Family, Friends, and Food

I just realized how often food reminds me of dear ones in my life –

– Buttered toast with avocado always reminds me of Dad. He’d grown up in Los Angeles back when it was still orange groves (he was born there in 1918) and, as a youngster, picked avocados right off the tree in his backyard.  He knew avocados before avocados were “in.” I remember the first time he prepared avocado toast for me – I must have been about six or seven – and I remember my surprise that such a slimy-looking food could taste so sumptuous.

– Cheese souffle and tuna casseroles remind me of Mom. Mom wasn’t the world’s best cook (growing up, she’d had seven older sisters who always shooed her out of the kitchen), but she knew how to make a mean tuna-Chinese noodle-cashew casserole, and she knew how to make an awesome cheese souffle.

– Cream cheese dip reminds me of my beloved Aunt Junie. I must have been eight or nine when she visited us and whipped up some cream cheese dip with diced green onions. My life has never been the same.

– Banana bread reminds me of my childhood friend, Rita. I remember going to her home and helping her as she made banana bread from scratch. Now whenever I make it (from the recipe Rita gave me all those years ago) I think of Rita and it makes me smile.

– Bacon tomato sandwiches and lemonade with ice cubes reminds me of a lady from church, Betty Lay. Betty was cultured and educated and well-spoken. I can’t remember what she did for a living – but I know she was a career woman long before most women had careers outside the home. I think she may have been a librarian. Or a professor. She was smart. I don’t think she’d ever married, and I don’t think she’d had any children of her own – but I remember she knew how to talk to children without condescending to them. I remember Mom bringing us over to visit Betty in her home near the Sound. I remember sitting out on a deck in the sunshine, feeling peace all around me. And I remember Betty bringing out a fresh, cold glass of home-made lemonade and a bacon and tomato sandwich – the first bacon and tomato sandwich I’d ever eaten, and pretty sophisticated fare for a youngster. Isn’t it funny that after all these years I still remember that afternoon with Betty?

– When I was living in a house near the University of Puget Sound one summer (I was working on my fifth year for my teaching certificate) my next-door neighbor was a single young mother who was studying to become a dee-jay. I don’t remember her name anymore. But I remember her friendly smile, her great raspy dee-jay voice, her little daughter, and her recipe for pie crust. Her pie crust recipe is the same recipe I use today – and my youngest son says that the food he associates with ME are my pies. Isn’t that cool?

– I associate two foods with my husband – no one makes a better poached salmon than Scotty. And – even though I’m not much of a pasta person – even I like Scotty’s spaghetti.

-My friend, Laurie, introduced me to hot roasted garlic squeezed onto freshly-buttered sourdough bread. Enough said.

-I associate the smell of baking bread with my sister-in-law, Lori, who used her bread-making machine to fill her house up with the smell of yeasty wonder. I’m salivating right now thinking about that smell.

-My sister-in-law, Bev, can work wonders with kale. She dribbles olive oil and spices on the kale and bakes it in in the oven for a few minutes – et voila! Crunchy goodness.

– Any food wrapped in grape leaves reminds me of my beautiful neighbor, Rachel, who used to come to our grape arbor to collect leaves for her Greek cooking.

– My friend, Kathi, an amazing chef, served us a dish with peppers, fresh Bocconcini mozzarella, olives, olive oil, butter, pine nuts, and garlic when we visited her and her husband in Nova Scotia nine years ago. I still have not forgotten that dish. And I still try to replicate it in my own kitchen. (When the youngest son and I were talking about foods and people yesterday, he brought up Kathi and her roasted pepper dish – and I told him I’d been thinking of her and her pepper dish, too! – yes, it was that good.)

– I associate tofu with my vegetarian friend, Heidi. She is the only one I know who can make tofu taste edible.

– My cousin, Debby, introduced me to home-made yogurt years ago – before yogurt was a common thing – and showed me how to use it on baked potatoes and in salads. (I still remember walking through Debby’s little backyard vegetable garden in San Francisco and being impressed by all the colors I saw there, and the way she just plucked things out of the ground and turned them into a meal.)

-I associate dark chocolate with my friend, Teresa, who took me to a chocolate shop for my birthday and gifted me with a box of chocolates of my own choosing. “Try this!” she’d say, pointing enthusiastically to a dish of dark chocolate samples. “And this!”

-Whenever I use my bottle of chili powder I think of the time my friend, Christine, whose family had originally come from Mexico, invited us over for home-made enchiladas from an old family recipe. I don’t think I have ever tasted better enchiladas than the ones I ate that night.

-Apple slices and caramel dip reminds me of my friend, Marissa, who surprised me by having a gift basket sent to my home when I really needed a nice surprise in my life.

I’m sure I’ll think of more food associations right after I hit the “publish” button. But I guess that’s it for now.

All this talk about food has made me hungry. Time to go down and make some avocado toast…

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Karen in the Kitchen

First, I will don my way cool apron that my friend from Canada sent me, and that has the Canadian word “Eh?” written on it in really flamboyant letters.  Of course, putting on the apron isn’t going to actually keep me from having flour all over me by the end of my culinary adventure – but I think I look sort of cute in it. And that’s the important thing.

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Next I will haul the turkey out of the fridge, where it’s been thawing since Sunday. I will dice home-grown onion and garlic, apples from our orchard (yes, apples – using apples in turkey stuffing is a Karen tradition – because I, traditionally and invariably, FORGET TO BUY CELERY!!! and then I find myself scrambling around the kitchen, looking for something crunchy I can throw in the dressing… and… yeah… well… apples …and, true to tradition, I just realized that I, once again, FORGOT THE CELERY!!!), and toasted Dave’s Killer Whole Grain Bread (the bread will be toasted, not Dave).  I’ll sprinkle sage and rosemary over everything that’s within arm’s reach (this includes the dog, the cats, and the sons). Then I will yank out the turkey’s innerds, and replace it with toasted Dave, and put the whole shebang in a pre-heated 325 degree oven.

Pie-making comes next. I love making pies. There’s something kind of comforting about pie-making. I especially love making pies when there’s rain pounding against the windows, and a fire in the woodstove – the rain adds a certain ambiance, and it looks like we might be getting a lot of ambiance today.  I’ll combine the flour (2 cups), and butter (2 tbs, plus 2/3 cup) and water (6 tbs) in a bowl, and then grab half of it and roll it out on a floured cutting board, and lay it in the bottom of my glass pie plate. The bottom crust will be a picture of perfection – it will be seamless and smooth. Next, I’ll put the frozen blackberries that I picked last summer into the pie shell. I’ll add 4 or 5 tbs of flour, and 6 tbs of sugar, and loosely mix the pie’s filling.  Now it’s time to roll out the top crust and place it on top of the pie. The top crust is the crust that everyone will see. It will have holes and tears in it. That is another Karen tradition. Once I’ve got my holey crust attached to the pie, I’ll lightly sprinkle sugar over the top, to make the pie look sort of sparkly when it’s done.

By the time we sit down for our feast, our plates will be full of turkey, stuffing, mashed sweet potatoes with butter and cinnamon, and cranberry sauce, and we’ll be half-way through dinner before someone – probably one of the sons – will ask me about the dinner rolls. And they will either be burning in the oven, or still sitting in the cupboard. It is another Karen tradition.

May your holidays be filled with a feast of love and laughter.  And don’t forget the dinner rolls.

– Excerpt from The Madcap Christian Scientist’s Christmas Book

http://www.amazon.com/Madcap-Christian-Scientists-Christmas-Volume/dp/1500855154/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1417005354&sr=1-3