Food, Family, and Memory

My favorite all time saying is that 'you can pick and choose your friends but not your family.' Perhaps that's because I have some extended family members who are constant reminders of that famous quote.

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My immediate family is very close as well as my 1st cousins, aunts and uncles and for the most part, I would choose to be friends with them. However, I do have some cousins "that don't know me and I don't know them" and would prefer to keep it that way. I have been known to desert my grocery cart and flee when I catch a glimpse of them at the grocery store. These people and their lifestyles made Jeff Foxworthy rich and famous.

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human_hand.jpgA fork by any other name would still be a fork. Unless you called it your hands. Then the fork is rendered moot. Hands are more versatile than forks. They posses a way cooler gadget. The opposable thumb (come-up of all evolutionary come-ups) possesses some remarkable moves.

Unfortunately we don’t often get to put those moves into practice with familiar western cuisine. But why rely on some intermediary device to enjoy that most intimate sensation of eating? Some form of artifice, really, when we consider that we already have what it takes.

My earliest inclinations were to forgo tools and bound the gulf between food and eating (associations begin firing at Lacan’s l’hommelette, a slippery slope). My favorite foods (burritos, sushi) can technically and efficiently be eaten with one’s hands. Still, my lifetime eating career has been dominated by silverware.

Until my wife introduced me to her native cuisine. Nepali food predates industrial metal forgery and globalization. Silverware was not a concern when the recipes took shape, nor is it a concern today when they’re served.

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artichokewhole.jpgGrowing up, my brother Paul was good at baseball, my brother Chris was good at math, and I was good at eating.

I don't mean I ate a lot (which I did). I mean I was a skilled eater. I could eat a big bowl of spaghetti without splashing my top with gravy. Every time. I could rearrange the components of a New England boiled dinner on my plate so that you would swear I had eaten virtually all of it, when in fact, I hadn't even touched it.

Some families would show off their kids at a violin or dance recital, my parents would invite people over to watch me eat an artichoke.

By age six, I was a virtuoso artichoke eater. It was a performance I had mastered like no other.

Whenever we had artichokes, I would be wiping the last drop of lemony juice from my lips, while all of the adults at the table were still hacking and picking at the outer leaves. Even my athletically gifted older brother was clueless when it came to the heart. Dumb jock.

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apple_picking.jpgMany years ago, more than 30, there was a little boy who loved apples. On sunny autumn days, he and his mom would each put on a warm, cozy sweatshirt. They would get in the car and take a short drive to their favorite apple orchard.

The sweet fragrance of fresh apples would meet their noses as soon as they walked into the barn. The big red apple barn at the orchard always felt cool inside. On each visit, the little boy and his mom would taste each of the varieties of apples. They already knew which was their favorite apple. But the little boy would watch as his mom carefully cut a slice from each of the apples so they could have a taste. Some were sweet, some were tart, some were soft and some were firm.

The blonde little blue-eyed boy and his mom always chose the same kind of apple. Red and juicy. Crunchy and tart. Firm, not soft. As they wound their way to the place in the barn where they would pay for their small basket of apples, the little boy would stop at the freezer case. He loved the frozen apple cider sticks and he knew his mom did, too. He would stand on the tips of his toes, stretch his arm and try to reach down to pick up two of the frozen sticks of cider. But, he couldn't reach them. So, his mom would scoop him up in her arms and hold him just close enough so that his little hands could grasp the chilly bars of frozen cider.

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ImageI’m changing – slowly, but surely, morphing into some life form I no longer recognize as myself. With this neurotic thought stampeding through my mind, I rise this morning and put up a pot of Rose’s favorite coffee—Peets Major Dickason. Despite her penchant to skip breakfast, I prepare a healthful little dish, hoping my angel will think twice: a dollop of non-fat yogurt sprinkled with Urth Café granola and topped with a red glistening strawberry. Into the kitchen she comes, looking every bit the marketing director of an International law firm that she is and the woman whose bras I’m continually picking up off our bedroom floor. I proudly present her the breakfast plate. “Would you mind getting my dry cleaning today, honey?” she asks, walking by me to the coffee pot, where she fills her cup to the brim. I tell her I’ll think about it. A perfunctory peck to my cheek and she’s gone, off to work.

A few seconds later and a forty-pound school bag strapped to his back, Julian comes clomping down the stairs and into my face, “You’re nuts if you think I’m gonna eat that!” he warns, motioning derisively to the plate I find I’m still holding. In one large spoonful I consume the yogurt and take him to school, stopping along the way at Starbucks for his customary ham and egg sandwich; after numerous attempts at getting Julian to eat real eggs I have given up; begrudgingly conceded that the disgusting pale yellow layer in the sandwich he crams into his mouth each morning, while not the Real McCoy, is, at the very least, some distant relative.

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