Whatshername???

dizzy-blonde

I have never been one of those persons who can relate every minute of her life since birth.  Nor, am I particularly good at recognizing the faces of people whom I’ve met in the past.  I’ve suffered through many embarrassing moments when a person will claim to have met me before and I have zero recollection of the experience. Names of people I know well might escape me even at simple introductions.  I’ve lost pocketbooks since I was old enough to carry them and I resorted frequently, when my kids were young, to offering my children $1 if they could locate my keys.  At today’s rates, I’d say that was probably the equivalent of a $10 bribe.

In my 30’s I went away for a vacation, hid some jewellery before leaving the house and forgot where I’d hidden it when I returned.  I won’t go into the sordid details of that incident, let’s just say it was painful.

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My mother’s relatively good-natured favorite admonition to me, was “You’d forget or lose your head if it wasn’t tied onto you.”  I never argued with her assessment.  When my contemporaries began to complain about having a senior moment, I’d just laugh and note that I’ve been having those moments since I was born.

However, I do think it’s getting a little worse these days.  Since my Mother suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease, I try not to see the handwriting on the wall.  But the moments of forgetfulness are not as easy to ignore as they were five years ago. However, I hear that so frequently from my friends, I can easily decide it just comes with the territory of aging.

thinking

Yesterday, I thought I’d raised the garage door before going into my car.  Instead, I backed up into the garage door.  Thank the Lord, very slowly and with surprisingly minimal damage done.  I was afraid my husband would come rushing down from his upstairs office to see what had happened.  He didn’t.  He’s gotten pretty hard of hearing.  There are times when a partner’s sensory deficits are a distinct advantage to the other partner.

I play little games with myself attempting to reassure myself that I’m not much different than ever, like repeating a series of numbers I’ve just heard on a telephone message, or, relaying to my husband the essence of an article I’ve just read. I test and pass about one test each day with flying colors.  Hey, we take our victories where we can.

flying-colors

I’ve misplaced items so many times in my life, that I no longer get particularly anxious when I can’t find something.  I figure it will turn up, and 9 times out of 10 it does.  Eventually is the key word here.

The upside of a forgetful mind is that I easily forgot a reason I’m supposed to be angry at someone.  I can remember that someone did something I was unhappy about, but I can’t remember the particulars.  So you should know two things, if I seem angry at you, it’s not likely to last very long, and if you did something several years ago to offend me, it’s unlikely that I’ll have any memory of it.

My History of Eating Part Two

The sixties were the harbinger of change on many fronts, including our eating habits.  Our palates became more discriminating and adventurous, as we moved from place to place during those years.

The New Haven Years

We left Miami, Florida in the late 1960’s to move to New Haven, Connecticut, stronghold of the apizza. Here, we found pizza unlike any previous American variation that we’d encountered.  Intensely hot, coal-fired stone ovens produced a charred thin crust with a distinctive taste.   Mozzarella needed to be requested as a specific topping. Not essential for purists, but homemade and outstanding if you are a fan of mozzarella.

We often stood in line for a  long time just to get into the old-time establishments in downtown New Haven, Sally’s and Pepe’s .  These pizza restaurants set a standard of excellence that’s never been topped for us.  Did I mention the wonder of the white clam pizza?   The Daily Meal claimed that out of 101 pizzas throughout America, Frank Pepe’s of New Haven, CT  White Clam Pizza is #1 in America. Made with fresh shucked clams, garlic, olive oil and grated cheese on a “charcoal colored crust.”

waiting-at-sallys
Waiting in line at Pepe’s

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Some Italian restaurants in New Haven were notoriously difficult if you dared to complain. Out to dinner with friends one night, my friend complained that her meal did not taste right.  She requested that it be replaced.  The waiter disappeared and was replaced by the officious manager who was outraged at the request.  “How can we take it back?  You’ve already tasted it and we can’t sell it again!”

And that’s what I Like about the South

In the early 1970’s, we moved to Athens, Georgia.  Our snotty Northeastern friends could not understand how we could move to the South.  I thought any place that had fields of flowers in early March was good enough for me.    We found an eating culture that was quite unfamiliar to us, some of it delicious, none of it particularly healthy.

