Food, Family, and Memory

me-b.v.-playground-in-courreges-boots My parents were always worried that I hadn’t eaten.  “Have you had lunch, Fredde?”  My answer was “YES, of course, I made myself a mayonnaise sandwich!!!” And James Beard is famous for his as well, okay, maybe his is called an onion sandwich, but it’s pretty much the sandwich I made as a kid. essentialjamesbeardbuy now button
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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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beverlyhillssign.jpg The other day I was thumbing through a copy of OK magazine….alright, I was reading it. They have a section that shows celebrities doing normal things! Captions that read, “They pick up their own dry cleaning!” “They put money in the parking meter!” “They go to the carwash!!!”

Growing up in Los Angeles, specifically Beverly Hills, I would see countless celebrities in their normal, every day life. Cary Grant shopping at Carroll & Company. Fred Astaire strolling up Rodeo Drive. Or  Sonny & Cher about to walk into Nate ‘N’ Al’s.

I went to school with the children of many famous people. In some cases, there was a particular tragedy about them. The legacy of their parent’s fame was a tyranny to their self-esteem. The comparisons that were made, especially if, God forbid, the kid wanted to go into the same business imposed an obligation that more often than not was unattainable. Some came to terms with it and went on to live happy and healthy lives. Others perished under it.

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friedchickenWhat a beautiful day! Perfect for taking a walk at the beach, shopping at our local farmers' market, cooking, and eating outside.

We've cleaned off the deck. Arranged tables outside for lunch. Prepared a carrot salad and a couscous with grilled vegetables, made kosher pickles and a pasta with braised beef and watercress, soaked chicken and onion rings in buttermilk for fried chicken, and baked a custard with chocolate.

Today will be a good day.

For me the fried chicken with onion rings is the centerpiece of the meal. I have strong childhood memories of my mom making fried chicken when we went to Will Rogers State Beach in Santa Monica. Nothing Colonel Sanders ever made came close.

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oatmealraisincookies.jpg The thing I remember most about baking oatmeal cookies when I was 8 years old was that the bottoms always burned.  Even if you faithfully followed the recipe on the back of the Quaker Oats box to a tee, which I absolutely did, when you pulled the sheet out of the oven, slid your spatula under that first lightly browned mound and peered hopefully at its underside, all you got was burned.

Over the years, I tried greasing the pan and not greasing the pan. I used the milk, I didn’t use the milk, I sifted and then I didn’t.  I lowered the oven temperature, baked them on the bottom rack, the upper rack, a shorter time, a longer time.   But no matter what I did or didn’t do, the outcome was the same: rear ends black as coal.  There was just no justice.  And you know what they say:  No justice, no oatmeal cookie.

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