Memories of Meals Past
Like many people during the pandemic, we have been eating at home for well over a year – not hard duty for me, since my wife is a great and adventuresome cook.
She’s mostly cooking and eating vegetables these days, cutting back on meat and dairy to combat allergies. That’s great with me, since I’d rather eat vegetables than meat, generally.
I watched her prepare lunch today, noticing how many steps it takes to cook vegetables. (How astute on my part.)
While she cooked, I did some scut work around the kitchen – and had time to free-associate with each dish, and the memories attached to them.
1. Okra Past. Soft and fresh, mixed with crispy breadcrumbs doused with an almond-milk version yogurt, in olive oil. The sight of okra brought me back to a friend many years ago, who had a house in rural Appalachia. The kitchen faced south to a sunny patch where two different crops grew right outside the window, plenty of sun. One crop was not my department. The other was okra, which he cut from the vine without having to walk outside.
2. Walnuts Past. In another pan, my wife mixed walnut pieces with onions and mushrooms, sprinkled with natural sugar.
Why walnuts? She told me that on one of her child-care runs to Bangkok, she and colleagues would visit the outdoor markets and restaurants, in the relative cool of late evening. You could also purchase fish or meat, whatever vegetables you wanted, and a chef would toss it together in a wok, right in front of you.
She said another stall specialized in shelled walnuts in a sweet sauce. My guess is, from memory, she aced it.
3. Corn on the Cob Past. Nothing makes me happier about summer than the arrival of fresh Long Island corn. While I chomp away, I think back to hot summer evenings while our father was at work: Mom would take our large family to Cunningham Park (in Queens), a few blocks up the steep glacial hill. We would carry a dozen ears of corn, or maybe two dozen, and commandeer a vacant fireplace and bench in the shade, and start a fire, and fetch water and boil the corn.
My wife also has corn memories. On Sunday she nuked fresh corn in the microwave, but other times she twirls them over a flame, scorching them slightly, and sprinkling them with paprika.
An Indian friend taught her that here on Long Island, but my wife also ate corn during her 14 child-care trips to India. She has memories of meals in affluent homes as well as shacks in the slums, where people shared whatever they had.
(The Web says corn – maize – is mostly ground up for flour in India, but my wife set me straight: maize is also street food, strongly spiced, from stands in busy marketplaces – part of the life she came to love on her trips to Pune and Mumbai and other cities.
Food is more than vibrant tastes on our tongue; food can be a Proustian reminder of seasons past.
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Got any vivid memories of food in other places and times? Please share.
6/12/2021 10:45:49 pm
I am impressed by the sugar-butter corn pictured in your scrumptious blog, George. In the Midwest, it is sometimes called candy cane corn. They say white corn is the sweetest but corn must have a little yellow in it to be corn IMHO and nothing like it in warm weather. In grad school in Madison WI in the 1960s, I went to the Sun Prairie corn festival in late August. They boiled in big vats, then squads of high school students stripped it and we could salt them on shakers hung on laundry lines. .
6/13/2021 08:43:01 am
Lee, thanks for the memories of summer in the Upper Midwest. I remember how lush summer was in the Upper Midwest when one of our children lived in St. Paul. GV
6/12/2021 11:04:06 pm
Looks great. Marian is not as lucky as Peggy, whose husband has gotten really interested in cooking the last couple of years, even baking a bit now. its more demanding. We take turns and I enjoy it so much that I like to take extra turns. We roast a lot of veggies, try kale, for example, olive oil, garlic, is all you need. Who knew? I hope you wash the dishes, or load the machine at least. Thats our deal. Bon apetit.
6/13/2021 08:48:03 am
Ed: everybody knows Peggy is luckier....I am impressed by all the males I know who cook, and cook well. Yes, I do most of the cleanup...and in the past year-plus I have done much of the inexpert food shopping with a very slow learning curve. As for kale, I love it. I knew it was catching on 6-8 years ago when I was in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and saw "new people" in the neighborhood patronizing a new restaurant featuring kale salad. Que cambio!
6/12/2021 11:38:04 pm
6/13/2021 08:58:21 am
Hey, Bamboo Boy. How is that said in Nihongo?
6/18/2021 09:39:12 am
6/13/2021 08:56:34 am
6/13/2021 09:05:52 am
Bom Dia Altenir: I have never heard of "barreado" or that your father had a restaurant. Yes, a regional food like that would surely take you back to childhood. Did you spend much time in his restaurant?
6/13/2021 09:24:08 am
Dear George: Bom dia.
6/13/2021 02:36:53 pm
Bom dia to you and Altenir, Bruce, etc. Stirred memories. In Provincetown, MA, there was a Portugese restaurant we loved. I recall dishes of pork, clams, white beans, Kale, linguica, and more, (not necessarily in one dish.). Bruce, I stopped at a stall in Kobe, to have a sampling of the beef. Small portion, A+. I had various small dishes offered on a conveyor belt passing by on the counter top at the Toyko main train station. Peggy opted for a tiny place down a bit, where she had “Italian Spaghetti.” (She enjoyed it, one world theory,)
6/13/2021 12:05:52 pm
6/13/2021 06:24:44 pm
Hi, Randolph: I envy that practical knowledge you were taught.