There was a farmer’s market of sorts in the city of Athens.  It was a very large shed, with just a few products. I saw no customers and not much to buy. A few heavy set farmers in bib overalls sat around peeling black eyed peas.

I got excited when I saw a large bin of large ears of corn.  I’d been schooled in New England to look for small ears of corn with small kernels.  This was not that, but undeterred, I purchased several ears for our family supper. The farmer who sold it to me looked at me rather oddly when I bought it, but then a lot of people looked at me oddly in Georgia because I represented “other” and sounded like a Yankee.

I also had been taught to cook corn quickly.  Unfortunately, the “bring it back to a boil” directions did not work with this Georgia corn. It was as hard and tasteless as cardboard when we bit into it.  I put it back in water for a few more minutes, tasted it, then put it back in again, but it never became edible and I finally gave up.  The mystery became clear when I was informed that I had most likely bought field corn for pigs.  Fresh sweet corn as I knew it, was not available.

field-corn

Think loaves of white sliced bread, endless glasses of sweetened iced tea, fried chicken served with honey, grits, catfish, vegetables cooked to death, decent bar-b que, and delicious biscuits.  Going out to eat might mean a huge meal served family-style.  The fried chicken was always the highlight and the prices were reasonable. We could not eat this kind of dinner too often.

The Smith House fare
The Smith House fare, Georgia

We resorted to giving a lot of dinner parties in those years, because restaurants as a whole, were not very good.  There was little we wouldn’t tackle for our parties, even to creating an elaborate ice sculpture for a 4th of July party, which in the summer heat of Georgia melted before it could be admired.

By this time, my favorite cookbook was the NY Times Regional Cookbook.  I used it almost daily.

I Left My Heart

In 1978, my husband took a 9 month sabbatical in San Francisco.  I felt as if I’d gone to heaven. Gastronomically, we’d arrived at one of America’s great food cities. We were introduced to the pleasures of artisanal bread at the Tassajara Bakery.  The Mission area brought us our first taste of authentic Mexican food.  Chinatown was not only a place for weekend dim sum excitement, but for endless exploration.  It all seemed so exotic.  I discovered a fondness for a few products of Chinese bakeries, including their sponge cake and their egg custard tarts. If I hadn’t been dancing daily, I would have come home at least 25 pounds heavier.  I didn’t gain an ounce.  Oh, for the long-lost freedom to indulge.

tassajara-breads

The Tassajara bakery
The Tassajara Bakery
egg custard buns
egg custard buns

I cried when it was time to leave San Francisco, for lots of reasons!  But, I returned to Georgia, Tassajara bread book in hand and began to bake my own bread three times a week.That helped ease the pain of withdrawal.

I also knew after ten years in Georgia it was time to get out of Dodge if ever we were going to.

tassajara-cook-book

As luck would have it, my husband soon received a job offer in California.  I was more than ready.  The rest is now history.

My History of Eating, Part One

Disclosure:  I’m Jewish. Food and its consumption are a part of my culture. That might have something to with the attention I’ve paid to food most of my life.  Taking it to another level, I married a Jewish man whose Jewish Mother wanted to know when we visited, what we wanted her to cook for dinner.  This was before we finished breakfast.

Although my father was a grocer, the food choices in mid-century New England were a far cry from what I’ve now come to expect since I’ve been living in CA. New England gastronomy was strongly influenced by early waves of immigrants from England, Ireland and Poland, not nations known for their culinary prowess.  I grew up working in my parents’ store, surrounded by food, much of it canned, bottled, some of it frozen, with a produce section that only drew my attention when local fruit and vegetables became available for a brief few months between the last freeze and first frost.

My mother worked in the store with my father most days.  For dinner, when I was growing up, I’d put 4 Idaho potatoes in a 350-degree oven about an hour before my parents were expected home for dinner. A most typical dinner included the potato I’d baked, a  broiled a piece of meat, and a side of once frozen, Birds Eye vegetables, usually green beans or peas, maybe canned corn. A side plate held a salad wedge of iceberg lettuce, topped off with Wishbone Italian dressing.  The meal would often be kicked off with half a Florida grapefruit, if they were in season.  If Mom felt daring, she’d occasionally broil the grapefruit with a melted brown sugar topping.  Oh, I forgot to mention a usual side of applesauce. Continue reading “My History of Eating, Part One”