Food, Family, and Memory

mimisauceWe eat Mimi’s Sauce with just about everything. Now, I am fully aware that I said “we eat Mimi’s Sauce…”

Fish, chicken, pork, burgers, fries, veggies –  Mimi’s Sauce is the condiment of choice for my kinsmen and me. It is simultaneously basic and brilliant and can be the foundation for many a saucier sauce or simply delightful in and of itself. Spread on a turkey sandwich or as a dip for Cajun steamed shrimp, I am sure you’ll find a favorite use for Mimi’s Sauce. 

Many fried chicken establishments across The South have their own “Special Sauce.” This dipping sauce ranges and varies among the different spots, carefully guarded and some establishments even charge a quarter for an extra sauce.

A quarter – that’s big money! And you know what? We pay it, because one little pack is not enough for our chicken and fries!

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butcher-paper-packageMy favorite Sunday night dinner is braised lamb shanks cooked with basmati rice or what we call “lamb and rice” at our house. It’s simple to prepare, truly, not because I have made it hundreds of times and could do it with my eyes closed.

It’s so fragrant and beautiful when finished; a plume of aromatic steam floats above the shank that’s covered with random pieces of tomato and onion, sitting on a mound of tomato red colored long grain rice perfectly separated.

Calliope Athanus, my Greek grandmother made this dish. She taught my French mother, who taught me. There were always lamb shanks in our freezer growing up. The butcher at the A&P saved all of them for my mother-she bought them all. When the two of us grocery shopped she always repeated to me, “ it must be the front shanks”, the fore shank. “Watch out, they always want to sell you the rear shanks” -she would shake her head and say - “they just aren’t the same.” She told me this every single time.

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Aileen Bordman GivernyNaively, I asked for larks. The grocery clerk seemed perplexed.
      “You know,” I added …  “song birds? And, laurel branches, please.”  

Armed with my shopping list from my 1954 edition of the Alice B Toklas cookbook  (the Hashish Fudge recipe was expunged from that edition) I was beginning life as a newly wed.  I didn’t realize that Alice B Toklas was not Betty Crocker; that our local grocery store in Fort Worth, Texas was not a wildfowl and gourmet food purveyor circa Paris 1920’s; and that I wasn’t cooking for Picasso, Hemingway, Matisse or Braque. I was a recently graduated art student and lookin’ to live La Vie Bohème.  Anything that associated delicious food and painting was what I most wanted in life.  Since I was a woman and not a man-with-a-wife, if I wanted it, I was going to have to do it all myself! And, so … arm in arm with Alice, I started my career as a would-be painter/chef.  Never made Alice’s Larks. However, the super impressed clerks at my market thought I was an authentic epicurean, and I never dared tell them otherwise.

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david-hockneys-a-bigger-splash-1967-300x300.jpgAs a little girl, I loved to swim, still do. Just about any chance I got to go swimming, I would. I dreamed of having my own pool. My bigger dreams were to be an Olympic swimmer and also to swim the English Channel.

Pools and water became an obsession as well as a love. I would look into my backyard and fantasize a swimming pool. It never appeared. My dad always lived in an apartment building with a pool so there was usually a place for me to swim. When I was older and using his for exercise, I would have to share it with his elderly neighbors. They could get nasty and it was tricky navigating around their crankiness. Some of them became my new best friends in long as we stayed in our own lanes.

When I saw the David Hockney series of pools, I totally understood how the swimming pool was his muse.

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chickendinnerWe had friends to dinner the other night, a nice little party with flowers and wine and Josie upstairs.  These days I like making it nice but not stiff, special without fuss – but just a few years back it was all fuss all the time – to a newly minted chef girl, married girl, grown-up girl, hosting meant acrobatic recipes, exotic combinations, an absurdly high drive to please.

Our first true guests were from my husband’s office, a funny and casual couple who were treated to undercooked, over-garlicked lamb and several under-mixed, over-ginned martinis.  The evening would feature a clogged sink, dishwater buckets, our crotch-poking Dalmatian and one seriously wailing fire alarm.  The last thing they saw was Greg broom-whacking the smoke detector and me at the sink, right hand down the drain and left hand in the air.  Bye, great having you! Everyone meets these horrors, but why?  When you turn 25 they should hand you a pamphlet called Hosting! Relax and Don’t Try Anything New. Let’s face it, the clues were there – the oven temp was off, I’d never mixed martinis, I tied that lamb loose as a blind butcher.  I could have seared steaks or made cheese fondue or even flipped omelets.  I could have used a standby.

A lot of people say they don’t do standbys, they prefer something new, something dazzling, an unknown mushroom or an expensive hunk of cheese.  Okay, dazzlers:  I don’t care if you’re Julia Child, there are people coming at seven.  That mushroom could taste like dung and the cheese might hit the floor, so do what you know.  Do what you do well, be comfortable and your guests will be comfortable, do a standby.

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