Food, Family, and Memory

playingdressupAll dressed to the nines in my jaw dropping, turquoise evening gown with my hair in a bun, bright red lipstick mostly on my lips and flat shoes hidden under all that flowing satin. No high heels on when I crossed a major street- my mother’s rule, too dangerous. Did she not notice everyone always stopped to let me cross? I would have been fine with high heels. Yes, of course my evening gown had a plunging neckline and it did need a few extra safety pins to look proportionally correct on my six-year-old frame.

I would cross the busy avenue solo, while all my second mothers watched from the many windows to make sure I arrived safely at my favorite place, Jay’s Diner. I ate at the diner 2 or 3 times a week for my mid-afternoon snack. We ate late because my parents worked late, so mid-afternoon snacking was very encouraged at our house.

The heads of the five hard working ladies of the diner would spin as I walked in the door, every time, perhaps because I was always a bit overdressed for the venue. As I’d pull my floor length satin dress and me up onto the tall pedestal seat the grill cook always said, “the usual?” Yes, 2 hamburgers, loaded, medium rare, a large order of french fries and please, save me a dish of grapenut pudding. “Lots of the whipped cream, thank you.” I was a regular diner patron.

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chickensaladwrap.jpg My mom taught me how to cook. I was lucky she was the kind of mom who encouraged me to be in the kitchen. She would often turn her favorite room over to me, making me feel as though I was a scientist working in my own private laboratory. I would pretend I was testing recipes in the Pillsbury kitchens.

My mom did have one rule, though, that she insisted I learn and practice. When dirty bowls and pots and spoons and measuring cups started to pile up on the kitchen counter, she'd quickly remind me of the rule: "Susie, clean up as you go."

Mom believed that as long as you stayed on top of the mess, you'd have a pleasant experience in the kitchen. And everything would turn out much better. I'm pretty sure she was right about that. I was thinking about my mom as I prepared her favorite chicken salad. And I could almost hear her reminding me to clean up after each step.

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bettycrocker.jpg As Mother's Day quickly approaches, I am reminded of the many reasons I love my mother.  She is smart, kind, funny and she makes one hell of a good Hershey Bar Cake - you see, I grew up with Betty Crocker.
While Wikipedia defines Betty Crocker as "an invented persona and mascot, a brand name and trademark of American food company General Mills," my own personal Betty Crocker is a flesh and blood person who happens to be related to me and goes by the name of Jodie.
While I was growing up the fictitious Betty Crocker was famous for such delicacies as "dunkaroos" (snacks containing frosting and cookies) and "mystery fruit cake;" but my own in-home version could whip up just about anything to rival her.  My mother's specialties, always made for the sweetest "sweet tooth," included lemon icebox pie with a Vanilla Wafer crust, bittersweet chocolate chip cookies, a pound cake that defined the law of gravity, a sour cream coffee cake that me makes salivate just thinking of it, and the chewiest brownies possible made with Droste's cocoa imported from Holland ("Corners, please!")

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alangrandson.jpgI sing to my grandsons, one via the wonders of video "Skype-ing," and the other up close and very personal. I perform the usual stuff mostly: "The Wheels on the Bus," "Old MacDonald,""Itsey-bitsey Spider", and "The Alphabet Song," with everyone's favorite line: "L-M-N-O-P." 

One day, however, I  found myself, singing a made-up ditty in Spanish to my Jewish-Mexican-American, two and a half year-old, West Coast grandson with a tune that  seemed vaguely familiar but that I could not, at first, place: "Yo tengo hambre ahora, Yo tengo hambre ahora, Yo tengo ha-ambre ahora, Yo tengo hambre, hambre, hambre ahoraaa."  That, by the way, translates to: "I'm hungry now" which he usually is. 

I searched my brain for the origins of the tune and discovered its source in the long buried confines of my youthful synagogue attending memories. It was the music to: "Heiveinu Sholom Aleichem." "Peace be with you" is how that translates, more or less. This is a nice sentiment that may explain its continued presence in my neuronal liturgical coffers despite my having long ago strayed from the fold.

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nan1.jpgFall has arrived in San Diego. This morning on our hike Jeff and I could see our breath in the blustery morning air. We loved it.

There's nothing like a chill October morning with a crisp blue sky to evoke feelings of nostalgia. Within minutes of our hike, our talk turned to missing New England and our autumn traditions, like apple picking, pumpkin carving, and decorating for Halloween.

One person in particular has been on our mind: my grandmother, Nan.  Last October 5th, Nan turned one hundred years old. She had no idea of the significance of the day. But she did love her whipped cream covered chocolate cake with pink roses, so much so, that she ate two big slices. Watching her enjoy that cake was the best part of the day.

This past July, Nan passed away peacefully, with my mother by her side. Yes, she was fortunate to live to 100. Still, I miss her. We all do.

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