(Taken by my sister on Sunday)
“Recalling the pleasures of growing and gathering foods and preparing them with care, of relishing the changing seasons … was her way of preserving an important part of American life and sharing its rewards with others.”
- Judith Jones on Julia Child
My childhood food was all about sameness because my mother is about sameness. (If sameness is a word, why isn’t muchness a word?) One day we ate pasta with jarred Aunt Millie’s sauce. Another was bland sausage, spinach, and mushroom rolls from a local pasta place. Frozen eggplant or lasagna for another day. Friday was always take-out pizza. Here and there, we had hamburgers or turkey hotdogs. And for special occasions, my mother made fettuccini alfredo, always making a big deal about it being time consuming and difficult. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized it’s a fairly quick and simple dish, if not the healthiest meal.
As a mother, there are times that I don’t have a greater repertoire of recipes than my mother, although I try to create homemade dishes. But there are other times when I have more time or get inspired, and then we have a couple of weeks of Indian dishes or I go on a soup kick. That’s why I love living in a city because virtually every country’s cuisine is represented here, inspiring me to push my cooking skills even further.
When I reached adulthood, I expanded my culinary horizons. Tasting different foods became a journey, and the older I got, the more I appreciated it. As a result, I’ve never again weighed 95 pounds like I did when I left my mother’s house at nineteen. Sigh.
I visited my sister this weekend, and a big part of the trip was food-related. She works as a makeup artist on several cooking shows, and knows some of the best chefs in America and abroad. She sought their advice in choosing Saturday night’s restaurant. 5 Ninth was recommended, and she’d been there before, so that’s where we went.
My sister and I started with appetizers of marrow on toast and a grilled octopus salad. For the main course, she got monkfish (poor man’s lobster) wrapped in bacon, while I ate artic char (salmon-like) that had been perfectly seared on one side, but it somehow had been poached or steamed and it was moist as it bathed in a heavenly broth. This dish was a revelation - I spent most of the meal wondering how it had been prepared. For dessert, we ordered a cheese plate and bread pudding with ice cream. The entire meal was enhanced by a Grenache blend from Cortes de Rhone, France.
The next day, we ate a Savore in Soho. I love the place because the walls are lined with wine bottles and the back windows are from ceiling to floor and surrounded by brick. I’m a sucker for indoor brick. One appetizer was orzo with greens and grilled shrimp, while the other was a salad of blood orange, asparagus, greens, and lobster. My sister ordered truffle and goose ravioli, while I got chanterelle mushrooms and a cream sauce over pasta for my main course. No dessert this time!
While I don’t get to indulge like this often, I appreciate it when I get the opportunity.
My husband sent me an e-mail about the Chinese restaurant he and my kids went to on Friday night. This part is about my son:
I took the kids to Mary Chung for dinner and ---- ordered a spicy beef salad. The fact that it was so spicy led to warnings from several people, and ultimately visits to the table from almost every person working there to watch ---- eat it for a minute or two, while commenting on the fact that it was too hot for them to eat. The other funny part about it, was that it should have been very loosely defined as beef salad, it was a plate of, I think sliced stomach, tendons and maybe shin meat. ---- loved it, but was sad it was vacation week because he wanted to bring the leftovers to school to share with his friends.
When my son relayed the story on the phone, his voice was full of pride. The boy appreciates food. Even though my daughter eats sushi and smoked salmon, and appreciates an artisan bread, she’s much less adventurous.
I think about food when I write. If students are in a cafeteria, I picture what they’re eating. What is my protagonist’s family’s socio-economic status and ethnicity, family dynamics, and how does it dictate what they eat? When she’s out with friends, where do they eat? While I’m writing, I can see, smell, and even taste what my main character eats. If she’s upset, does she lose her appetite? Without these details, even if they’re in my head, and not on paper, make the people inside the book real to me. Without food, the book is one-dimensional.
I once heard Julia Child’s editor, Judith Jones interviewed on NPR. She said that if authors don’t mention food in their books, there’s something missing. Do you agree? What role does food play in your manuscripts?
As a teacher, I’ve cringed over some of my students’ poor diets. One year, more than half the class was on the heavy side, and talking to them made me realize that they had no idea about healthy eating. My first three years in the fifth-grade, the students took six or eight-week nutrition course run by some non-profit organization. There, they learned about food groups and even how to cook nutritiously in our school cafeteria. Even though these classes always came when we were getting ready for a slew of state tests, I was proud that the teacher I worked with made time for the two-hour classes. But when she left, the new teacher dropped the program because we didn’t “have time”. That was the year of the overweight class.
As a teacher, do you notice nutrition (or lack thereof) playing a big role in student weight or behavior? Does you school ignore the problem or take steps to address the epidemic?
The adage that, “We are what we eat” is true.
* Update * This just came up on Yahoo: