Food, Family, and Memory

sugar-bowl2I have been piecing together my fantasy business in my mind for decades. Ever since I received a pint-size, hand-cranked ice cream maker for my birthday at age five, I have been obsessed with making ice cream. I’ve always imagined myself as soda jerk pulling my carbonator draft arm tenderly behind the counter of a polished chrome soda fountain. I had decided all the intricate details of what type of equipment I would need, period glassware, and the décor by the time I was 10 years old. I even concocted all the recipes for the gooey toppings by 16.

My obsession started years ago on my first visit to Scottsdale, Arizona. My parents treated me to my first period perfect ice cream parlor visit and I fell hopelessly in love. My first impression of the Sugar Bowl has never left me. I have an odd habit of spinning when I am overwhelmed by something beautiful. I spin to remember the whole picture - all 360 degrees of it. I spun that day taking in the whole Sugar Bowl ice cream parlor. It must have been someone’s dream because every detail was so perfect, and then it became my dream.

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chocolatesquares “Can we have dessert?” my four-year-old grandson asks, a conspiratorial half-smile pulling down the right side of his mouth. He knows full well that this is not dessert time, but also knows that spending special time with Mama Dora means tossing all parental restrictions to the wind. Ice cream? Yes! Cookies? Why not! Chocolate? Of course! As far as I’m concerned, a grandparent’s holy responsibility is to spoil the grandchild. The parents’ holy responsibility is to deal with the aftermath—a sugar-filled, hyper child, who’ll climb up walls and spin like a possessed dreidel. So! We will have chocolate, I silently decide, my own mouth watering.

“Two,” he negotiates. “Two what?” I ask, as if I don’t know. “These tiny square, brown things,” he says, without naming chocolate, as if voicing the magic word might summon his parents, heaven forbid. “Ok,” I reply “two.” So we march to the kitchen, arrange the table with china plates and napkins. It’s important to set a good example even, or especially, when chocolate is at stake. I put two chocolates on each of our plates. Help him up the stool and sit next to him.

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roux-2.jpg As any good Cajun cook will tell you, "First you make a roux." But what, you might ask, is a roux?.

Even with the proliferation over the last couple of decades of Cajun chefs, Cajun restaurants and Cajun cookbooks, blackened this and blackened that (what ever that means); most non- Cajun aficionados of South Louisiana’s cuisine can’t explain a roux either.

But I was in luck Sunday when an actual real life Cajun from Kraemer Louisiana, my best pal Keith, showed up at my kitchen door in Silver Lake. "I heard ya'll needed some help with a roux."

As my fellow Louisianaian explains, the gumbo starts with the cast iron skillet, not the roux. If you don’t have a thick skillet the heat won’t distribute properly and the roux will be either over or under cooked. With that in mind, I turn the fire on high and pour one cup of canola oil in the skillet along with one piece of bacon. The bacon adds a subtle flavor and also serves somewhat like a canary in a coal mine. If the bacon cooks too fast the fire’s too hot (I said kinda like a canary in a coal mine).

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mimisauceWe eat Mimi’s Sauce with just about everything. Now, I am fully aware that I said “we eat Mimi’s Sauce…”

Fish, chicken, pork, burgers, fries, veggies –  Mimi’s Sauce is the condiment of choice for my kinsmen and me. It is simultaneously basic and brilliant and can be the foundation for many a saucier sauce or simply delightful in and of itself. Spread on a turkey sandwich or as a dip for Cajun steamed shrimp, I am sure you’ll find a favorite use for Mimi’s Sauce. 

Many fried chicken establishments across The South have their own “Special Sauce.” This dipping sauce ranges and varies among the different spots, carefully guarded and some establishments even charge a quarter for an extra sauce.

A quarter – that’s big money! And you know what? We pay it, because one little pack is not enough for our chicken and fries!

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drink vanillabeancreamsoda smI grew up drinking Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda. I loved it. I would go to Art’s Deli with my dad and nothing made me happier than a big bowl of matzo ball soup, a potato knish, and a bottle of cream soda. Oh, how wonderful it would be to be 14 again and eat all the carbs one desires. Sigh….

Just recently, my two older boys were dining with friends at our favorite, local deli; Factors, and it was here that they discovered Dr. Brown’s. A bit of nostalgia crept in along with a smile. Going to Art’s with my dad was always a treat, whether I got my “usual” or shared a corn beef sandwich with him, Dr. Brown’s always accompanied my meal. So, I find it only natural that my kids taste a bit of my childhood while they enjoy their favorite meal at our neighborhood deli.

One problem. We have a no soda rule in our house. They have become really respectful of the rule, however there are those times that they are with friends and the mom orders the drinks without hesitation. The open bottle of either black cherry or cream soda is too tempting. They are 11 and 14 after all, and I do let some things slide.

Instead of always saying no, whether in the super market or at a restaurant, I chose to try my hand at making one of their favorite at home. Granted, this is not going to become a household staple, but a rare treat always brings smiles to their faces and there is nothing wrong with seeing their eyes light up at that first sip or taste.

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