Food, Family, and Memory

me-modeling-70s-831x1024When I would visit my friend Lisa in London in the early 80’s, I would sometimes see my bi-country friend Allan.  He lived here in L.A. and also London where he was a television producer.  His flat was in the Holland Park/Notting Hill area, but I love the name Ladbroke Grove so much that I want to say he lived there.  I love all the names of the streets and villages in Great Britain.

On occasion, he took me along for a Sunday lunch he had been invited to.  Allan would say, “This bloke wants me to come round, would you fancy joining us?”  Once there, I was in awe of the carefree, unkempt, unfazed style of the host, hostess and everyone really. 

When I entertain, I’m stressed out, dressed up, have too much food and am just generally overwhelmed by it all.   Whereas, these folks looked like they stayed up too late (not a touch of makeup on the women) and hardly gave a thought to the guests they were now entertaining in their home. This was the antithesis of the Martha Stewart entertaining regime. 

The houses weren’t straightened up, nor the tables set.   Drinks went around first.  Drinks seemed much more important than food.  Then slowly (sometimes hours had passed), and oh-so casually, the women would find their way to the kitchen and start hunting for leftovers.  WHAT?  They invited people over without even the forethought of what food they might serve.  It was baffling. 

Read more ...

red velvet cakeAs my birthday approaches I can't help but think of my sisters - I'm the middle one - and my maternal grandmother. My sisters and I are born two years apart, with our birthdays all in the last week of September. If you do the math, I guess one can blame the joyful spirit of the holidays on the closeness of the timing.

My brother, as the oldest and only boy, always seemed to get special treatment over us girls. I'm sure he felt tortured by his loud, energetic sisters, but at least he never had to share his birthday party. I can't really blame my parents for lumping our "big days" all together on the middle weekend between them all. My father worked two jobs to support his young family, so lack of money paired with convenience produced - throughout our childhood - one giant party for "the girls." It was a "more-the-merrier" type of event and we were all showered with enough gifts to make us contented despite the lack of individual attention.

When we were very young my mother took care of the cake, but as we got older and began developing our own opinions, all we ever wanted was my grandmother's Red Velvet Cake. I can't remember the first time I ate it, but I can still taste it today. It was the same every time with a dense, almost chewy texture; the sweet tang of the cream cheese frosting; that distinct something-more-than-just-chocolate flavor that distinguishes this classic cake from all others.

Read more ...

basillemon.jpgThe first time my sister cooked for me, we were both in our 20s and living together in my 500 square foot studio apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It was the day I had quit my job working in book publicity and had decided to go back to freelance film production work. My sister, Alexandra, having just finished up her first transfer semester at the Fashion Institute of Technology, wanted to make us a home-cooked meal to celebrate our big life changes. She was already cooking by the time I arrived at our apartment that evening. I smelled pasta boiling and lots of lemon and basil. I started over towards the blender to take a sniff, but she shooed me away. “It’s almost done. Go and sit down.”

Read more ...

sisters.jpgFor the last year my sister and I have thought what a neat thing it would be to go back to the exact places that we visited on our first trip to Europe with our mother 50 years ago. I am not exactly certain how this trip idea started but the one thing that I am certain of is that it centered around a lively food discussion. Somehow all of life's most interesting memories seem always to involve food. So the idea of retracing our first trip sounded like a interesting idea.

My sister and I take an annual trip to France together and we have done that forever but this trip was going to start in Madrid and then would end in Paris which always feels as comfortable to us as an broken in old pair of shoes. We planned on two things happening: first, that it would jar both our memories on long forgotten details that some how through the planning stage seemed important and second, returning to somewhere that you are not totally familiar with is a good thing to do when you are over fifty.

We vowed that we will now travel each year to an unknown place together as a healthy thing to keep mentally nimble (and it sure beats learning Chinese or doing crossword puzzles.) The unknown, the piecing together and non-predictable is a healthy silent partner as we all age.

Read more ...

latt-chickenlivers1As with so many foods in our lives, dishes served when we are young put strong imprints on our adult palates. Most nights when my father came home from work, he would settle into his leather recliner and watch wrestling on TV. While my sister and I set the table, my mother would serve him an appetizer plate and his cocktail of choice, a 7&7 (Seagrams & 7-Up).

His favorite appetizers reflected his Russian Jewish background. There would be plates of pickled herring with sour cream, chopped chicken liver, pickled beets and onions, anchovy fillets and pumpernickel bread that he ordered from a mail-order outlet in New York.

Wanting a father-son moment with my father, who was decidedly old school and not much into father-son moments, I would sit next to him and share the appetizers (and steal a sip of his 7&7 when he wasn't looking). I definitely developed a taste for the anchovies and chicken livers but not for the pickled herring with sour cream!

One day, with very little in the refrigerator, I wanted a lunch with a lot of flavor that wouldn't take much effort to create. With a box of pasta, a couple of chicken livers, a tin of anchovies, an assortment of aromatics and a few other ingredients, I put two and two together and made a dish that was light and delicious. I wonder if my dad would have liked it? 

Read more ...