Many years ago, in the summer of my youth, I designed an exercise and movement program for older adults. I even convinced Georgia Public television to film me leading the programs with the intention of broadcasting them as a series and selling them to Senior Centers. It was successful and it was gratifying. It also became popular. Continue reading “Use It or Lose It!”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
As luck would have it, my husband soon received a job offer in California. I was more than ready. The rest is now history.
FIRST STEPS: PART ONE.
As a child, I became a gypsy at Halloween almost every year.
As a young adult, there was still some gypsy spirit that remained lurking within.
This cool tune provided a background theme song for my life in high school and college. During high school, I fancied myself a wanna- be free spirit, trapped in a dull conservative, blue-collar, New England mill town that was on its way downhill. Intuitively, I knew I needed to get the hell out if I didn’t want to go down with the ship.
I eagerly left grim Western Mass. behind me for a new and more glamorous existence in college at the University of Miami. I quickly fell in love with the carefree sunny tropical vibe of South Florida. I’d spend weekends on Miami Beach with few thoughts of the future. It took determination and focus to acquire a good tan. Gypsy in my Soul continued as a part of my musical sing to self repertoire.
On rare occasions, I’d convince a current boy friend to hit the road for a long and leisurely drive to the then, exotic, unspoiled Florida Keys. That improbable two lane highway floats between the aquamarine waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the turquoise Gulf of Mexico. Driving that road at sunset, I gasped at Nature’s extravagant display as the still waters reflected the towering clouds of a late summer Florida afternoon . That experience bordered on the spiritual.
My parents used to tell me I had “shpilkes,”because I stayed on the move whenever the opportunity presented itself..
For my yiddish-challenged readers:
- nervous energy, restlessness. Lit. ‘pins’
- “Sit still!”, said Gwen. “I can’t, I’ve got the shpilkes,” responded Marti.
Pronounced SHPEEL-kuhs, SHPEEL-kiss, or SHPEEL-keys. Made famous within English by Mike Myers in the Saturday Night Live skit “Coffee Talk.”
I think my parents were correct.
The Broadway song that celebrates shpilkes is a tune from the show Gypsy. I sang Some People with the same enthusiasm and vigor as Ethel Merman or Patti LuPone. I sang it as if it had been written for me. Every once in a while, I roll it out for an enjoyable, if dated, reprise.
At one point in my college life, as I listened to Ravel’s Bolero blasting on my hi-fi, I read a Life magazine cover story about the allure of Big Sur, I tried to convince my best friend that she and I should ditch school and hitch to the West Coast. She convinced me it wasn’t the best plan. As a young woman of that era, I did not have the guts to take that adventure by myself. That was a road not taken. The truth is, I hung somewhere between my desire to be a wild child and the reality of my conservative, nice Jewish girl upbringing. Big Sur remained out of reach.
I moved from the NorthEast to Athens, Georgia, in the 1970’s, when my husband accepted a position on the faculty at the University of Georgia. For the nine years that I lived in Athens, I was cautious about venturing outside of the city limits. Experience had taught me that in rural Georgia, as soon as anyone heard me speak, I’d immediately be branded a damn Yankee and a Jewish one at that. In the eyes of a certain kind of suspicious Southerner, I imagined they expected me to sprout devil horns at any moment. I went so far as to announce to my husband, that if I were to die in Georgia, he must promise not to bury me there. I needed to make another move. Far away.