Monday, November 30, 2009

Mangia! (Or Mang, as my grandmother would say)

In my addled state at the time of my last post, I completely lost track of our topic du week -- my favorite subject.  Food!

Since having children and losing my limited ability to concenterate for anything greater than a two-minute interval, my sole non-Nickelodeon TV viewing consists of the news and The Food Network.

A great disappointment to my mother and especially my beloved late grandmother, I am not a cook.  I did somewhat redeem myself by marrying Emeril. :)  As a child, I did not enjoy eating -- much consternation ensuing.  Of course this situation has been more than remedied now.  I may not cook, but oh, how I love to eat.

As I type this, I am listening to my husband and two-year-old son in the next room, watching an HBO concert tribute to the Rock and Roll Hall of fame. The pride of a musician sharing his passion with his appreciative son is beyond words. Of course I thoroughly comprehend why my grandmother could not get over my lack of aptitude for (or interest in) her life's work. But honestly -- as a cook, she was an impossible act to follow.

Like Carmela, my family had the whole pasta-turkey-22 course Thanksgiving meal as an established tradition.  Like Mary Ann, my grandmother grew up in a home with boarders (and 10 siblings).  And scrapple (yum -- I know, I know) and stewed tomatoes (yuck) were staples of my youth. 

My mother's family hails from Ischia and Amalfi.  My mom and aunt finally visted their ancestral homeland a few years ago, and the initial plan was to tour northern Italy.  My mom nixed this idea immediately.  "We can't go there!  They eat white sauce!"  In our family, tomato is King. 

My parents dated in high school.  My dad eventually went to college, joined the army to avoid being drafted and, eight months into his service, called my mom from California (in the middle of the night) to propose.  He said that army food sucked, and he really wanted to get married so he could move out of the barracks and have someone cook him good meals.  She turned him down. :)  He called back.  They have been married for 41 years, so he must have done something right. 

My father (a "Mitigan" = American) had a favorite meal -- stew.  He looked forward to it all day on one of their first days as a married couple.  He came home and was surprised to smell something spaghetti-like.  My mom assured that no, it was stew.  He was expecting beef in broth.  What he got was hot dogs, peas, and potatoes in a tomato sauce.  My mom had never eaten or cooked a meal that was not tomato-based.   Today, she makes a mean beef stew.  However, she remains horrified that my four-year-old prefers her pasta without sauce, thanks very much.

My dad being a Korean linguist and my mom being a cook, I also grew up eating some of the very best Korean food.  I recently read a book by Paula Yoo, and as soon as the protagonist mentioned mandu, she had me hooked.  Back in the day, my parents used to watch every episode of The Sopranos (bear in mind that I have two Aunt Carmellas, an Uncle Junior, and that my mom's godmother is married to a Tony Soprano who worked in waste management).  My mom would then call me in LA to report, in mouthwatering detail, the foods consumed in each episode.  If any family member eats at a restaurant, I know to expect a ten-minute recap of the meal, soup to nuts.  Family recipes are cherished posessions, framed and hung, replicated, discussed and dissected.  Especially in a family of non-readers and non-writers, the effort to record a recipe (much of which consisted of "a pinch of" this and "add until it looks right") was clearly and act of pure love.

Reading JoAnn's post about A Wrinkle in Time, I was transported as soon as I saw the words "cocoa" and "liverwurst."  I remember those details intimately, along with the turkey dinner served at the denouement.  The word "tongue" in Mary Ann's post immediately invokes Beverly Cleary and Ramona Quimby, Age 8, as well as a Cleary description of french fries that I can recite to this day.  I was recently reading my daughter a picture book based on Little House in the Big Woods, and of course the maple sugar candies that I so vividly recalled were a centerpiece.  Buttons that resembled blackberries and even canned peaches were described in detail that stays with me to this day.  No wonder I always want to eat when I read! 

The English language is sadly lacking in words to describe tastes, smells, and textures.  Writing well about food is more difficult than it might seem.  Watch the Food Network, and you will hear the words "beautiful" and "delicious" more often than you can stand.

Many of my friends who enjoy cooking describe the activity as a satisfying creative outlet.  For me, writing about food serves the function of "creating art" more effectively than actually cooking.  After all, eating is a fleeting act; words are forever.

Check out this link for information on developing writing lessons and even entire composition courses centered on the subject of writing about food:

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