6/13/2021 03:40:18 pm
6/13/2021 08:24:57 pm
Altenir, George Mentioned a Brazilian restaurant in NYC and having Feoijoada, I think we ate there, I am remembering perhaps named ABC, and a huge portion of Feoijada. Small, big, world. Be well.
6/13/2021 08:39:55 pm
6/13/2021 09:44:25 pm
Cabana Carioca? 45th Street? My firm (also then on 43rd Street - bounded on the south side by 42nd, but we never said that) was much more of an eating firm a couple of decades ago, and some would meet a banker or two at Cabana Carioca.
6/13/2021 10:12:44 pm
Andy, good to hear from you. I didn't mean to suggest that was Long Island corn, only that I love when that season arrives. I don't remember a farm on Malverne but I do remember when there were some fields here and there. (Heck, I can remember chickens and Victory Gardens late in WW II.) Long Island corn is great. When we camped at Wildwood SP in the late 50s, I ran with a large pack of teenagers, who sometimes borrowed a few ears of corn from a nearby farm late in the evening.
6/13/2021 10:59:53 pm
6/14/2021 06:13:35 am
Thank you, George. The Grossman family owned and farmed the land at the intersection of Hempstead and Ocean Avenues, just south of Exit 17 off the Southern State Parkway in Malverne. When the family sold, Nassau County and the Nassau Land Trust stepped in. There are interesting things happening there, and the farmstand store goes on.
6/15/2021 09:24:13 am
George: Here in New England we are deep into strawberry season, but your post brings back LI memories of summer outings to Young's Farm in Brookville in the 1960s for fresh CORN (!), tomatoes and zucchini. I'm sure there was a lot more on offer but we were not an adventurous tribe. Back that was about exotic as it got, and that was more than fine for our large Irish-American family. All best, Peter
6/15/2021 05:10:10 pm
Peter: Young's is about 15 minutes from us...but we haven't been. We keep saying we will/should. You may encourage us. As for our tribe (eight under the same roof, including our Nana, for a while), all we knew about corn was that we got it at Bohack's. GV
6/15/2021 03:02:01 pm
It may be sacrilege, but we have an Amish grocery that gets good, fresh corn. I have found that I open the top end three or four inches, run water in, wetting husk also. Put in microwave 3-4 minutes depending on size, taste. Never needs butter. PS Long Island memory not only of fresh corn, but “Long Island Duckling,” a childhood favorite when we could eat out, that and fried whole belly clams.
6/15/2021 05:15:53 pm
Ed, an Amish grocery on the Suncoast? Who knew?
6/16/2021 12:38:49 pm
GV- Sarasota has a considerable community of Amish and Mennonite families and several very popular restaurants, and FOUR Detweiler’s groceries in Bradenton, Sarasota and Venice. These folks are mostly from the Midwest, not PA. Good midwesterner beef, as well as fresh veggies.
6/15/2021 03:07:32 pm
years ago, one of the new york comedians said.if proust had eatin a cream cheese smear he really would have written a long book.regards,ahron
6/15/2021 05:17:42 pm
Good one, Ahron, Memories of Schmears Past.
6/16/2021 10:32:27 am
6/16/2021 12:35:39 pm
Altenir, apologies for my spelling Feijoada in correctly, and you are a gentleman for not pointing it out. Our national dish, the hot dog, is easier to spell. Best
6/16/2021 06:02:53 pm
Dear Ed. No problem. I love to eat a hot dog in NYC. I still do not know the Coney Island hot dog. It is my wish. I miss NYC and the Foley’s Pub. The Caesar Salad was unbelievable, and of course, the meeting with George.
6/18/2021 03:40:28 pm
Since food in necessary for survival, it should be as interesting as possible.
6/18/2021 03:54:08 pm
6/18/2021 04:10:44 pm
Bruce-I grew up a very picky eater, but have improved considerably over the years.
6/18/2021 04:21:20 pm
6/19/2021 07:26:40 pm
STOP THE PRESSES! Drop everything right now and read a great piece about George by his son, David. It's in today's NYTimes. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/19/insider/george-vecsey-fathers-day.html
6/19/2021 11:05:36 pm
Thanks Gene, Loved it. If we were on FB, I’d post a heart emoji. GV is a friend and hero.
6/20/2021 12:00:58 am
6/19/2021 07:39:31 pm
Just in case some of you don't subscribe to the NYTimes, and therefore the piece about George is behind a paywall for you, I'm going to post it here; intellectual property laws be damned!
6/19/2021 07:45:49 pm
6/20/2021 05:22:51 am
Gene, George and David,
Comments are closed.
“I don’t think people understand how Covid affects older Americans,” Mr. Caretti said with frustration. “In 2020, there was this all-in-this-together vibe, and it’s been annihilated. People just need to care about other people, man. That’s my soapbox.”
---Vic Caretti, 47, whose father recently died of Covid at 85.
---From an article by Paula Span, who covers old age for the NYT, which currently has 2646 comments, the majority criticizing the American public – and public officials – for acting as if the pandemic is “over.”
Classic wishful thinking, at a lethal level.