Friday, May 24, 2019

A Taste of Home

When my father's mother was nearing the end of her life, I don't know for what particular reason her diet was restricted, but I remember her saying "when I can eat again, all I want is a big slice of rare roast beef."

I don't know why I think of that from time to time. Maybe because as I get older, things don't taste quite the same as they used to and I miss the foods I used to love.  It's strange how many vivid food memories I have.  It's no wonder that I have had a  weight problem all of my life.

Walt went to San Francisco yesterday to go to a symphony matinee and decided to take the train down, so I took him to the train station at 8:30.  On the way home, I stopped at the donut shop and picked up a couple of donuts for breakfast.  I love donuts but almost never buy them, for several reasons -- one because I need them like I need a hole in the head, and two because it means getting up and out in the morning and doesn't seem worth the effort, but whenever I do get donuts at this particular shop, I'm always happy because if you get there early enough the donuts are still warm and so very, very fresh.  

I always think back to my days at UC Berkeley and the mornings we would go to Mass at the Newman center and then walk down to a donut shop nearby where I'd have a couple of warm donuts and hot chocolate.  What a way to start the morning.

My father didn't cook much, but when he did, what he made was memorable.  I have never had a potato salad to match his.  He said the secret was to slice the potatoes very thin, but even with that and adding the onions, mayonnaise, and sweet pickles that he mixed together, I've never been able to recreate that special taste.  I was his "taster" whenever he made potato salad, to let him know if he had the salt right.  My mother occasionally made potato salad, but it was never quite right.

I also remember the first time he made egg nog from scratch.  I can picture myself sitting in the kitchen while he worked in the pantry and gave me a taste of what he was making (without the liquor, of course).  It was like drinking flavored cream and I loved it.

He once made...and I can't remember what they are called, but Italian meat pies.  How he loved Italian food and swore that somewhere in his genes there were Italian ancestors.  But his pies were delicious and I have had them many times in many places, but never as good as the ones he made.
Of course then there were the peanut butter cookies that you had to drink from a glass.  We always teased him about that.  I don't know what he put in the mix, but whatever it was, it had the consistency of milk.

He always wanted the richest and the most calorie filled.  We would occasionally have taste tests where he would sit in our laundry room and open the window into the kitchen and we would give him a taste of two things and he would decide which was the was always the thing that had the most calories.

My mother was a good cook, but mostly cooked "basic" things, though she made the best meatloaf, which try as I might, I have been unable to duplicate.  My cousin Peach had the same complaint.  She loved my mother's meatloaf and could not duplicate it either.  Something about the texture, I think.  I can't get the texture right.

One thing I remember most about my mother's cooking was her chocolate cream roll.  She must have made it often when I was a kid.  It was a chocolate sponge cake that was turned out onto a powdered sugar covered towel after it came out of the oven.  The edges were trimmed off (Karen and I got to eat them) and the cake was rolled tightly until it cooled.  When it was cooled, she unrolled it, filled it with real whipped cream, rolled it back up again and frosted it with a dark chocolate frosting--something else I have been unable to duplicate, despite my many years as a cake decorator.  I have often thought of making my own chocolate cream roll but don't think I ever did.

But outside of home, throughout my life there are special moments..."nothing" moments really, that I remember vividly because of the foods involved.

I worked for a summer at a tool company with my friend Joycie.  We would meet for breakfast before work each morning and I can still taste the wonderful pastries I had there, loaded with butter and just toasted enough.  Another taste I was never able to duplicate, though I've tried.

That was an interesting place.  The guy sold those cheap dollar tools and I was his biller-clerk.  I don't know why but I can't remember his name, but I remember that his birthday was March 24.  And I remember after I left the job reading that he had been arrested for something related to fraudulent business practices.  I wonder whatever happened to him....

I can picture the restaurant where I sat with my boyfriend Bill and his father.  The father ordered sweetbreads and Bill dared me to try them.  I didn't have a clue what sweetbreads were until years later -- and how could I pass up something with "sweet" and "bread" in the name? But I remember liking what I tasted.  I wouldn't eat them now that I know it's really the pancreas from a lamb or cow.  Shudder.  But I didn't know that at the time.

Like I can picture sitting at my grandmother's table (my mother's mother) and eating tongue for the first and only time and how much I liked it until I thought about it later and didn't want to ever eat it again.  I am not an adventurous eater.

I did agree to eat escargot once, though, when I took Gilbert to dinner at a French restaurant.  He had taken Paul and me to dinner somewhere after a rehearsal of a play Paul was in and someone nearby had escargot.  That buttery garlic smell was enticing and he talked about how delicious escargot was, so I decided I would try eating snails and offered to take him to dinner for his birthday.  The restaurant where we went didn't have the standard escargot but had them in a sauce and my word...they were so good we had a second order.  I don't think I've had escargot since, though I remember that dinner fondly.  I just can't get past the "snails" part.

I remember when Walt and I ate dinner at the home of a friend of his mother's once.  I don't remember her name, but I remember she made pie for dessert.  I don't remember what kind of pie it was, but I remember that it had the flakiest crust I'd ever had and I had to ask her how she made it.  In the days when I could still make pie crust (another art I've lost in my old age), I was able to duplicate that and think of her whenever I had a crust that came out light and flaky.

It is weird how vivid so many of my food memories are, and so I understand my grandmother's longing for a good slab of rare roast beef.  I don't think she ever got it.  I don't know that I have that sort of longing, but if I did long for something delicious from my past, I guess it would be to have another big dish of my father's potato salad.

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