Sunday, January 29, 2012
Like Manna from Heaven
It's a lifetime love affair that began when I was a child. Tastes and aromas are some of my earliest memories, the fellowship found over a special bite creating warm and comforting feelings. These memories are especially tied to my maternal Italian grandmother, Lucia - "Mema" to me.
We would pull up to Mema's house for a visit where she would be awaiting our arrival under the carport of her Florida home. After she had laughed and squeezed and kissed and hugged us, she would say, "Are youa hungry? Come on ina the house and we'lla eat." We would all troop up the steps from her converted garage turned sunken den into the kitchen, the aroma of simmering sauce and meat on the stove top hitting us like a ton of delicious bricks as we entered. As we gathered around her Formica dinette set in our vinyl chairs waiting to be fed, both body and soul, we would listen while she chattered on, half in English and half in Italian (when she wanted only our mother to understand what she was saying). While she talked, she would cut fresh fruit from the produce stand she and my grandfather, Angelo, owned. It was simple fare, but as she sliced and distributed green apples, mango, cantaloupe, and peaches, all dripping with summer ripeness, we would smell the flowery freshness and feel her affection for us in each portion. Later, after we had all visited for a few hours, the love finally and completely simmering itself into the spaghetti sauce, she would add pasta to boiling water, welcome at least ten more people into the house - adults in the dining room, kids in the kitchen - and we would sit down to heaven in a bowl. Magic...
My cuisine courtship continued throughout my adolescence and into my early 20's where I discovered international foodship in Los Angeles when it became my home. Authentic Mexican food could be found on every corner; Thai food became a monthly favorite; and my travels to Japan uncovered shrimp tempura with white rice, the latter which I had always found uninteresting, but for some reason was deliciousness itself when cooked in its original setting.
With the Advent of the Top Chef series, my family made it our mission to better acquaint ourselves with fine cuisine and beautifully composed plates. By the time he was ten, my son considered himself an official "foodie." (Which was really cute until he started verbally assessing my dinner efforts, giving ratings based on a 5 point scale. Look, without proper training, I can't hit dinner out of the park every night! My husband quickly put a stop to that.)
Food, for me, is not just that which sustains life. It is that which enhances it. When done well, it's an intricately painted masterpiece...a Shakespearean sonnet...a veritable symphony of flavors, textures, aromas, colors. It is art. It is joy.
Which is why, despite the love I have for food and that which makes it beautiful, it makes my heart ache to know that it has provided a crutch to my personal emptiness in later years. A void that should have been filled by God and the Spirit, was stuffed instead with peanut M&Ms.
But before we travel that dark and hungry road, I'll let happy memories of a rigatoni-filled life serve as my antipasti, and Mexican/Thai/Japanese memories serve as my primi (sacrilege!). Then I'll explain the problem, the message and - finally - the peaceful solution in tomorrow's entry, Like Manna from Heaven, the Secondi.