Food, Family, and Memory

baseball-flying1-e1340988979438The guy to the right of me, wearing a stained #13 Alex Rodriguez jersey, grabbed his glove and screamed “Here it comes!  Here it comes!”

The woman behind me was yelling “Oh my gawd! It’s comin’ this way!”

The man in front of me put down his beer and said “I got it, I got it.”

All I could see was that spinning white orb against the summer night sky, getting closer and closer.  It was like it was looking right at me.  All I could think was “OHMYGOD”.

I was 7 years old the first time I went to Yankee Stadium.  It was the summer of 1977; the Summer of Sam; a blazingly hot summer of serial killers, blackouts, and punk rock.  My folks were good friends with a few people that were rabid Yankees fans.  How could you not be that year?  Willie Randolf, Ron Guidry, Thurman Munson, Bucky Dent, and, of course, Mr. October, Reggie Jackson.  My birthday is in October and so I always felt he and I had a special connection.

It was different then.  It was mania.  It was terrifying as we shuffled our way through the concourse- beers sloshing onto me, cigarette cherries burning my arms, sweaty crowds of smelly New Yorkers pushing to get to their seats in time.

Well, maybe it wasn’t that different.

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preserves lg There is a difference between jam and preserves.  Jam is sweet fruit you spread on toast.  Preserves are a frozen moment in time—a piece of summer that you can carry with you the rest of the year:  high grass, long naps, warm evenings, your front porch… 

My neighbor Mary Wellington makes preserves.

Mary is a farmer.  And not only a single-family farmer--a single farmer.  She works three acres of very diverse orchards of Glenn Annie canyon all by herself, on which she grows over fifty varieties of fruit. 

Her preserves were so treasured and ubiquitous at local farmer’s markets that many people came to call her “The Jam Lady.” Her Blenheim Apricot jam is intoxicating.  Her Blood Orange marmalade is insane.  The red raspberry is well… indescribable.  But Mary Wellington preserves more than fruit.

If you wander up Glen Annie you will find a two story clapboard farmhouse peeking out from behind the persimmon tree.  Mary will greet you with her typical burst of enthusiasm and a clap of her hands.  She will launch into an impromptu tour of her orchard and its latest bounty:  You will flit from tree to tree sampling God’s offerings in a feast of the senses that is literally Edenic.  (I know I get religious about food—but I was raised that way.)   Taste the Santa Rosas… Smell the outside of this blood orange… Look at the color on these apricots... Oh don’t mind the bruise—just taste it.

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birthdaypresents.jpg Several years ago (about four), I threw a surprise birthday party for the Wild Boar.  All I really wanted was for him to be "surprised" and he was.  I ordered formal invitations and sent them out with the words, "No Gifts" on the bottom.

How could I expect people to bring him gifts when he and I do not even exchange birthday presents.  There is nothing we need/want!  I thought I was doing everyone a favor.

Of course everyone showed up with very generous, thoughtful and lovely gifts, even though it wasn't necessary.  It was a great party and we still have good memories of that night.

However, fast forward to now.  My children have just received their sixth birthday party invitation this year that says "No Gifts".  Ugh.

OMG, I will never, never, ever, never put that statement on another party invitation as long as I live.

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macaronicheese_sm.jpg My mother, having fallen down the stairs and broken her leg on June 8, has left the hospital and moved to something called a Sub-Acute Rehab Facility. I believe, based on keen observation, that that means “not as bad as being in the hospital but we will still wake you in the night to take your vitals and you will still have a roommate who watches game shows all day long at a volume calculated to shatter Plexiglas.” It also means that the food is still bad.

My mother, as I believe I have mentioned many times, is a superb cook, and even in these days of waning appetite and dietary restrictions she still appreciates and desires sophisticated and well-prepared food. At the rehab facility, I joined her for lunch yesterday and witnessed both menu choices: roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy or Chicken a la King and mashed potatoes. Cubes of carrots were served as a side, and dessert was a gelatinous apple filling sered in tiny pie shells. It was not inspiring. I watched my mother pick at her food, keenly aware that she needs to eat, particularly to eat protein, in order to build and keep her strength up so that she can participate in physical therapy and go home. It wasn’t looking good.

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pasadena greetings.jpglaraine_newman_cameo.jpgTwo times a week I have to find stuff to do for several hours in Old Town Pasadena. This is a part of Pasadena that is, well, the oldest.  If you can imagine any part of California old, this is it. Many of the ‘old money’ resides here and the architecture reflects the Spanish influence tinged with Victorianhanna_toss.jpg and Craftsman flavor. The reason I go is because my daughter Hannah is a competitive cheerleader. Not the kind connected with a school. She’s too young for that. The kind from Bring It On. The kind you see on ESPN. My little Westside dolly is the one they throw up in the air. The one who brings her leg back to touch her head while being hoisted aloft.  Frankly, I’d puke if I ever had the guts to get up there, but she’s tough and fearless.

If you attend one of these competitions, which I’ve done for many seasons now, you hear sped up hip-hop for hours on end. I actually like hip hop to some degree, but after hours of it, I want to kill myself. This past season, her team; Explosion, had a sixties theme, so their music was a mash up of Sam and Dave, Buffalo Springfield, The Beatles, The Monkees, Steppenwolf etc. It was fabulous and they took first place nine times out of the eleven times they competed. Obviously, not because of the music, but because they ‘stuck it’ every time.

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