Food, Family, and Memory

"I know a man who gave up smoking, drinking, sex and rich food. He was healthy right up until the day he killed himself." ~Johnny Carson

breadbasketI finally tuned into “Mad Men.” At least, the first show of this last season. I’m a little late to the craze. I had heard for years about the sets and the wardrobe, but what hit me most was the food. They nailed the food. And it’s what I miss most about that era.

Truth is, I still eat like that -- but I’m alone. All the restaurants that serve “old school” food are dying. Everyone’s dropping gluten, dairy and sugar. We are bombarded with studies about how bad they are for you. Gluten triggers stomach problems and brain disorders. Sugar generates cancer. All three cause inflammation that will kill me. Well, kill me now, because all I really want is bread, butter, sugar and a big cold glass of milk. And I don’t want so many choices of milk that I have to read the carton. I want to live again in the late 60’s and early 70’s.

Around the same time I saw my first “Mad Men” show this season, I noticed the dismantling of Chart House on Pacific Coast Highway. Immediately, I was lost in memories of my first grown up dates there. My boyfriend would take me to Chart House and regret it around 30 minutes into the long wait for a table, as my mood dropped with my blood sugar. They were WAY ahead of their time on the no-reservations policy I still loathe. I get cranky when I can’t sit right down and be served some bread & butter.

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blue cotton candyMy idea of a good time is dragging my sorry ass up the stairs after a long day, plopping down on the bed, snuggling with my husband and watching re-runs of Law and Order or, if God REALLY loves me, a NEW episode of Real Time With Bill Maher. This 4 star vacation is earned after a day of schlepping kids, policing homework and of course the dance of death known as feeding everyone.

I’ve lost the will to live at that point, so preparing food for myself is out of the question.  I hastily eat something over the sink or bring things up to the bed that can be dipped or combined such as pesto with bread and diet coke, or Cheezits and Cranberry Juice. Oy.

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FreddeMoulinRougeNow that awards season is over I have a big one to give out.

Let me say at the start, I go to too many restaurants. I was basically raised eating in fancy restaurants. Long before other parents took their kids out to dinner, mine were trendsetters. We were taken everywhere. We were seen and heard. But, we ate our gourmet meals and behaved. Then it was straight home to a proper bedtime.

A friend’s mother, whom I hadn’t seen since I was a kid, recently told me that the first time she met my family, she had been eating with her husband at Villa Capri and spotted us, kids and all, dining at this almost exclusively grown-up place. What she noticed was how well behaved we were.

My parents rarely adhered to the unspoken rules of the 1950’s. They didn’t believe in babysitters. Aside from Villa Capri, we ate at Chasen’s, Scandia, Brown Derby, Moulin Rouge, and every Sunday night at Matteo’s. We even lived for a brief period at the Garden of Allah Hotel, though it was long after guests like Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley and F. Scott Fitzgerald had checked out. Anyway, that’s a little of the backstory.

Would today’s Hollywood even exist without its bistros? Nobu, Palm, Mozza, Craft. The oil that lubes the wheels in this town is extra virgin olive oil, preferably for dipping the great bread into at Giorgio Baldi in Santa Monica Canyon. And no great restaurant would survive here or anywhere without those unsung heroes of fine dining – the bussing staff. Technically bussers. But usually referred to as “busboy,” an antiquated term it may be time to lose. Setting tables, clearing tables, cleaning tables, bringing food, you name it, quietly and efficiently. If the service is good, much of the credit goes to them. And that includes “busgirls.” In England the job is often referred to as a waiter’s assistant, a more dignified job description, if you ask me.

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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!

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lobsters_sm.jpgMy father was a dyed-in-the-shorts Bermudian who loved to feast on all things from under the sea. Shrimp, crab, oysters, mussels, fish of all kinds, and lobsters. Five years of serving in the Canadian Army overseas in Holland and France during World War ll chewing on K rations in a trench didn’t diminish his early island jones for a crustacean or almost anything seaworthy and edible.

Relocating to the Toronto suburbs in Canada in the late Forties where seafood restaurants were almost as scarce as mermaid sightings still didn’t discourage his quest for a taste of the ocean. He did his best to pass his glorious seafood cravings on to his children, but as a toddler, I balked at the thought of sliding one of those grey slimy, pulsating mollusks down my tender young throat no matter how much tangy cocktail sauce was dumped on it.  I cringed at the thought of cracking open a giant scarlet claw to scoop the steaming white meat dripping with warm clarified butter and lemon.

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