When I finished up my elegy on chicken soup the other day I realized that I had several other choice bits of nonsense dealing with food and cooking that I could have included had my brain been working properly. (recent attacks of Bloggers' Brain, Pollyannaism and Depression had rendered my instrument feeble and impaired, don't forget).
Before I go rambling onward I guess I should confess that I consider Food to be a sacred Gift of the Gods ......in fact it is eligible to be worshiped all on its own as far as I am concerned. My earliest memory deals with the incredible power of food and the impact that it has had on my life. I remember reclining in a toddler size canvas chair in the kitchen back in West Philadelphia riddled with anxiety about life and what my crazy father would do next and what might be expected of me as a result of same. I must have been somewhere around 2 (and yes, I thought those kinds of thoughts at that age) and I was waiting for my afternoon bottle. When my Mother handed it to me and I applied it to my mouth my entire being was suffused with a warm glow, every muscle relaxed and for a few wonderful moments I was floating on a cloud in an azure sky and the world was a beautiful, safe place. (Many years later I discovered that booze had the same magical properties as milk, not counting the hangover, but that is again another story).
From that day forward food remained , shall we say......important. I can remember nearly every memorable meal I have had in my life. especially my very first restaurant meal at about age 6 or 7 at Hackney's in Atlantic City. Now, you must understand that in those days children did NOT get taken to restaurants except on very rare occasions. Adults went out to dinner and the kids stayed home with Grandma or Baby Sitter and had meatloaf or mac and cheese and that's just how it was (and, frankly, how I think it should be, but that may be another blog). However, once we went to the Shore for the weekend there was no one to leave me with so I had to be schlepped along, hence my ecstatic outing at Hackney's. And what a virgin experience it was......I had Lobster drowned in butter ! Oy, words fail me. But I also remember that my father had Lobster Thermidor and my mother opted for Crab Maryland, both of which I was allowed to taste. My next exalted restaurant meal did not happen for another 5 or 6 years and it was a Chinese Restaurant that my parents frequented, but that will be another blog too. The simple fact remains that I find food to be true ambrosia, a mood altering, mind boggling, heart soothing and tummy satisfying blessing. (naturally, I mean when it is decently prepared and particularly when it is exquisitely prepared, though sometimes, just straight out of the box, depending on the urgency of the need for solace.)
Well, all that being said, whatever follows is bound to be anti-climactic, but I wanted to get it established for future reference where food sits in my hierarchy of important things. Now, back to my reminiscences. And, since I have blathered on so lavishly I think I will just offer you one tidbit and save the others for a later blog.....don't worry, I promise I will tell all in due time.
When I was in my early teens I began helping Mamma with the cooking. Mostly I just measured, chopped and stirred but, for some reason I can't recall I was, at some point, assigned the task of making biscuits from scratch all by myself. And many a batch I made, tender, flaky and crying out for the butter, marmalade or gravy. It got to the point where I felt I could have made biscuits in my sleep and so, one day when Mamma decided at the last minute that we needed biscuits, I dove into the process on "cruise".......didn't even bother to take out the recipe. Now, I haven't made biscuits in a gazillion years but I remember that the recipe called for both baking powder and baking soda. Tearing through my task I assembled all the ingredients, threw them into the bowl, potched the dough and rolled it and cut biscuits like an automaton. They baked up looking a bit strange but everything appeared hunky-dory until we took the first bite. I will NOT tell you what my father said. My Mother just looked at me with a pained, puzzled expression while I took one taste, gasped, "faugh", and indelicately spat the half masticated morsel onto my plate. I can't adequately describe the taste, but suffice it to say that it was mostly hugely bitter and to a monstrous degree salty. As for the other characteristics, I really don't remember. Badly shaken I went back into the kitchen and pulled out the recipe and examined it and suddenly it dawned on me what I had done. As I recall, the recipe called for something like 6 teaspoons of baking powder and maybe 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda....now as everyone knows, baking soda is Bicarbonate of Soda which is a great cure for indigestion...........I had simply reversed the dosages and provided a built in cure for indigestion in case my bicuits afflicted anyone with same...... 6 teaspoons of Bicarb should certainly cure even the worst case, dontcha think? That is, if anyone could possibly eat the damned things. Sigh.
The New Yorker covers: August 18, 1975
12 hours ago