Sunday, September 28, 2008

Remember Me to One Who Lives There

Here, in this fond record, I triangulate food, writing, and remembering. But for most of my life, I’ve been a terrible keeper of memories. I’m the mom who forgets her camera. My photo album is years out of date. I can’t even recall my own office number. (But really, when do I need to call myself?) To tell the truth, I’ve misplaced whole years of my life. It’s a survival technique—a selective memory is cheaper than Prozac. And like everyone, I keep running lists—outsourcing my memory to the computer or notepad. Surprisingly, the extended or prosthetic memory is not a modern phenomenon. What else were those cave drawings for? When Hamlet’s dad says, “Remember me,” his son equates the process with making inscriptions in an erasable Renaissance writing tablet.

I identify with my son’s Aspergian memory. In third grade the students began practicing for the NC fourth grade writing test. DS had to write personal narratives under pressure. A typical prompt for the practice tests: “Write about at time you were sad.” (The underlying assumptions were that we should write about what we know and that kids know their feelings). DS has an endless capacity to catalog facts and concepts (go ahead, ask him what kind of guitar Randy Rhoads played), but conjuring up an experience by its emotional label is a challenge. And why should feelings function as our memory’s primary organizing principle? To prepare for the test (and for life), we kept a memory journal, writing down events, and then listing the possible emotions we could attach to them. When he won tickets to a Durham Bulls Game and competed in a three-legged race on the field, we penned the story and then listed the emotions: happy, excited, proud, and confident. Writing the experience down, and giving it a narrative arc, turned it into a memory.

It’s nothing new to say that food helps to create and prompt memories. Our senses generate memories that our thinking minds forget. And while the impressions in our brains fade and warp, the written memory achieves a form and structure. Here is my memory journal, contoured to fit recipes but jagged as cognition itself.

So why am I writing about memories? Because I put rosemary on our pizza. In Hamlet’s day, rosemary commemorated the dead, comforted the heart, and helped the memory. As mad Ophelia says, "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance."

But as I always say, forgetting can also keep you sane.

This recipe, of course, invokes Italy, but mostly it calls up a mental picture of DS and DD hand-in-hand, walking up the hill of our front yard to pick sprigs of rosemary from the rosemary bush. It’s my memory, but by recording it here, I hope it will be their memory, too.

Pizza with potatoes, mozzarella, rosemary, thyme, and tomatoes (adapted from Jamie’s Italy)

Use a pizza stone. Set oven to highest setting (550 degrees on mine).

Pizza Dough: Combine 3 cups of flour and a teaspoon of salt. Put in food processor on dough setting. Combine 1 and 1/3 cups of warm water with a package of yeast. Add to flour mixture. Mix until the dough looks elastic (about 3 minutes). Place dough in a well-oiled bowl and cover. Let dough rise for at least an hour.

Tomato Sauce: Sauté gently a finely sliced clove of garlic in olive oil. Add a small bunch of fresh basil, 1 14 oz. can of good quality plum tomatoes, sea salt, pepper, and a little sugar. Cook gently for 20 minutes, mashing the tomatoes until smooth.


6 Tablespoons of tomato sauce

4 cooked new potatoes

A small handful of fresh rosemary leaves

1 teaspoon of thyme leaves

Extra virgin olive oil

Lemon juice

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

3 oz. of mozzarella

When the pizza dough is ready, divide it into two balls (freeze one). Put some corn meal on your pizza peel, then pat out the dough into a circle and place it on the peel. Brush some olive oil on the edges. Smear the tomato sauce evenly over the pizza base. Slice the potatoes into ¼ inch thick slices and toss in a bowl with rosemary, thyme, olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, and some salt and pepper. Scatter over the pizza base and put small torn-up pieces of mozzarella in the gaps. Cook for 7-10 minutes.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Butterflies vs. Butter Pears

What looked like fantastic autumnal shading was actually a cluster of pulsing wings. It was a trick of the eye. They were insects. Glorious black and orange insects—the colors of Halloween— and they had blanketed our community. I was 10 years old when I witnessed the Monarch Butterflies descending on Pacific Grove, California. Every fall, hoards of them travel 2,500 miles to winter in the coastal town. School age kids don costumes to celebrate—as if competing with nature’s blazing show—and march in the annual Butterfly parade. Indeed, we referred to our town as the “butterfly capital of the world” (although there’s a town in Florida that holds a prior claim).

We were, of course, competing with many other self-proclaimed capitals in California. Most are food-oriented—the garlic, citrus, blackberry, strawberry, date, and raisin “capitals of the world” dot the Golden State. We were well aware that Castroville, the artichoke capital, was just down the road. I was enchanted by the Butterflies—they gave Pacific Grove a fairy-tale quality. But butterflies aren’t food—no matter what they’re name implies. If I had been tempted by these other town festivals, I like to think I’d remain loyal to the Monarchs.

Unless, of course, we’re talking Fallbrook, California! Fallbrook would have to outstrip them all. For Fallbrook, my friends, is the Avocado capital of the world.

