up in the deep south, a small town called Hawkinsville, GA, population 3500. Probably the best thing I have ever eaten in my life is the BBQ we had on special occasions on our farm. I know, you can get BBQ everyday. Yes, I have been to those famous BBQ joints in Memphis and those in North Carolina. Not impressed; it's all about the sauce and good BBQ needs little sauce. My dad employed an old man named Clayton since I was a child until he died a few years ago. Great BBQ is an art, like the glass blowers in Murano, Italy or a small farmer in France making cheese. There is no recipe, just talent and experience. 

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ImageI’m changing – slowly, but surely, morphing into some life form I no longer recognize as myself. With this neurotic thought stampeding through my mind, I rise this morning and put up a pot of Rose’s favorite coffee—Peets Major Dickason. Despite her penchant to skip breakfast, I prepare a healthful little dish, hoping my angel will think twice: a dollop of non-fat yogurt sprinkled with Urth Café granola and topped with a red glistening strawberry. Into the kitchen she comes, looking every bit the marketing director of an International law firm that she is and the woman whose bras I’m continually picking up off our bedroom floor. I proudly present her the breakfast plate. “Would you mind getting my dry cleaning today, honey?” she asks, walking by me to the coffee pot, where she fills her cup to the brim. I tell her I’ll think about it. A perfunctory peck to my cheek and she’s gone, off to work.

A few seconds later and a forty-pound school bag strapped to his back, Julian comes clomping down the stairs and into my face, “You’re nuts if you think I’m gonna eat that!” he warns, motioning derisively to the plate I find I’m still holding. In one large spoonful I consume the yogurt and take him to school, stopping along the way at Starbucks for his customary ham and egg sandwich; after numerous attempts at getting Julian to eat real eggs I have given up; begrudgingly conceded that the disgusting pale yellow layer in the sandwich he crams into his mouth each morning, while not the Real McCoy, is, at the very least, some distant relative.

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playingdressupAll dressed to the nines in my jaw dropping, turquoise evening gown with my hair in a bun, bright red lipstick mostly on my lips and flat shoes hidden under all that flowing satin. No high heels on when I crossed a major street- my mother’s rule, too dangerous. Did she not notice everyone always stopped to let me cross? I would have been fine with high heels. Yes, of course my evening gown had a plunging neckline and it did need a few extra safety pins to look proportionally correct on my six-year-old frame.

I would cross the busy avenue solo, while all my second mothers watched from the many windows to make sure I arrived safely at my favorite place, Jay’s Diner. I ate at the diner 2 or 3 times a week for my mid-afternoon snack. We ate late because my parents worked late, so mid-afternoon snacking was very encouraged at our house.

The heads of the five hard working ladies of the diner would spin as I walked in the door, every time, perhaps because I was always a bit overdressed for the venue. As I’d pull my floor length satin dress and me up onto the tall pedestal seat the grill cook always said, “the usual?” Yes, 2 hamburgers, loaded, medium rare, a large order of french fries and please, save me a dish of grapenut pudding. “Lots of the whipped cream, thank you.” I was a regular diner patron.

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savagecookie.jpgWhen I was a kid growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, my favorite food in the whole wide world were sugar cookies from Savage's Bakery in Homewood. Made fresh daily, from before I could even walk, I used to go in there with my mother to buy bread and other baked goods, knowing that every trip to Savage's always ended with a big fat old-fashioned buttery cookie, cooked to the perfect yellow consistency and coated with the best flakes of sugary sweetness that would melt in your mouth.

Old Mr. Savage used to laugh everytime I came in the door saying he remembered me coming there when I couldn't even open the door by myself, always wide-eyed in hopes that there was a fresh batch of cookies hot out of the oven.   Whenever he or one of the women behind the counter saw me walking down the street, they would usually greet me  holding one out for me as soon as I walked inside.

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