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Just Like Mama Used To Make

Posted on May 13th, 2012

Is there a phrase more overused, more cliché, more pre-loaded with meaning, and ultimately more misleading than “just like mama used to make”? (“I need that report by five o’clock” comes close.) The phrase, when uttered, (usually in a booming, “here ya go” manner with an army of fat invisible exclamation marks following) brings to mind red-and-white checkered tablecloths, huge steaming pots of spaghetti, plates of mashed potatoes and creamy sauces and sweet/spicy sausage served by a larger than life individual who is either (your) mama or a generic version of Mario Batali, unto you – a rapt tween who has yet to experience heartbreak, unemployment and endless traffic jams. Mama cooked out of love, not duty (and through exhaustion and sleep deprivation). Chefs…

Open Kitchen, Be My Mother

Posted on May 13th, 2012

I don’t remember when I went to Mao’s Kitchen in Venice Beach for the first time. It might have been during college or just after. I’ve probably only been once or twice since, because I never lived closer than 300 miles away from it, but that’s not really important. What is important is that on that first visit, either with my brother or friends who moved to LA for grad school, I ate some life-changing green beans. It’s my understanding that Mao’s serves “Chinese country-style cooking” with something referred to as “red memories.” That probably means lots of vegetables, because The Chairman oversaw some pretty lean times. Red or not, these green beans definitely smacked of the countryside. They were simply prepared, seared to…

The Womb Of My Discontent

Posted on May 13th, 2012

As I square off with my two-year-old niece, it occurs to me that I may have gone over the edge. She sits across from me, her wispy blond pigtails and huge blue eyes barely clearing the table top. It’s lunch time, and I’ve amassed a startling array of foods – things that I never knew lurked in the back corners of my cupboards. Earlier in the day, I had confidently sprinkled dried cranberries in front of her only to have them unabashedly handed back to me in a sticky glob after she put several in her mouth, chewed for a second before her face puckered into a wince of disgust, and she just as quickly took them back out again. Now, still smarting from…

The Mother Of Invention: A Reluctant Confession

Posted on May 13th, 2012

Adage explains reality. When I do not understand a thing, I can convince myself that I actually do, usually in ten words or fewer. Sometimes, on long nights when I toss, sleepless, alone with an empty stomach and a heavy soul, I entertain the grim specter Regret. I have done things I’m not proud of. Most of them involve food. But deep in my heart, or maybe down in the pit of my stomach (which alternately growls and twists as memory plays across its membranes), I know that I can’t, or at least won’t, be held responsible for the monsters I have loosed on an innocent world. Because I know as well as you do (and as one Dr. Frankenstein no doubt did) that…

Marie-Christine

Posted on May 13th, 2012

My father likes to tell my mother that she seduced him with her cooking. When they were friends at university, before they dated, my mother invited my father to her apartment for a meal. She made her mother’s oven-gratinée recipe for sea scallops. After serving them, as my mother went to the kitchen for bread, my father devoured his whole plate. When asked if he wanted more, my mother gave my father the portion on her plate that he promptly swallowed up, and only then did he find that she hadn’t made any more beyond that–she had given him everything. A vessel, brimming with an intangible, abstract concept called love, my mother is ever ready to give. It is a pity the world has…

Ode To Mother Grape

Posted on May 13th, 2012

An ancient mother, the agriculture, you are for many cuisines Your mystique begins in Mesopotamia Spread by Phoenicians Egypt loved you, Greece sang your gospel, Rome made you Queen beside God Queen you still are, as your influence succeeded pulpit, to palate Refreshing and plump silky body in a tight jacket gushes on the tongue Squished and bubbled over extra sugar in the pot cooled and spread on toast Cold and wet pucker make a small child’s lips smack and slurp all the goodness Out in the hot sun flavor condenses slowly into a red box To eat you fresh, dried, juiced, or even jellied! gives no understanding Fermentation gave you powers, good and evil as all mothers have

Strange Mother Tongue: Unexpected Stories Of Unusual Liqueurs

Posted on May 13th, 2012

It all began with an artichoke. I was researching one day the various ways – stuffed, sliced, plucked, or grilled – to cook those spiny beasts of the garden, a perennial summertime favorite of mine. And then I saw it, a footnote at the bottom of the page: a reference to Cynar, the artichoke liqueur of Italy. If necessity is the mother of invention, then clearly somebody was facing dire times indeed when they made an artichoke the mother of an aperitif. Cynar is appropriately (if unimaginatively) named for Cynar scolymus, the Latin for artichoke. It is reportedly a thick, dark brown color, bittersweet in flavor, and best paired, as unlikely as it may be, with an orange juice mixer. It sounded, in a…

Making Pancakes

Posted on May 13th, 2012

We had an electric griddle when I was a kid. It had a cast iron top with bright orange trim, and you plugged it into the wall. It was hefty and unwieldy, made in the days before cheap plastic manufacturing overtook all but the most expensive kitchen tools. It lived stored sideways in the back pantry, near the cast iron frying pans and the seldom-used china set. It was probably my grandmother who bought it. “Spend good money on an appliance,” she would say, “and it will last.” And she was right. Like the other kitchen items she purchased — the giant freezer, the beefy microwave, the sturdy bread maker — it was still in use well into my high school years. She didn’t…