Food, Family, and Memory

applesinbasketsI miss apple-picking in New England. Overall the produce found in Southern California is superior to anywhere we have lived, but just like football, when it comes to apples, you simply can't beat New England.

New England has scores of picturesque orchards with rolling hills and countless trees. There are few pleasures in life as satisfying as biting into a just picked Macoun apple while standing in the warm sun on a chilly fall New England day.

The first autumn that Jeff and I lived in North Carolina, we planned our annual apple-picking day. When we arrived ready to pick, we were aghast that our treasured McIntosh, Macouns, and Cortlands were nowhere to be found. Instead we had to make due with Red Romes, Galas, and Arkansas Blacks (a hard, tart apple which became my new favorite).

Just as we got used to our apples in the Southeast, we then moved to California and had to learn an entirely new set of apples. Though crunchy, sweet Fujis are probably the most popular apple here, my local favorite is the Pink Lady.

Unlike her name, she's quite sassy, just right for an eating apple. Then there's the Winesap, which according to Riley's Farm of Oak Glen, CA, is the "Celebrity Rock Star of Apples." No wonder. It's deep crimson red, super firm and crispy, and assertively tart. Definitely not an apple for the timid.

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poachedeggsingle.jpg Several times a week my amazing other half will call me at my office, check on me to see how my day is progressing, and then follow it up with "What would you like for dinner?" Before you think I’m the luckiest man on earth to get that phone call every day (because I am!), please keep in mind that the question should really be "Hi there; What Would You Like To Eat Tonight So That I Can Compare It To My List Of What We Have In The Kitchen Against What I Actually Feel Like Making For Dinner Depending On Several Factors Like Time, Mood, Willingness and Temperature." 

We then begin a little phone dance of niceties like "Oh, you know, whatever you want is fine" and "But that really doesn’t help me out, Matt, which is why I called" which gives way to "Whatever we bought Sunday at the Farmers Market isn’t going to last until tomorrow so make something with that" which gets a "Fine. And where will I get a recipe for what you’re talking about" and I’ll respond with "Um, improvise?" which meets a "With TAHINI, A BUNCH OF SAGE AND SHRIVELED PLUMS?!?" to which I’ll say "Oh god, nevermind, really, I’ll eat whatever you want to make. Seriously. I don’t care."

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chickensaladwrap.jpg My mom taught me how to cook. I was lucky she was the kind of mom who encouraged me to be in the kitchen. She would often turn her favorite room over to me, making me feel as though I was a scientist working in my own private laboratory. I would pretend I was testing recipes in the Pillsbury kitchens.

My mom did have one rule, though, that she insisted I learn and practice. When dirty bowls and pots and spoons and measuring cups started to pile up on the kitchen counter, she'd quickly remind me of the rule: "Susie, clean up as you go."

Mom believed that as long as you stayed on top of the mess, you'd have a pleasant experience in the kitchen. And everything would turn out much better. I'm pretty sure she was right about that. I was thinking about my mom as I prepared her favorite chicken salad. And I could almost hear her reminding me to clean up after each step.

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ImageMy dad is a competitive person, especially when it comes to the weather in wintertime. He'll call me from Rhode Island and say, "What's the weather like in San Diego?"

I tell him what I always tell him: "Oh, it's the same. Sunny and 70s."

Then, invariably, he'll say something along the lines of, "Yeah, it's was beautiful today in Rhode Island too. It was 44 degrees. It was so warm I had to take my jacket off."

Poor guy. Doesn't he know he just can't win the weather war? Search "best weather in the world," and San Diego always makes the list, along with other celestial destinations such as The Canary Islands and Cabos San Lucas. Consider this: In January 2011 Rhode Island earned the dubious distinction of "3rd Snowiest January in History." In San Diego, you can expect sunny skies and high 60s pretty much every day.

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farm2.jpgDaddy was everything to us. He was a lot to many and my mother's whole world. He moved from Los Angeles to a small southern town in Georgia when he was 16 years old and met my mother shortly after. Mom was 15 and the rest is history. He left us, very unexpectedly on an early Spring night. Nothing could have prepared me for it. He was the pied piper, the epitome of a fine man, the definition of love, all the reason I turned out to be me. He was kind and gentle, inspired me every day to see the good in people. He inspired the adventure in me. It's why I grew up in a small southern town on a cotton and pecan farm and have seen so much of the world that most folks will never see.

I always packed a cooler on my way home to the farm and took Daddy things he just couldn't grow on the farm. Italian prosciutto, spicy tuna roles from my favorite sushi place, homemade fennel sausage lasagna from Bacchanalia (one of two, 5 star Michelin restaurants in Atlanta.) He liked tiny blueberries from Vermont from Whole Foods to put on his Raisin Bran every morning. And the late summer 'wild king salmon' I got at the fish market. I brought him Peach Bread from Breadwinners Bakery. The finest olive oil and balsamic vinegar from Italy. I always brought him several boxes of Lily O'Brien's sticky toffee chocolates from Ireland along with a loaf of local soda bread. He loved the whole cranberry sauce Amy turned me on to from the LA Farmer's Market.

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