Food, Family, and Memory

The Magic of the Season

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by Ann Nichols

lit-christmas-treeThere is nothing special in the world. Nothing magic. Just physics." - Chuck Palahniuk, Diary

"Magic is just science we don't understand yet." - Sharon McCarragher

As I sent him out the door into the arctic darkness of a Michigan morning, I told my son that I was out of things to write about. "Give me something." I implored, "anything that pops into your head."

"Christmas lights" was his offering, as he left, bed-headed and sleep-eyed.

This was not the working of a fertile imagination; in order to leave the house he had to pass the lit Christmas tree, the lit garland in the foyer, and the unlit icicle lights on the front porch. It did, however, ignite the proverbial spark in me to write not only about Christmas lights, but about all of the magic that I still believe in, despite 47 years of exposure to the cynicism, disillusionment, pain and loss that exist in the world. I have seen the little man behind the curtain many, many times, but I still believe in the Great and Powerful Oz. Sue me.

As a child, I believed in all kinds of magic - Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the fountain in the mall into which one threw pennies and made wishes. My birthday was a kind of magical celebration of my wonderfulness, and the discovery of a woolly caterpillar on a tree trunk, a toad in the basement window well or a lady bug on a leaf was a unique and amazing event. I also believed that the animals could speak on Christmas Eve, and used to fall asleep on the floor next to our big Airedale, Katie, waiting for her to say something to me. Later, it gave me incalculable pleasure to recreate Santa et al for my own children, leaving elaborate trails of jelly beans through the house (before we had the dogs), making glitter-pen trails on letters from the Tooth Fairy, and simulating reindeer tracks in the snow.

Of Rice and Men

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by Eloisa James

risotto-mushroom.jpgBack in 1990, rice and love became forever entwined in my mind. A man I’d gone out with for ten years broke off our relationship...and my response to grief was to learn how to make risotto. After I taught myself to make proper risotto, I went on a blind date with an Italian, and some time later found myself in Florence, seeking the approval of my future mother-in-law, whose favorite dish was risotto. Rice and love. From a distance of twenty years, the emotion and the starch wind around each other with all the choreographed beauty of ballet.

The year of my great misery I was living in a tiny apartment in the graduate ghetto of New Haven, Connecticut. Most of the space was in the kitchen, which I found inspirational. I spent my free time cooking, crying and reading. My favorite cookbook was Paul Bertolli’s Chez Panisse Cooking, a tome with long fervent essays that included a long piece on risotto. I would stand over the pot, stirring as Paul instructed, reading a romance borrowed from the public library, and crying every now and then when it seemed the heroines had a better life than I did. After a month or two of this, I was quite good at risotto and I started to think about men in a more cheerful manner, which led to a blind date with Alessandro, a graduate student in Italian with loopy black curls and a swimmer’s body. He liked my risotto. It wasn’t until years later, when I ate his mother’s creamy, delicious risotto, that I understood how important it was.

What Happens If Your Mother Has Plastic Surgery?

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by Delia Ephron

girlmermaid.jpgI haven't been watching many reality shows lately because of the crying. There is simply too much of it. Last season on Project Runway, Christopher cried because he was sure that he was the only person in the world who would design a dress inspired by a rock (something I am sure he is wrong about). I have no idea how much crying there is on The Hills, since I was never a fan, but it did catch my attention in People magazine that Heidi Montag, star of the show, cried after she had ten plastic surgery procedures in one day. Heidi, I know from a quick Google search, is 23, although since her plastic surgery she looks 33. Which is actually something to cry about.

I have been interested in and done research on this subject spun slightly different: What happens if your mother (not your favorite reality star) has plastic surgery? This is the subject of my new novel for teenagers, The Girl with the Mermaid Hair.

