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Foods of my families

Tonight, while making dinner, I was considering what to write about. I had started an essay about relationships between faculty and the administration, but I thought I should write something more positive. While I was making the Yorkshire pudding, I thought back to eating Yorkshire pudding with my parents, and decided to write about some food memories. I’m not a real foodie (I’m probably not even a pretend foodie), but it’s clear that food plays a reasonable role in my sense of family and history. So, here goes.

My mother told me that she made bread every week during my childhood so that I’d have great memories of that. Unfortunately, I have no memories of home-made bread, other than the bread that I make and that middle son now makes. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have lots of important memories of food.

Yorkshire pudding is one such memory. We didn’t have it often, but I still recall fondly the wonderful fluffy and tasty puffs, the rich combination of eggs and beef juice, and the beauty of the pan [1].

I remember at holidays that our friends the Samsons would come over and make beautiful marzipan candies, carefully shaped and color representations of all sorts of food. I also remember my frustration at not being able to eat them, since I was (and remain) allergic to tree nuts. It frustrates me a bit that I’ve since learned that almonds are not a tree nut and that I can eat them safely [2]. But I still revel fondly in the joy of creating (or, more often, watching others create).

Holidays also meant Michael Smith’s eggnog. I don’t think you’re allowed to make eggnog like that any more. If I remember correctly, he’d set up mason jars with eggs, cream, bourbon, sugar, and some other whiskey a few weeks in advance of Christmas and let it age and mellow. There’s too much risk of salmonella to do that now, which makes me sad. I didn’t drink much of Michael’s egg nog, but when I did drink it (later teens), it really was wonderful, and much different than the stuff you buy in stores.

I don’t know how or when it started, but our family had a huge Ground Hog’s day potluck brunch [3]. And what I remember most from those celebrations are my father’s baked eggs, a wonderful concoction of eggs, butter, cream, cheese [4], and a few spices. I would make it when Michelle and I held our own Ground Hog’s day celebration. I’m sad that we haven’t continued that tradition for the past decade or so. It seems like there’s always a swim meet that weekend, and now it too often coincides with Super Bowl Sunday. Oh well, maybe we’ll find a way to start again.

Breakfast also brings to mind Dad’s omelettes, mom’s French toast, and mom’s ebelskivers. Dad made these brilliantly thin omelettes (probably less than one egg each) in his well-seasoned aluminum omelette pan. That pan remains one of my treasured possessions. My cousins loved mom’s French toast (I did, too). I think two things made mom’s french toast special: First, she tended to use Pepperidge farm bread, which is fairly dense. Second, she’d cut each slice of bread in half, which I think helped ensure that more egg got in. And then, once in every rare while, she’d make ebelskivers. I think we brought the pan back from Holland, but I’m not sure. But it was fun to make and flip the pancakes in the mold. Oh, and while we’re on the subject of breakfast, Michelle would want me to note the huge array of jams, jellies, preserves, and marmalades that mom always seemed to keep in her fridge.

One other food seemed to come back with us from Holland, De Ruijter Gestampte Muisjes, which I always thought of as stomped mice [5]. But it’s still amazing how much joy a slice of white bread, some butter, and sweetened crushed anise seed brings me.

Turning to dinner, the two foods I most associate with dinner with my parents are beef stroganoff and artichokes. I don’t think we had either all that often, but they are the meals I most remember eating at our kitchen table. I think I used to joke that we had artichokes whenever Lynn came to dinner (or maybe it was the other way around). Mom also made chicken in wine a lot.

Of course, memories go beyond my childhood home. As a young adult in college and beyond, I had a variety of specialties. I made a lot of quiche. It’s fun to roll out the dough and experiment with cheeses and other fillings. I made a lot of chocolate-chip cookies, often using a variant of the urban legend Mrs. Fields cookies recipe. I made a lot of chili. And I learned from my roommate, Sito, about making baked pancakes (not just as a breakfast food). It’s strange, but I make almost none of those recipes any more, or, when I do, it’s infrequent. Some time in there, I started making bagels. These days, making bagels with middle son is one of my favorite bonding activities.

It’s harder for me to identify signature dishes of my time as a parent. In part, it’s because life seems to have gone by faster. But there are certainly a few important memories. For most of the years my kids were growing up, I’d make pancakes whenever they had friends sleep over, and also just on many weekends. Our dinners seem a bit plainer; usually a not-so-adorned meat, some starch, and a vegetable. There are also great memories of making sugar press cookies with Michelle, but that’s yet another thing we seem to have cut back on [6].

I wonder what my children will remember?

[1] Of course, it helps that I still make it once in a while.

[2] Well, these days eating almonds has an impact on water in California, so the term safely should be taken with a grain of salt, even if the almonds themselves are unsalted.

[3] I still joke that the most appropriate food on Ground Hog’s day is pork sausage.

[4] Can you feel your arteries hardening?

[5] That’s not very appetizing, is it?

[6] We did pull out the cookie press this holiday season. Maybe we’ll resume doing it every year.

Version 1.0 of 2016-09-24.