Ah, the avocado. Butter pear, alligator pear, love fruit, call it what you like. It is unique in flavor, texture, look, and possibilities.

I had a hard time when I was pregnant with DD—only bland, salty white foods would stay down. But when I entered the second trimester, the nausea passed and the cravings hit. Avocados were all I wanted. I ate them every single day. I’m surprised DD didn’t enter the world green. I love avocados on sandwiches (mmm BLATs), in salads, alone, and mashed up in the most perfect dish of all—guacamole.

With my Texas and California background, you can bet I’ve eaten my share of guacamole. Vats of it. Back in the 70s, my mom used to make it with lemon juice, garlic, and sour cream (and she’d even use mayo in a pinch). (Avocado green was the dominant theme of our living space, too--from the paint on the walls to the avocado plants my mother diligently nurtured from the leftover pits).

My own guacamole recipe has evolved over years:


(These measurements are guesses, since I usually eye-ball it)

2 ripe Haas Avocados

1/4 cup of chopped red onion

Juice from half (or whole) lime

1/4 cup of chopped cilantro

2 Tablespoons of homemade salsa

(or 2 teaspoons of finely chopped jalapeno and ¼ Cup of diced tomato)

sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Ole, Guacamole!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Friends . . . Thick as Chowder?

It took some effort and forgiveness, but I’ve finally renewed an old friendship. I became acquainted with Eating Well in the early 1990s when I was in graduate school. As we got to know each other, I found a lot of qualities I appreciated. EW’s recipes demonstrated a healthy approach without sacrificing taste. Not only that, EW could successfully make over problem recipes, providing lighter versions of fried chicken and chocolate cake.

To EW’s enormous credit,I never developed the same closeness with Cooking Light. Of course it’s easy to lose patience when a relationship feels one-sided. How many times did I pore over a brand new Cooking Light, looking for compatibility, eager to accommodate, only to be disappointed by the sheer lack of appealing food?

EW followed me to my first job and helped me through my first pregnancy. Indeed, our friendship felt destined when I had the good fortune to meet someone who had worked in the magazine’s test kitchen in Vermont. Her experience ratified my sense that this was a special magazine—a rare and excellent companion. And then, in 1999, EW up and disappeared. Just like that, the magazine had folded.

And what about me (I’m sure you’re asking yourself)? How was I affected by this desertion? How did I handle abandonment? Well it wasn’t easy. There I was, all alone, trying to shed the pregnancy weight of my first born. Friendless, hungry, and without inspiration. Sure, I managed. But I held a bit of a grudge.

Observing my despair, DH made valiant efforts to revive my faith and spirits. He scoured the internet and ordered back issues of the magazine off of E-bay, just to cheer me up. But the relationship felt forced. The nutritional information was out-of-date. I had, admittedly, grown weary of using apple-sauce as a fat substitute.

In 2002, I started to see EW on the newsstands again. Looking sharp, showing off some new photography skills, touting good carbs and good fats, and initiating friendships with whomever looked its way. I averted my eyes and flipped through Food and Wine. But then, a couple years later, a mutual friend tried to patch things up. This was someone whom I had introduced to the Eating Well magazine back in its early days. Now he had given me a copy of The Essential Eating Well Cookbook. Book in hand, the memories came flooding back. EW and I had been friends for a reason. We liked each other. It was time to let go of past grievances.

I’m happy to announce that I’ve renewed my subscription.

The other night we ate EW’s healthy rendering of New England Clam Chowder. The recipe’s a breeze, especially if you use canned clams (which I think are delicious). I’m no chowder expert. (I have had the classic stuff at Lenny’s Seafood in Branford Connecticut and at the Union Oyster House in Boston, so I’m not hopeless, but my primary familiarity with this soup came from heating up Campbell’s version as kid). Don’t neglect to put the scallions on top—they add the perfect cool crunch to the soup’s creamy texture.

New England Clam Chowder

2 teaspoons of canola oil

4 slices of bacon, chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

2 stalks of celery, chopped

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

1 medium red potato, diced

1 8 oz. bottle of clam juice

1 bay leaf

3 cups of low-fat milk

½ cup heavy cream

1/3 cup of flour

¾ teaspoon salt

12 oz of fresh clam strips chopped, or 3 6 oz cans of chopped baby clams, rinsed

2 scallions, thinly sliced

Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until crispy. Transfer half the bacon to a paper towel lined plate. Add onion, celery, and thyme to the pan; cook, stirring, until beginning ot soften, about 2 minutes. Add potato, clam juice and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook until vegetables are tender, 8-10 minutes. Whisk milk, cream, flour, and salt in a bowl. Add to pan and return to simmer, stirring over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, until thickened, about 2 minutes. Add clams and cook about 3 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Discard bay leaf. Ladle in bowls and top with bacon and scallions. 253 calories per cup; 13 grams fat (6 sat, 4 mono), 16 grams of protein.