If, as a teenager, you spend hours in front of a mirror deciding, say, whether one nostril is larger than the other or worrying whether your breasts point in different directions (typical teenage obsessing), do you outgrow this madness or make more radical choices if your mother comes home with larger lips, a smaller ass, a new chin, a different nose, bigger breasts? How do you feel if your mom suddenly doesn't have any expression in her face? Or if you look into your mother's eyes and no one is home?

The Ice Storm of 2013

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by Brenda Athanus

ice1-104After 3 days of steady rain the outside temperature on the ground was stuck at 32 degrees and warm air was still sandwiched aloft causing the precipitation. I was nervous and so was the Weather Channel. I checked the icicles on the wires outside my kitchen window regularly - they are my predictor. My lawn was covered with birds out heavily feeding - not a good sign.

Maine was on the verge of serious trouble - perfect conditions for a severe icing event. By noon on Monday ice was collecting on top of the wires but the hanging icicles were still growing longer. That changed by early afternoon. ‘It’ was starting just as they predicted. The temperature was dropping and the icicles started to flip-they no longer hung straight down. Ice formed on top of the wires, freezing instantly and no longer dripping. Ice was forming the minute it hit any surface. When ice forms just on the top of wires it grows quickly heavy and the hanging icicles weighing less, literately flip. My icicles had rotated more than 45 degrees. This is so not a good thing.

Everything became encased in over an inch of heavy, clear ice. The weight of that much ice is more than anything can tolerate; electrical wires break, trees bend, limbs snap bringing more limbs with them and roofs collapse. It was too dangerous to leave my home and too dangerous to stay, but it’s didn’t matter anymore. I was staying with the ship.

Birthday Weekend on 10,000 Calories a Day

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by Bob Wyman

egg-&-truffels.jpgI turned fifty-two last week.  While I’m told that fifty-two is the new thirty-eight, no one told my metabolism.  It seems to have slowed even more than I have.  Knowing this, and knowing that the only way to really celebrate a birthday is to eat and then eat some more, my wife, Peggy, and I had been dieting from the end of the holidays to the big day – ten whole days.  And when the big day came, we wasted no time in returning to our post-holiday fighting weight.  Here is how we did it.

Thursday, my actual birthday, was the big kick off.  We went to Patina for its annual truffle dinner.  Patina has been having these extravagant dinners in honor of the truffle – yes, it is celebrating a fungus, but what a fungus - for the past several years, and we always talked about going, and this year, the dinner fell on my birthday.  Given that Peggy and I have been together for almost 30 years, and she has simply run out of things to buy me as a birthday gift, especially just two weeks after Christmas, we decided that this would be it.  She couldn’t have done better.

Eating in Church

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by Eric Lax

easter-table.jpgEaster. “Eater” with a full stomach, the inevitable outcome on any day replete with decorated eggs, chocolate bunnies, ham, lamb, brisket for the polydenominational and, for the faithful, whatever they have given up for Lent.     

I grew up in a very faithful household—my father was an Episcopal priest and I was devoutly devout, an altar boy from age six and happy for it.  The church, near San Diego and which held about 250 souls, was built over a two-year period of volunteer labor by the parishioners, who did everything except the plastering and electrical work. The labor was hard and sweaty, and in honor of all that sweat, my father put an empty beer can in the trench for the foundation. He didn’t put in a full can, he said with a twinkle in his eyes, “because I thought the Good Lord would object to the waste.” The church was an extension of our home, or vice versa—literally (the rectory was about 20 feet away), and figuratively (my mother, father and I folded several hundred palm crosses every year, with enough extra to be saved and burned for use on Ash Wednesday the next year).

When Easter rolled around, my mother boiled up a dozen eggs, which were dipped into various hues, and I hunted for them with gusto. The problem was, one or two hardboiled eggs of any color are enough to eat at one time; they soon are like sawdust in the mouth, and although they quickly grew boring, my parents were Depression-era folks and nothing went to waste.

