Food, Family, and Memory

birthdaypresents.jpg Several years ago (about four), I threw a surprise birthday party for the Wild Boar.  All I really wanted was for him to be "surprised" and he was.  I ordered formal invitations and sent them out with the words, "No Gifts" on the bottom.

How could I expect people to bring him gifts when he and I do not even exchange birthday presents.  There is nothing we need/want!  I thought I was doing everyone a favor.

Of course everyone showed up with very generous, thoughtful and lovely gifts, even though it wasn't necessary.  It was a great party and we still have good memories of that night.

However, fast forward to now.  My children have just received their sixth birthday party invitation this year that says "No Gifts".  Ugh.

OMG, I will never, never, ever, never put that statement on another party invitation as long as I live.

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girlmermaid.jpgI haven't been watching many reality shows lately because of the crying. There is simply too much of it. Last season on Project Runway, Christopher cried because he was sure that he was the only person in the world who would design a dress inspired by a rock (something I am sure he is wrong about). I have no idea how much crying there is on The Hills, since I was never a fan, but it did catch my attention in People magazine that Heidi Montag, star of the show, cried after she had ten plastic surgery procedures in one day. Heidi, I know from a quick Google search, is 23, although since her plastic surgery she looks 33. Which is actually something to cry about.

I have been interested in and done research on this subject spun slightly different: What happens if your mother (not your favorite reality star) has plastic surgery? This is the subject of my new novel for teenagers, The Girl with the Mermaid Hair.

If, as a teenager, you spend hours in front of a mirror deciding, say, whether one nostril is larger than the other or worrying whether your breasts point in different directions (typical teenage obsessing), do you outgrow this madness or make more radical choices if your mother comes home with larger lips, a smaller ass, a new chin, a different nose, bigger breasts? How do you feel if your mom suddenly doesn't have any expression in her face? Or if you look into your mother's eyes and no one is home?

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ice-cream-scoop.jpg For most of my dad’s young life, he lived above and worked at Felcher’s, his parents’ candy store/ neighborhood lunch counter, tucked between P and G's Bar and Grill and Simpson's Hardware Store on Amsterdam Avenue between 73 and 74th Streets. Christopher Morely, imagined the man of the future while watching my dad as a tiny boy play in front of that store and immortalized him in his novel Kitty Foyle.

Throughout college and law school my dad scooped ice cream and served meals at this lunch counter, as his then girlfriend, my mother, perched herself on a stool out front, eating fudgicles and enticing much of the passing parade, including Frank Gifford and his pals, the other NY Giants. I can still see the scoop my father kept from Felcher’s with its well-worn wooden handle and the scored thumb press that pushed a slim metal band, which would release the perfect scoop every time.

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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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kidscooking.jpgThe only time my dad came in the kitchen was to ask when dinner was ready. True to his generation he literally couldn't boil water. My mother and grandmother taught me to cook.

Long before there were neighborhood farmers' markets, my mom liked to stop at roadside stands to buy fresh tomatoes, corn, and strawberries. She followed recipes but also liked to experiment. She enjoyed having my sister and myself in the kitchen with her because she believed that cooking was fun.

I regarded it as a parental duty to teach my sons as my mom taught me.

When Franklin was six years old I gave him a step stool so he could reach the cutting board, a bunch of parsley, and a knife. He did an excellent job mincing the parsley. The only problem we had was when his mom saw that I had outfitted him with a very sharp 8" chef's knife.

She disapproved mightily. But no blood was spilled that day, and Franklin has grown up to be a very good cook, so has his younger brother. Having taught them both a few kitchen skills, they are off and running.

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