Food, Family, and Memory

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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human_hand.jpgA fork by any other name would still be a fork. Unless you called it your hands. Then the fork is rendered moot. Hands are more versatile than forks. They posses a way cooler gadget. The opposable thumb (come-up of all evolutionary come-ups) possesses some remarkable moves.

Unfortunately we don’t often get to put those moves into practice with familiar western cuisine. But why rely on some intermediary device to enjoy that most intimate sensation of eating? Some form of artifice, really, when we consider that we already have what it takes.

My earliest inclinations were to forgo tools and bound the gulf between food and eating (associations begin firing at Lacan’s l’hommelette, a slippery slope). My favorite foods (burritos, sushi) can technically and efficiently be eaten with one’s hands. Still, my lifetime eating career has been dominated by silverware.

Until my wife introduced me to her native cuisine. Nepali food predates industrial metal forgery and globalization. Silverware was not a concern when the recipes took shape, nor is it a concern today when they’re served.

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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.

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knuckle claw3When Chloe was three, we lived on Martha’s Vineyard. She was an unusual three year old. She didn’t like pink, or dolls but her most unusual quality at that tender age, was her love of lobster.

Every summer, our friends from Chicago, rented the home next to ours for the month of July. We had celebrated their return this particular year with a big lobster feast – This is when, to my knowledge, Chloe tasted her first lobster and the love affair began.

The following morning, I heard our friends next door calling over the fence, “Chloe’s here.”

It was about 7am! I rushed through the gap in the garden to find Chloe, still in her pajamas, sitting on the back porch steps, expertly devouring a whole lobster that had been left over from the night before. She wasn’t interested in anything or anyone, except the massive coruscation as big as her arm that she was pulling apart and devouring.

The conversation went something like this…

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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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