Food, Family, and Memory

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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caviarpiesliceThere are moments during the holiday season where recipes are true soul food.  Instead of feeling  sadness about the ones we have lost and are no longer seated at the table sharing the day with us, we can feel happiness by knowing how loved we were by recreating their favorite recipes that they would make for us.

This Russian Caviar Pie is a secret Medavoy recipe that is only made for Easter, Thanksgiving, Birthdays and Christmas. The caviar that tops it can run the range from red salmon caviar to Beluga.  Osetra has the best taste but even the black unknown variety for ten bucks has done in a pinch.  

My mother, terminal with liposarcoma, feeding tube in her, unable to eat, still made her traditional Russian Easter for us one month before she passed away. The Caviar Pie was the center of it.  You slice it, you serve it with a shot of vodka or champagne and life is good.  It was her way of saying "I love you" - nothing will change if you keep these traditions up.  Remember me.  I will be watching over you and your son and husband.

"Everything that matters is under this roof right now"  I had just become a mother, my son was two months old, and she was teaching me what was important.  God, How i miss her.  And when I slice up the pie, I can see her, feel her, and have  so much joy that she is still at our table. And as I am sure she knew, it's my son's favorite recipe at holiday time.

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img_1904.jpgMy daughter Celeste recently returned from a semester abroad in Dakar, Senegal.

She spent several months in the West African city perfecting her French, learning Wolof, the unofficial language, and studying West African culture, art and Islam. One of the biggest adjustments for her was the custom of eating out of a communal bowl….with toddlers no less! Boy, I wouldn’t want to share the plate with my own family, and we’ve been exchanging the same germs for decades.

So, what did Celeste miss most after months of mutton and rice en famille? Bacon, avocados, pie, eggs from her back yard AND Mexican food.

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teacake mapleOne of my favorite desserts growing up were these little square tea cakes from Martino’s Bakery in Burbank. My dad would pick them up from time to time and surprise me with a little after dinner treat. Their flavor and their shape were distinct. They were moist, not too sweet, and oh so addicting. When I was pregnant with my first, I craved them; couldn’t get enough. Weekly my dad would bring me a few and I would covet them and eat them all by myself, one by one.

For years I have been making this Caramel Cake. The first time I bit into it, it brought back so many childhood memories. It felt like I had come home. And it reminded me of my dad. Recreating many of our favorite family recipes and converting them into gluten free versions has become a weekend hobby.

Maple almond tea cakes are every bit as good, if not better, than the originals from my childhood. I made the first batch last week. Eli ate 90% of them. Today, he saw the photos on my computer and begged for more. I made him a deal;  if he gathered all the ingredients I would make more. Never saw him move so fast!

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LBCSignIf a group of 10 people playing the word association game were given the word “summer”, chances are at least half would say picnic. Probably more. For me, the best summer picnic, the only summer picnic, is a beach picnic. My family wasn’t park picnickers or picnic in the woods people. We were Long Island beach lovers. And that’s where we did our picnicking.

Every summer from the time I remember, until I was 18, my family belonged to the Lawrence Beach Club on the south shore of Long Island, New York. When school let out in June until after Labor Day, my sisters and I were there, rain or shine. If it rained while we were in the pool, we just opened our mouths to catch the drops.

On hot days after school started back up in September, my mom would pick us up at 3, the station wagon idling at the curb, and take us to the beach until 5 well into October when it was starting to cool down and get dark early.

Memories of Lawrence Beach Club own prime real estate in my memory bank. Beach picnics on summer weekday nights with my family are among the most precious. So precious they are usually keep vaulted in the back of the bank and brought out to be viewed on rare occasions.

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