Top 10 Food Memories – part one: Childhood

1. Fresh Pasta Noodles for Chicken Soup.

When I was five or six, my grandmother would let me “help her” make noodles.  Primarily, I headed up the cracking of the eggs initiative.  I liked the sound of the egg splitting imperfectly against the side of the bowl, the way she taught me, the incorrect way, but it’s still lodged there in the memory. I liked the crunching yawn of the halves separating, the satisfying glop as the bright yellow-orange landed in the powder white flour. I liked the stickiness on my hands.

The pasta machine slept somewhere deep in cabinets barely opened, but every once in a while, my grandmother would unearth it.  I remember being fascinated at the way the ribbons of noodles wove themselves out of the sheets of pasta running through the machine.  I remember the scrubbed Chicago basement smell of the kitchen, the chrome-ringed pastel blue tables, and the gurgling simmer of chicken, carrots, celery, onion, a small wedge of turnip, parsley.  And we just put the fresh noodles into the hot broth to cook so they were soft but only just.  Not even al dente.  Chewy. Rustic. They tasted like heaven.

2. Christmas Cookies.

For three days, every year, me and my mother would make Christmas cookies for our family.  Spritz cookies, lemon bars, chocolate chip, rosettes, kiss cookies, kolatchkies. I loved making my thumb-print indent into the kolatchky and filling it with jam. Cherry, apricot, poppy seed. Only my grandfather liked the poppy seed, but we would still make them. I probably over-enjoyed wielding the cookie gun.  But my favorite part was spending three days with my mother.  We talked, laughed, sometimes we were silent, working, just being together.

We would divvy up the cookies into three or four teeming trays and bring them to all the holiday celebrations for friends and family.  Other people were supposed to brings things to supplement, but they rarely did.  My mother would complain, but secretly, I think she was proud of being the lone cookie-makers. I was.  A couple years back, she gave me the family cookie gun, manufactured before I was born.  I can’t wait to bust it out this Christmas.

Cella’s Chocolate Covered Cherries – Box of 72
picture from montrose candy, where you can order these

3. Cella Cherries

I don’t eat commercial candy anymore because of HFCS, but when I was small, I had an attachment to it that could only be rivaled by Barbie accessories *chagrined* or crack cocaine if that sort of thing was allowed *almost as chagrined*. Back then, my dad used to ask me to go on errands with him – stuff a kid would never want to do – dry-cleaning pick up, post office runs. I always agreed was because he would stop on the way home and buy me a couple of cella chocolate-covered cherries. They’re different from the more conventional chocolate cherries because they have a clear liquid center.  Still cloy, but less so. I liked to keep it whole in my mouth, letting the chocolate disintegrate, eventually compromising the structural integrity, letting a flood of simple syrup out, and just enough chocolate would remain to coat the cherry as I chomped it earnestly at the finish.

They disappeared from gas stations counters for a while.  It was tough to find them, before the days of those crazy interwebs. But my dad always remembered how much I loved them.  When I was a teenager, he found them on sale at a chain store at Christmas time and bought four boxes.  It became a tradition, four red boxes of chocolate covered cherries strapped together, wrapped with paper, under the tree.  To this day, if I see a certain sized package from my Dad, I know what it is.  I will even make a small exception to my HFCS rule to have a couple.

4. Breaded Pork Tenderloin and Homemade French Fries

I don’t know what other kids asked for for their birthday dinner.  I wanted breaded pork tenderloin and home fries.  Oh, early on did I learn my lifelong attachment to the magical pig and crispened potato.  It’s been a wild ride.

picture from the Nanny Time Bomb

5. Diner Coffee

When I was about four, my parents let me have a sip of coffee.  Even heavy with cream and swimming with sugar, as my mom likes to take it, “Disgusting,” I thought to myself, “Why do they drink that?”  Thereafter I detested coffee.  In a brilliant move, my parents tried the same strategy with beer.  It took almost 30 years for me to undo that damage.

Not so with coffee.  Driven sleepy and grouchy with teenage angst, pushed to the edges by all-night bed reads (rarely for class), I was ripe for falling prey to coffee’s siren song. One day at our local diner, a small installment in the strip mall at the two main intersections of our still-water town, my friends insisted I order coffee to snap the hell out of it.  “Just do it like this,” Jennie Murray told me, inverting the sugar shaker and counting to fourteen.  Really, fourteen.  And then dumping two creamers in.  “Boston coffee.”  I’m pretty sure that’s not a technical Boston coffee.  I’m pretty sure no technical coffee would call for a fourteen second pour of sugar.  That first taste was a revelation.  Creamy, almost buttery, with a backhint of bitterness that all that sugar couldn’t quite completely obliterate.  That smoky amber caramel taste.  You’d know it anywhere, right? It was my first step to a 16 year friendship that remains rock solid where many others have waysided.

Next Installment will be Adulthood top 5.  What are your top 5 for childhood?


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