Food, Family, and Memory

carrotcakewholeSo, we had this awesome carrot cake down on Cumberland Island last November for our father’s birthday…the cake was baked and smuggled onto the island by Julie, Daddy’s wife and our new personal gourmet chef! This cake is unbelievably good and it is one of those dishes that lingers in your mind long after the last crumbs have been eaten. Obviously so, since I had the cake back in November and I was still reeling about it come February. I had to make the cake…I had to make the cake Julie’s way, so, I did. I followed her tweaks and tips for a successful cake and boy oh boy was it!

One of her tweaks on the traditional carrot cake recipe is to soak the carrots in cinnamon for three days…THREE DAYS!!! I thought this was crazy, but I wasn’t going to improve upon such a phenomenal dessert. Four cups of shredded, cinnamon soaked carrots, along with oil, flour, sugar, soda, eggs, additional cinnamon and salt constitute this cake. It is easy breezy to make, but takes some thoughtful culinary twists to enhance this dish to the next level.

Another tweak is the garnish…toasted and salted pecans. Now I could eat my weight in pecans, but toasting these and any nut for that matter brings out the flavor and enhances anything they complement. Butter and salt…good butter and sea salt mind you. No skimping there. The sweetness of the cake matched with the salty pecans is delectable.

Yet, the cake’s sweetness isn’t so much of a sugary sweet, but an earthy sweet brought on by the carrot and cinnamon love fest created three days prior! What else could this cake need…well, the perfect icing…a frosting of cream cheese lightly sweetened and buttery to perfection.

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ImageA few years ago, my sister Laraine and I were having lunch on Larchmont at one of my favorite sushi restaurants, redundantly called California Roll and Sushi Fish. (My sister is Laraine Newman, of SNL fame and a regular contributor to this website.) My seat was facing out toward the other tables and Laraine was facing me. We had ordered and were both very hungry.

Sitting alone against the opposite wall, beyond Laraine, was a young, slender, beautiful Asian woman. I couldn’t look at my sister without seeing her too. Her clothes were perfect, her hair and make-up were perfect. She was perfect. Her sashimi arrived. She slowly poured soy sauce into the little soy sauce dish, slowly picked up her chopsticks, slowly pinched off a tiny bit of wasabi, slowly mixed it with the soy sauce, slowly picked up a piece of fish, slowly dragged it back and forth through the soy sauce, and ever so slowly lifted it to her mouth. Then she actually put the chopsticks down, stared straight ahead and slowly chewed. You get the idea. She was a perfect eater. She’s not likely to ever choke on her food.

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holly_sunflower_sm.jpg I had my first dinner party when I was twelve years old.  I invited six girls.  I can name them all now:  Annie Kleinsasser.  Katie Kleinsasser (her thirteen year old knowing and powerful big sister who wore a bra).  Sara Bingham.  Kathy Golden.  Sue Cross.  Dee Dee Ruff.  We were just finishing the sixth grade.  We’d be going on to Junior High School.  

This was going to be something BIG. 

I felt it was worthy of celebration.   I would have liked to invite six boys but I also would have liked to travel to the moon and I had about as much chance of that as getting the nerve to cook and then eat actual food in front of Kevin Hoffman, Bill Holland, Dan Chapman, Steve Acker, Jamie Oyama and Robbie Ellis.   

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alangrandson.jpgI sing to my grandsons, one via the wonders of video "Skype-ing," and the other up close and very personal. I perform the usual stuff mostly: "The Wheels on the Bus," "Old MacDonald,""Itsey-bitsey Spider", and "The Alphabet Song," with everyone's favorite line: "L-M-N-O-P." 

One day, however, I  found myself, singing a made-up ditty in Spanish to my Jewish-Mexican-American, two and a half year-old, West Coast grandson with a tune that  seemed vaguely familiar but that I could not, at first, place: "Yo tengo hambre ahora, Yo tengo hambre ahora, Yo tengo ha-ambre ahora, Yo tengo hambre, hambre, hambre ahoraaa."  That, by the way, translates to: "I'm hungry now" which he usually is. 

I searched my brain for the origins of the tune and discovered its source in the long buried confines of my youthful synagogue attending memories. It was the music to: "Heiveinu Sholom Aleichem." "Peace be with you" is how that translates, more or less. This is a nice sentiment that may explain its continued presence in my neuronal liturgical coffers despite my having long ago strayed from the fold.

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david-hockneys-a-bigger-splash-1967-300x300.jpgAs a little girl, I loved to swim, still do. Just about any chance I got to go swimming, I would. I dreamed of having my own pool. My bigger dreams were to be an Olympic swimmer and also to swim the English Channel.

Pools and water became an obsession as well as a love. I would look into my backyard and fantasize a swimming pool. It never appeared. My dad always lived in an apartment building with a pool so there was usually a place for me to swim. When I was older and using his for exercise, I would have to share it with his elderly neighbors. They could get nasty and it was tricky navigating around their crankiness. Some of them became my new best friends in life...as long as we stayed in our own lanes.

When I saw the David Hockney series of pools, I totally understood how the swimming pool was his muse.

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