One of the things that I’ve come to realize is that for me, food is very much a means of memory. Of course anyone who has seen me in person probably already knows this by the prodigious size of my midsection. It’s shrunk some this year, but there’s plenty left to go. The new job I just got will require me to walk around a lot which will help quite a bit.
I was making myself a plate of cheese and crackers and remembered it was one of my Dad’s favorite snacks. He was a bit of a cheese connis-, a cheese connes, well he liked cheese a lot. He especially liked sharp cheddars, the sort of thing that would practically reach off the plate and force you to eat it. There were a lot of other things he was fond of, sardines, pickled pigs feet, pork brains (one of the things I’ve sworn never to knowingly eat again.) I still like sardines and I still like pickled pigs feet, though I haven’t had them in a long time.
The thing is, all of those things are a part of my memories of my father. When I open a can of sardines or eat cheese and crackers, or drink a beer, they all bring back memories of the times I spent with my dad, talking with him when I was very young, drinking beer with him as I got older.
My mom on the other hand, introduced me to lots of different foods. My parents had the attitude that no matter whether you had tried it before and hated it, you had to try a little bit every time it was served at the table. As a result, I learned to eat all sorts of things that I would have probably passed on if I’d had a choice. Liver and onions, brussel sprouts, sweetbreads (thymus gland), beef heart, head cheese etc. And oddly enough, even now I get a craving for liver and onions when I’m feeling a little homesick and wish I was closer to where my Mom lives so I could get her to make it for me.
My wife laughs at me, because there have been times when we’ve gone to places I have lived in the past and all my memories are tied to restaurants. I think that’s probably mostly due to being single and a little lonesome. Restaurants were a place to go to just be around people, even if I didn’t talk to any of them. Nowadays, I have a wife and family, so my excursions to restaurants tend to be more about going to eat and enjoy a good meal. I am a big fan of Vietnamese and Thai food especially. It took a while before I could build up to eating the really spicy stuff, but I really love the flavors. Pad Thai and Pho are my favorite, but I also like Tom Yum and there’s a fish stew I’ve had a couple of times that is just fantastic.
There is also a downside to this though, there are certain dishes that remind me of pain. I started hating goulash because my ex wife would fix nothing but goulash the last year we were married.
My wife, Anne, sometimes gets into a rut, but she has never resorted to fixing the same thing night after night. She makes chili a lot, but I love her chili, so it’s not really a problem. She’s become a much better cook in the 15 years we’ve been married. When we first got married, her cooking palette consisted of two colors, brown and white, and two food groups, which pretty much amounted to the Midwest holy duo of starch and protein. She made a lot of chicken breast with rice covered in cream of mushroom soup.
Again, going back to my mom’s cooking, it was often unusual, but it was usually very tasty and with lots of things that most people wouldn’t consider traditional Midwest cuisine. This sometimes caused some difficulty with my father as he was not excited about trying anything that did not have at least a little protein. I remember his reaction the first time my mom cooked a tofu stir fry. “Where’s the meat?”
He mellowed over time, but my mother’s tendency to try new things, even when the rest of us find them unpalatable, hasn’t changed any. She still inflicts minted peas, which taste like turpentine, and eggplant, which wouldn’t be bad, except she has a seeming inability to identify the eggplants that aren’t long past their prime.
My son’s tastes run to chicken strips and french fries, though he does like broccoli, so there’s that.