Food, Food, Food (excerpt from my new memoir MY MOTHER WOULD HATE THIS BOOK)
Updated: May 17
Food consumes--please forgive the awful pun--so much of my time. Not necessarily eating but thinking about what we should have for tonight’s and tomorrow night’s dinners, as well as reflecting on the sensational pasta Bolognese we ate last night, delivered from our favorite local Italian restaurant. The leftovers made a happy lunch. I remembered it all day.
I was recently dumbstruck and rather horrified to notice how much of my normal waking day is spent focussing on food: not eating as I said, but cogitating, talking, planning, shopping, reading recipes online, watching the Food Network instead of depressing news about Republicans on CNN. A minor amount of actual cooking takes place.
Here’s an example of my food involvement from just a few days ago: I was having a Pilates session, always a deep and forceful experience. Suddenly my very thin, muscular instructor asked me about restaurants in West LA, where she lives. I went through most of the menu of my favorite Taiwanese spot, Little Fattys. This conversation took place during a particularly strenuous series of stretches on the Pilates Reformer machine. I didn’t mind, it carried my thoughts away from my pain. Then she told me, unasked, in detail, about the Mexican cafe in her neighborhood, and all its unique dishes. I pretended to be interested because she was so excited to be talking about food.
After Pilates I drove crosstown to meet four girlfriends who have lunch together once a month. That day we had many discussions about, guess what? FOOD. We shared French fries, summoned the waitress several times for extra alio olio dressing, took bites of each other’s salads, and heard a long detailed story about one of the friend’s dreadful recent experiences at a local popular restaurant. She then read us her entry on Yelp, detailing every moment of the dinner from hell, followed by the restaurant’s refutation, in which they called her a liar. All of us were deeply involved with her tale of food woe.
After lunch, I stopped by the nearby supermarket for their fresh fish and deli egg salad and chicken salad. Somehow, I managed to spend $68 on not very much. I came home and made a sandwich for my husband Tom. It was now about 3:30 and I had spent most of the day focused in some way on food. I then figured out dinner and marinated the fish, cutting up vegies for roasting to accompany it.
Later that same afternoon I went walking with my friend Susan and our dogs. Certain topics of conversation always come up: There’s politics, some gossip, and any new discoveries we’ve made on television or books. But then there’s the inevitable “what are you having for dinner tonight?” I’m usually jealous because her menus are more creative and fancier than mine. Mine often involve a delivery from the Fresh Brothers pizza palace or a frozen turkey meat loaf from Trader Joe’s.
When I started to think about how much of my attention is given to food, I envisioned a ladder sliding down from my home directly into my mother’s early kitchen. She was, as I’ve written, a Russian immigrant of a fairly poor Jewish background. I imagine that although food wasn’t plentiful in her family or community, it was still critical, and the origin of some of my obsessiveness as well as my lifelong favorite dishes. Pot roasts, thick soups, potato anything, roasted chickens with crispy skins, sweet apple cake. There were no frozen foods then to defrost nightly, no Chinese delivery. Everything was fresh, some dishes started their cooking journeys right after breakfast and continued for many hours. I’m sure the smells permeated her home all day. Food made these people from poor countries, oppressed by their cultures, feel somewhat safe, protected. If my family can eat a hearty hot chicken soup with matzo balls for dinner, how much danger can I be in? This mentality has passed down for hundreds of years in my family’s world along with the pot roast recipe.
This connection of food with safety continues. My friend Helene, whose parents were in several concentration camps during the Holocaust, always has food in her purse, a protein bar or something else light and small. She told me: “I never go anywhere without food on me. I almost never eat anything, or very much, but what if something happens? I have to know food is there.” In her home, her giant freezer is overflowing, even though her husband cooks fresh and substantial meals every night.
Everybody took up cooking while isolated during the Covid pandemic: No restaurants opened for a long time, fears of delivery people not wearing masks or not being vaccinated, worries about strange people touching the food. We didn’t even go to markets, just ordered stuff delivered from the local grocery store. Or went there at 6 a.m. when they allowed a handful of humans to come in, provided we were masked and socially distanced. I loathe getting up at 6 in the morning but it seemed the appropriate thing to do.
During that year, and since, Tom has embraced cooking. He had never toasted an English muffin in our 39 years together, but he found this gizmo called an Instantpot online and bought it immediately. It’s a combo air fryer, pressure cooker, sous vide cooker (don’t ask), slow cooker and roaster. In my view it’s absurdly complicated and he’s had to return it twice because of mechanical flaws, he’s only used it three times in six months, but it does make heavenly chicken wings. He hasn’t tried anything else.
One of my life’s pleasures is eating in bed. Friends think it’s icky and probably tomato sauce gets all over the sheets but it’s not that way. We have the kind of bed whose head and foot moves up and down. So I can sit up tall, stretch out my legs, move the sheet and quilt out of the way so it doesn’t get hit by the sauce, put the food dishes on my lap and neatly pose myself as if I were in a chair.
Next, we turn on the tv and we’re in food escape heaven. We’ve even trained our dog Roxie to stay sitting on the carpet, away from the food, while we’re eating. After dinner, we don’t have to think or talk about food until the next morning when we discuss what we’re going to have for dinner.
Check out my recent memoir MY MOTHER WOULD HATE THIS BOOK. It is now available in hardcover, paperback & eBook on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or order through your local bookstore. https://www.amazon.com/Mother-Would-Hate-This-Book