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.