Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Rituals

Probably good advice to give is: when you have had disappointing news from the doctor, it's best not to immediately head to the supermarket. The opportunity for soothing with comfort food is just too great, especially if you know you're going home to an empty house, with nobody to comment on the food you've purchased. Croissants on sale today? Lemme at 'em! How about a bit of that Boursin cheese I liked so much? Yeah, I know we're out of peanutbutter. How about some big lamb chops for dinner? Maybe some snack crackers, since we're out of those too. And who can resist that french bread they just took out of the oven and which is sitting, warm, in bags right in front of you? Comfort food is never anything "green" or "nutritious."

It's not surprising that I would turn to food for comfort. My happiest memories of childhood often center around food. The ever-present cookie jar, the happy pig with the big belly and bigger smile, filled with freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, Saturday morning's "hockies," hunks of fried bread dough lathered with butter--contests with my sister to see who could eat the most (I think I once had eight--or was it 12?--of the things--no wonder I was on my first diet at age 10!). The bowl of cheese curls always served at my grandmother's cocktail parties, along with the Parmesan/mayonnaise appetizers that I still make for hors d'oeuvres today.

I loved the food preparation "rituals" in my house. One of my favorite mental pictures of my mother is sitting at the kitchen table, lit by the light coming through the window at her right. There is a bowl in her lap, held between her knees and she is peeling apples for her wonderful apple pie. I loved to eat the strips of apple peel that curled off of the apple and into the garbage bowl, or sneak slices of apples, sweet with sugar and sprinkled with cinnamon. "Don't eat so many," my mother would laugh, always afraid there wouldn't be enough for the pie.

Another of her standard desserts, especially for birthdays, was chocolate cream roll. A thin flat sponge cake baked in a cookie sheet with sides on it, then turned out onto a powdered sugar-covered towel, and the crisp edges cut off and saved for Karen and me to eat. The cake was then tightly rolled, while it was still warm, and left to cool. When cool, it was unrolled and spread thickly with real whipped cream and frosted with a chocolate frosting I have never been able to duplicate. Karen and I always got to lick the beaters, of course.

Nobody could make shoestring potatoes like my mother. Pencil-thin slices of potatoes, cooked to a golden brown, yet crispy perfection. I have never been able to duplicate them. I get tired of the endless cutting and the potatoes come out either soggy or burned.

One of her specialties was enchiladas, an unusual specialty for someone of Scottish descent. But when I was a baby, the woman who lived upstairs over our flat (whom I do not remember at all) was Mexican and my mother loved her enchiladas, so she Amalia to teach her how to make them.

The preparation took three days. She started out with mixing together a couple of kinds of meat, with dashes of spices. I especially remember the smokey smell of the cumin seeds that she crushed to add to the mixture.

Many years later, when she tried to recreate it all for me (because this was no recipe that had ingredient measurements written into it), I realized what she was doing was making chorizo sausage.

The mixture had to sit in the fridge for two or three days to cure, and whenever you opened the door to the fridge you got hit with this wonderful smell of aging meat.

When the time was right, the meat was cooked and then all the bowls were assembled on the formica topped kitchen table. There was the cooked meat mixture, the stack of corn tortillas, a bowl of Las Palmas enchilada sauce, chopped onions, chopped olives and cheese. I don't know where she got her tortillas. I suspect that they didn't have the stacks of packaged tortillas that you can get around here these days, because they seemed to be much fresher than the kind of corn tortillas that you buy at the supermarket.

Carefully she would dip a warmed tortilla into the sauce, then lay it on a plate and fill it with the other ingredients, then roll up tightly and put it in a baking pan.

When it was time, she would pour any remaining sauce over the enchiladas, sprinkle with cheese and put the pan in the oven to bake.

When they were finished, large leaves of romaine lettuce went on the individual serving plates, one enchilada went into each romain leaf and Parmesan cheese was sprinkled over the top. All that was left was to eat and enjoy. It was a request of many people when she was asked to make something for dinner.

I decided to make my mother's recipe for our last cousins day, but I decided to short cut it and bypassed the homemade chorizo step, just buying regular chorizo at the store. I also thought the packaged tortillas were too dry and didn't roll up properly. The end result was a complete disaster. I think it's the first dinner we've had in our two years of cousins days that had leftovers.

I guess I learned that there are no shortcuts to the "real thing."

I don't know if I can ever properly recreate my mother's enchiladas. But it's one of the food rituals, among many food rituals in our family, that I remember fondly

2 comments:

The Governor said...

(TMA sent me)

I absolutely know what you mean about food. We've had a rough week at our house too, and we seem to have a ton of baked goods, casseroles, etc. everywhere now. If only I didn't feel compelled to eat it all too!

Jennifer

Shannon H. said...

*wave* I am here visiting via "That's My Answer".

I prefer to get a chocolate shake after leaving the doctor...good news or bad news.