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Family portrait, circa 1953-54
My mother kept house in my childhood years, differing from todays typical childhood experience. I sort of remember the first day of school, when she walked me to the bus on East 46th Street and made the mistake of chatting with the bus driver. I recall other incidents, some of which I just think I remember because they were related to me subsequently. I definitely remember moms cooking.
She was a very good cook. It wasnt until my teens that I learned some mothers were not, classmates who liked what passed for food at school. (Yes, the mom cooked in most families in the nineteen-fifties. Many did not have a job besides mother, much like the fictional June Cleaver.) My mom wasnt a gourmet cook, which is overrated anyway. Most of us get by on good old, honest Brooklyn cooking. You want gourmet food, go to a four-star restaurant with the Clintons. But don't expect them to pick up the check.
Moms food was a huge influence because I have cooked my own meals for most of my life. Yes, sometimes another family member filled in but, to tell the truth, everyone either liked my dishes or not having to cook. I grasped the general idea of meal preparation from my mother. She reviewed some specific recipes, when I was moving into my own apartment, but a lot of my techniques were derived through osmosis, since Id sit and chat while she prepared meals, listening to the radio. That was when radio played music and was free.
Mom wasnt whipping up anything extraordinary, just wholesome, tasty food. She came up with a different meal every night and, if memory serves, dad took us out to dinner two nights a week. Sometimes wed have exotic food, Chinese or Japanese. Other times it was food similar to what we had at home, minus the cooking and dishwashing.
Okay, sometimes mom and dad left me home, with a babysitter or, later, with my little sister to watch me. On those occasions, wed get a TV dinner or something similar. I liked the turkey dinner with a sweet treat, like apple crisp. To be fair, dad sometimes cooked. He made pancakes on weekends, and always manned the grill.
For the most part, we ate regular full-course dinners, highlighted by a great Thanksgiving meal, a long-time tradition, way better than a TV dinner. Our family alternated as hosts with friends in upstate New York, Peekskill I think. (Its a real place.) Doris was also a fine cook. Good times!
I learned to take chances from mom, who sometimes experimented with new recipes, which expanded my cooking repertoire over the years. She also made wonderful chicken soup, from scratch, applesauce, potato pancakes and other delicacies Im forgetting. I remember watching her make chopped liver in my younger days, with a hand grinder. Tasty! It looked like fun, and I may have gotten the chance to help.
I loved food. Okay, I loved desserts more, but I enjoyed most foods. Of the few things I did not like, including soda, beets (no borscht for me) and pizza, mom impressed me particularly regarding one. When I had a checkup, she asked my pediatrician if spinach was really that nourishing. He said that it wasnt all that great, that you could get the same nutrients from other foods. (Irony, I believe, which Ive had in abundance.) It impressed me because Id never have thought to ask that. Mom was more concerned about me than I was. All I knew was I didnt like spinach.
I learned since that fresh spinach is satisfactory. In those days, it was canned, which Popeye cartoons had convinced us was miraculous, making you strong enough to take Olive Oyl, who was quite irritating.
Mom rarely baked a cake because my dad only ate baked goods from Ebingers. When she did, the rest of us enjoyed it. To be fair, Ebingers was Brooklyns best bakery ever. Their blackout cake was to die for.
There is a saying, You are what you eat, also the title of a fascinating 1968 film. I am not sure who coined the phrase, so Ill attribute it to Benjamin Franklin, the face of hundred dollar bills.
I am sure many of the foods that comprise my dietary staples are prepared pretty much as my mother did so many years ago. They are familiar and familial, making food merely one reason I love my mother and she will always be a part of me.
I miss her. ↫
10 May 2015
GLADYS GRASSGREEN TUTIN8 November 1923, Brooklyn — 4 March 2015, Rome