Food, Family, and Memory

me-tracy-on-location-206x300I went to bat for my friend Tracy. She wanted the starring role in a movie my dad was producing, but it was really his friend Bob who was the money guy and director. If it were just my dad, it would have been a slam-dunk. So, I went to work on Bob. I pitched him for months, relentlessly. That’s me when I want or need to be – a dog with a bone. “Have you seen Tracy in Christopher Guest’s new movie?” I asked. “She’s brilliant.” Or: “Check out her credits, you’d be lucky to get her.” And: “Bob, let her audition, you won’t be sorry.” Finally, when I had exhausted all other angles, I went for the Boys Club Secret Society as a last try: “Your lead actor has always wanted to fuck her.” Yep, that did it. The part was hers.

We went to Texas and my best friend Tracy had the lead as the girlfriend. And I had one scene, one great scene, as the angry-crazy-ex-wife. (It would be another year before I’d play the role in real life.) And except for the hurricane threatening to shake things up and me freezing my ass off the day I was shooting, it was great fun to be on location with my dad and my close friend. I spent most of my downtime hunting for Galveston’s best fried chicken.

That was the late 80’s. Sometime in the mid-90’s, Tracy called to say she was hired to do some reenactments for the Leeza Gibbons Show and would I like to join her, they need another actress. Me, panicking: “Is that in front of a live audience?”

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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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My Mother Vina
My Mother Vina circa 1957

Instead of turkey, mashed potatoes, etc., stuffed grape leaves (along with shish-kabob and pilaf) is the traditional centerpiece of our Christmas dinner.

Disclaimer:  Every script I’ve ever written is overly descriptive and too long, so no doubt this recipe will be, too.  Apologies in advance. 

 

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ChickMagnetChickenG 2159My nephew, who lives in a tiny New York apartment, called me with a recipe emergency. He’d invited a new Potential Girlfriend (PGF) over for dinner and wanted to cook something that was cheap and easy but impressive. I thought this was ambitious for a guy whose cooking skills are limited to pouring cereal and microwaving popcorn, but I had an idea.

Henry’s understanding of ingredients is, shall we say, unsophisticated; he has probably never spoken the words “paprika” or “fennel.” But he did well with the shopping list I gave him, texting me only once when he was bewildered by varieties of olive oil.

We began Skype instruction two hours before the PGF’s ETA. “So, first you preheat your oven to 350 degrees,” I said.

After a brief silence, Henry admitted that the oven was where he keeps his shoes. After a less brief silence on my end, I told him to get the (damn) shoes out of his oven and call me back. We hung up, resuming instruction five minutes later when Henry’s oven was vacated.

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heart-258x300You’ve heard it, opposites attract.  My parents were just about the most opposite you could find.  And, I never even thought about that until just now, while sitting down to write about their relationship.  Your parents are the only parents you have, so you don’t stop to think, “What did they see in each other?”

My mother was quiet, elegant and intelligent.  My father was loud, lovable and crass.   Taste was not exactly his strong suit except, of course, his great taste in women.

They met at a party.  He saw this stunning, very young, exotic looking woman modern-dancing.  Alone.  Seductively.   Twenty years older, he was intrigued.

Cliff Notes to get you up to speed:  They dated.  He knocked her up.  He said he didn’t want kids.  She was set to have an abortion.  Her family strong-armed him or he had a change of heart.  Or both.  She had their first child, my brother Alan but first they had a quickie wedding.  In Vegas, where else?  First meal in their home together, my mother cooked.  My father complained about the way she made the eggs.  She threw the whole pan of eggs at him.  Two years after the first child, she was pregnant with me.

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