Food, Family, and Memory

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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pasadena greetings.jpglaraine_newman_cameo.jpgTwo times a week I have to find stuff to do for several hours in Old Town Pasadena. This is a part of Pasadena that is, well, the oldest.  If you can imagine any part of California old, this is it. Many of the ‘old money’ resides here and the architecture reflects the Spanish influence tinged with Victorianhanna_toss.jpg and Craftsman flavor. The reason I go is because my daughter Hannah is a competitive cheerleader. Not the kind connected with a school. She’s too young for that. The kind from Bring It On. The kind you see on ESPN. My little Westside dolly is the one they throw up in the air. The one who brings her leg back to touch her head while being hoisted aloft.  Frankly, I’d puke if I ever had the guts to get up there, but she’s tough and fearless.

If you attend one of these competitions, which I’ve done for many seasons now, you hear sped up hip-hop for hours on end. I actually like hip hop to some degree, but after hours of it, I want to kill myself. This past season, her team; Explosion, had a sixties theme, so their music was a mash up of Sam and Dave, Buffalo Springfield, The Beatles, The Monkees, Steppenwolf etc. It was fabulous and they took first place nine times out of the eleven times they competed. Obviously, not because of the music, but because they ‘stuck it’ every time.

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risotto-mushroom.jpgBack in 1990, rice and love became forever entwined in my mind. A man I’d gone out with for ten years broke off our relationship...and my response to grief was to learn how to make risotto. After I taught myself to make proper risotto, I went on a blind date with an Italian, and some time later found myself in Florence, seeking the approval of my future mother-in-law, whose favorite dish was risotto. Rice and love. From a distance of twenty years, the emotion and the starch wind around each other with all the choreographed beauty of ballet.

The year of my great misery I was living in a tiny apartment in the graduate ghetto of New Haven, Connecticut. Most of the space was in the kitchen, which I found inspirational. I spent my free time cooking, crying and reading. My favorite cookbook was Paul Bertolli’s Chez Panisse Cooking, a tome with long fervent essays that included a long piece on risotto. I would stand over the pot, stirring as Paul instructed, reading a romance borrowed from the public library, and crying every now and then when it seemed the heroines had a better life than I did. After a month or two of this, I was quite good at risotto and I started to think about men in a more cheerful manner, which led to a blind date with Alessandro, a graduate student in Italian with loopy black curls and a swimmer’s body. He liked my risotto. It wasn’t until years later, when I ate his mother’s creamy, delicious risotto, that I understood how important it was.

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frozen_lime_pie.jpgMy son and daughter-in-law, Andy and Katie, and their sweet baby Claire were here for a few days. Andy and Katie enjoy being in the kitchen and appreciate good food. It seems nine-month-old Claire will soon be joining in on kitchen fun. There's no doubt she is turning into a little foodie. She sits in the Tripp Trapp chair (we've had it since our boys were little) at the table with us, gumming small chunks of cooked potatoes, avocadoes, sweet potatoes and peaches. Before long, she'll be wanting garlic mashed potatoes, fresh guacamole, sweet potato pie and peach salsa. And probably some of her mom's Frozen Lime Pie.

I've never been a big fan of frozen desserts that do not include ice cream or gelato. I call Katie the queen of homemade ice cream. She makes the best and often stirs it up and treats us to her homemade frozen cream when she is here. So, when Katie said she would make the Frozen Key Lime Pie from Ina Garten's "Barefoot Contessa Family Style" cookbook, I was only mildly excited. I love lime and I know anything that comes from one of Ina's cookbooks has got to be delicious. I figured there was a chance I might like the frozen pie.

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schneckenWhether you like FaceBook or not, it has its' merits. People and relatives are easier to find.

Last week a woman left me a message and a friend request. I hesitated.  I had no idea from her picture who this person was and why she was ‘friending’ me. Curious, I opened up her profile. This dark haired, beautiful woman was my second cousin.

After the surprise of finding a new family member, I explored her profile to find out about her, as I hadn’t seen her in 50 years. She still lived in Florida, the last place that I had visited with her and her family but this time she was all grown up.

Brenda is her name, just like mine. Odd that we share the same name and she is older by barely a month. We messaged back and forth that evening and I liked her. Then she announced that she was coming to Maine 3 days later to see the foliage with her husband. I invited them to dinner and to stay at my house. She declined but agreed to visit us at our store. The common thread we shared was my aunt Alice, my mother’s aunt and her grandmother.

I felt compelled to tell her some obscure piece of information so she had no doubt that I was truly the correct Brenda. I don’t know why.  I said if she stayed overnight I would make pineapple schnecken, for breakfast just like aunt Alice always made for me. She knew I was ‘the’ Brenda that she was looking for. I knew exactly how to make the schnecken because I had saved the recipe in a special place for 50 years in my heart.

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