Time Travel with Ratner's Recipes

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by Melanie Chartoff

ImageOnce upon a time in a kitchen far, far away, I was often babysat by my grandma in our fairy tale of a family deli in downtown New Haven, Ct. I could have done worse. She, a sorceress of superb taste, made ruggelach fresh daily, with me assisting, eating fistfuls of walnuts that 'just happened' to fall from the dough, licking the battered bowl of elixir from the cake preparations, eating crumbs that magically broke off the babka. My mouth was as busy as my hands as I ingested the mysteries of grandma’s cuisine.

We were major meat eaters in those innocent days, breakfast, lunch, noshes, suppers and snacks. How could we not be, with kosher creatures sticking out their tongues or lolling seductively about in grandpa's display cases? Lunches of exotic fare like liverwurst, baloney, pastrami, corned beef and melt-in-your-mouth scoops of the Chartoff chopped liver filled my plate. Pieces of the ubiquitous Hebrew National salamis were served in challah sandwiches, on toothpicks, fried up with eggs or put on my grandpa's homemade pizzas. Grandma's brisket was to die for, and she and grandpa left the earth from heart disease far too soon to prove it.

A Fork By Any Other Name

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by Louis Gropman

human_hand.jpgA fork by any other name would still be a fork. Unless you called it your hands. Then the fork is rendered moot. Hands are more versatile than forks. They posses a way cooler gadget. The opposable thumb (come-up of all evolutionary come-ups) possesses some remarkable moves.

Unfortunately we don’t often get to put those moves into practice with familiar western cuisine. But why rely on some intermediary device to enjoy that most intimate sensation of eating? Some form of artifice, really, when we consider that we already have what it takes.

My earliest inclinations were to forgo tools and bound the gulf between food and eating (associations begin firing at Lacan’s l’hommelette, a slippery slope). My favorite foods (burritos, sushi) can technically and efficiently be eaten with one’s hands. Still, my lifetime eating career has been dominated by silverware.

Until my wife introduced me to her native cuisine. Nepali food predates industrial metal forgery and globalization. Silverware was not a concern when the recipes took shape, nor is it a concern today when they’re served.

Beach Memories

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by David Latt

davidandbarbara1950s.jpgI keep connecting with an early childhood memory about summer days at the beach.

To get to the beach we'd drive a long time in our hot car and coming home, I was always sunburned, with gritty sand in my swimsuit.  The travel part wasn't what I liked, but the picnic lunch my mom packed sure was. Fried chicken, potato salad, biscuits with butter and honey, watermelon slices, and egg salad.

My dad rarely came with us so usually my mom had a friend along for company while my sister and I splashed in the water, determined to annoy one another as much as possible.  After awhile we'd get tired.

Then it was time to eat. We'd load up paper plates and settle down on the sand watching the older kids body surf.  We didn't talk much but we'd share the moment enjoying our mom's food.


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by Fredrica Duke

freddemomMy mother had a lifelong, deep obsession with everything Mexican. I mean, obsessed. Is there a word for it? I looked it up just now and it’s Mexicophile.

We never knew where my mother’s fixation stemmed from. Perhaps, her Texas roots. She was raised on a small farm in Sweetwater. Or, could it have been the Spanish house she was so proud to own? My mother would wax poetic about every detail of my childhood home. The beamed ceilings. She could stare for hours at their beauty. The stained glass window. The tiles in the foyer. The black wrought-iron railing leading up the tiled staircase. The big bay window. Her pepper tree. Even the French doors were, to her, so very Mexican. Trust me, this woman was so proud of her two story, 3,500-square foot Spanish house you might have assumed she was the architect.

She was WAY ahead of her time in this Mexican love because these were the 1950’s and 60’s. Mexican Americans were not as ubiquitous as today, where every other Californian seems to have a Latin background. I just heard on NPR that in the 1700′s the first settlers in Los Angeles were Mexicans. My mom would have been in Mexican heaven, had she stayed in L.A. And, of course, had she not died so young. Today, she’d be all over the immigration law changes.


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