remembering my food memory
So, in case you haven’t heard, I am moving to California next month. I put in my notice at work, I gave my landlord written confirmation I will be out of my studio by the 31st, and I have started collecting moving boxes. It is happening. For the past few weeks, I have started the long process of going through my belongings, deciding which things are worthy to make the trip with me and which things need to be donated to Value Village. For the record, I am keeping my pasta machine—even though I haven’t used it yet—but I am tossing my copy of the Cop Cookbook (I know you were wondering). Somewhere along the line, while organizing the contents of a 6-drawer credenza that has been chock full of papers from various points in my academic life, folded in a binder with some truly hideous photos from pastry school (what were we thinking?!), I came across a paper I wrote. It wasn’t an assignment really but rather a scholarship essay I wrote in hopes of being awarded a nice chunk of tuition money. The theme was 500 words about a memory we had that pertained to food. I knew I had as good a chance as anyone and I knew I had no shortage of food memories to woo my chef instructors with so I picked my favorite and this is what I wrote:
My most memorable food related experience begins with the ever so enchanting and image-rich centerpiece of the average American household: the television. So visually stimulating, and in turn physically paralyzing, it was practically banned at our house growing up. Only on Friday evenings and weekend mornings were my sisters and I allowed to watch. After I learned how to navigate the remote control without sisterly aid, I tried to continue to follow the TV rules, really I did. But sometimes when I would return home from school and my Dad was outside doing yard work, I admit I would sneak a peek here and there. Perched on the very edge of the couch, my finger cocked over the POWER button, I was ready at a seconds notice to flash the screen off when I heard the leaf-blower turn off and front swing door open. However, on a good day, that yard work might progress into a trip to the hardware store, allowing me to sit back on the couch with my hands in my lap and my eyes transfixed on the screen, temporarily turning into that potato I kept hearing about. On these rare occasions I had the freedom to watch anything I wanted: music videos, cartoons, Days of Our Lives, etc. But what I found to be the most fun and entertaining programs were the cooking shows on PBS. I could’nt get enough of them! I watched Graham Kerr cook low-fat calorie using yogurt cheese in place of sour cream. I saw goofy Jeff Smith prepare Greek food, clanging his pots and pans around on The Frugal Gourmet. I watched Martin Yan deftly maneuver his giant cleaver, identical to the one that sat unused in my dad’s knife drawer. I watched Julia Childs make coq-a-vin and was somewhat startled by her strange voice and posture. I learned about leavening breads from Mary Ann Esposito on Ciao Italia. I remember watching Jacques Pepin cook sugar and water together and magically create a golden nest to garnish his poached pears. At the young age of seven I was not aware that through dishonestly viewing these shows I was beginning my culinary education. I am pretty sure my parents knew all along I was watching bits of television when they were not around. Although it wasn’t until I started using our family video camera to capture my own culinary adventures in the family kitchen that they began to get an idea of exactly what kind of programming I was sneaking. It must have really sunk in when in second grade I asked for a Jacques Pepin cookbook for Christmas. Even though maybe they had initially appreciated my sneakiness, after that my parents allowed me to watch Julia, Graham, Mary Ann, Martin, Jeff, and Jacques whenever I wanted. This proved to be a slightly less exhilarating method of watching these shows, but legally or illegally viewed the cooking shows I watched as a girl greatly affected my life and are still currently influencing my culinary future.
Kind of a cheesy ending, I know, but 1) I was 24, and 2) I won the scholarship so my cheese worked! After fondly recalling this pleasant—and lucrative— food memory, I promptly abandoned my moving efforts and opened up my laptop in hopes of finding some of these old episodes of early 90s PBS cooking shows floating around the internet. To my surprise, many Frugal Gourmet episodes are still available to view as well as several more recent shows with Jacques Pepin. But perhaps the most surprising result of my search was this: Seasons 3 through 22 of Mary Ann Esposito’s show Ciao Italia. What a gold mine! My productivity rapidly dwindled as I became captivated watching Mary Ann cook Italian food, practically drooling on myself, her familiar voice and forthright Italian disposition served with a side of nostalgia. My credenza remained untouched and in disarray as minutes turned into hours and hours turned into a puddle of drool on the floor. I watched her roll garganelli, braise lamb shanks, and bake semolina bread, just like I had watched her do twenty-some years ago in my childhood home. All that was missing was the smell of exhaust from the leaf-blower and the feeling of impending doom should my Dad catch me in the act.
Needless to say, I didn’t get around to finishing cleaning out my credenza that day (shocking, I know), but I also didn’t get into any trouble from my Dad. And you should be happy to know that I made myself some ricotta gnocchi for dinner that night and it was delicious.