Monday, November 8, 2010

What Memories are Made of

My childhood is loaded with memories of delicious home-cooked food. At Christmas time it was the ritual of a big, extravagant Christmas Eve dinner with a house full of intoxicated family and friends. My mother had set the table with her just-pressed table cloth, best china, silver, and crystal. The house was warm (we lived in Florida) and the smells that filled it from the kitchen were glorious! Even as young kids we knew that the next day would also bring more of our favorite foods. I always looked forward to my mother and aunt making our grandfather’s favorite spaghetti with homemade tomato sauce on Christmas Day. You know, the kind of sauce that was so soupy it didn’t really stick to your spaghetti and you had to have a spoon to drink the sauce after your pasta was all eaten up… but it was sooooo delicious! Fresh tomatoes cooked in olive oil with basil….mmmmm!!! Later I came to realize that this was a very simple dish to serve to such a large group of starving family on Christmas Day after all of the Christmas Eve celebrations… but it was more than enough for all of us to savor and enjoy! It made an impression on me, anyway! When it came to our birthdays, my mom would tell the birthday boy or girl (I grew up with 3 brothers) to choose our very favorite dish and she’d make it especially for that lucky person. Getting to choose the night’s dinner was my mom’s way of showing us how special we were on that day and we all loved it! You’d think we would have chosen chicken nuggets or hot dogs (today’s go-to meal choices for kids), but not us. Our favorites were stuffed roasted tomatoes, Breaded fried steak stuffed with ham and cheese, or spaghetti with homemade meat sauce to name only a few. I think I changed mine several times, but the one that sticks out in my head was Chef’s favorite that he had mom make for him every year on his birthday: escargot. (We should have known then that he was destined to food greatness!) And so we all learned to love the sophisticated French dish of snails swimming in a decadent garlic butter sauce. To this day I have not tasted an escargot dish as delicious as my mother’s (and trust me, I’ve sought it out- some have come close)… the perfection of her buttery garlic sauce and the snails presented in their shells on silver dishes with the little divets in them made for each snail… mmmm, my mouth waters thinking about my bread dipping into all of that garlic goodness at the end! Can you believe I grew up eating that since I can remember?
My mom is the reason for my brothers’ and my eclectic taste in food. She has always made cooking look so easy and natural- almost never from a recipe. (The only times I’ve seen my mom use a recipe are when she bakes.) What an amazing thing for children to grow up knowing… good food cooked from scratch. What a way to liven up the senses! What a great way to inspire creativity! Food exposes us to new flavors and cultures around the world, all without leaving our kitchen table!

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