Food, Family, and Memory

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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Depression-conceptualMy husband Mike passed away suddenly two years ago. A “catastrophic coronary event,” I remember hearing before the doctor launched into the “We did everything we could” speech. I sat motionless in the Naugahyde chair in that dimly lit room they usher people into to tell them such things.

My husband Mike could put the caption on the cartoon we call life. I can still be felled by a wave of sadness when the world calls out for his wit, but it usually passes as the business of life encroaches and forces the sadness aside. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that grief is not a linear process or a series of predictable steps. It comes and it goes, lingers or dusts by. It can overpower or gently remind. Now you see it; now you don’t.

The second year into loss, the cycles of grief had given way to the flat, dark monotony of depression. Since action is my default response, I checked out inspirational websites for those contemplating putting themselves out of their own misery, and I downloaded into my iPhone Kindle any number of self-help books about depression and the powers of positive thinking, and I answered every “Are you suffering from...” and “On a scale of 1-10...” quiz that the books offered.

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rivercafe.jpg The good thing about having a sister who owns a restaurant – and The River Café is a great one in my opinion – is that when she’s cooking my son is allowed to order ‘off the menu’. In his case it’s a plate of the most wonderful creamy pasta carbonara. Made special for him with egg yolks the color of oranges, peppered pancetta and the parmesan cheese hand carried from Parma, I suppose. The bad thing is that my sister won’t let me have any. “You don’t need it”, she says looking at my waist. So it’s the regular menu for me.

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mimichowmeinAfter graduating from Alabama Polytechnic Institute (a.k.a. Auburn) and marrying my grandmother, my grandfather joined the Air Force. Starting their married lives in Ashiya, Japan, on the southern island of Kyushu, Mimi and Granddaddy were much akin to many newlyweds.

They were setting up house, planning a family, learning to cook, so on and so forth, yet, being in post World War II Japan influenced these Southern newlyweds more than they would ever realize. One of those influences was in the kitchen, where Mimi began her culinary prowess in the land of bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, and soy sauce. This was the 1950’s and upon return to the South, those Japanese and other Asian sways may still be found in her cooking today.

“Where we were in Japan, Southern Japan, we were on the same latitude lines as home, so the seasons, produce, and flora were much of the same as home… azaleas, camellias, etc. all grew and bloomed there.” Mimi said. Besides that, many Southerners eat many things over rice i.e. Creole, red beans, gumbo, and stews, so that part of the cuisine was a tête-à-tête between the two cultures for sure.

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mattbreadpudding.jpgGrowing up there were just some things that this little pudgy boy would not eat. High on the short list of food items, along with sour cream and avocados, was this recipe called Capirotada. No matter how hard they tried I just wouldn’t move past the strange blend of ingredients that went into this Mexican bread pudding.

Now it’s the only thing I want to eat.

Capirotada is a Mexican bread pudding that’s normally served during Lent. Because of this it has always featured any ingredients that were on hand and someone on the humble side of desserts — a tad bit plain and not too sweet. And like most recipes coming from a country as diverse as Mexico, it’s also infinitely adaptable. It’s hard to find the same recipe for Capirotada when you begin to look around and speak with Mexican cooks.

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