Gather round the Cup o' Noodles and we'll travel back in time
Growing up, I absolutely, deeply loved my nanny. She helped take care of me from when I was three months old until her death when I was ten, so you could say we were pretty close. Despite her many wonderful attributes, she had terrible taste in food. Case in point, her favorite things that live in full saturation in my memory, are Tab (the soda, which dates both her AND me now) and Entenmann’s raspberry Danish twist. (She did, however, have great taste in ‘90s entertainment and introduced me to both comic-pianist Victor Borge and Dances with Wolves.)
I bring this up because I’ve been thinking a lot about food memories lately. I recently had the most gorgeous hazelnut gelato at a new all-day restaurant in Santa Monica, called LA Puglia, and was transported back to Italy in a bite. It was soothing in a way little else has been this past year.
I make spaghetti pomodoro at home in an effort to copy a dish I’ve ordered time and again at another LA restaurant, Toscana, since childhood. When I come close to it in flavor, texture, color…it’s so deeply satisfying that it’s almost hard to put to words. The recipe I use is Marcella Hazan’s tomato-onion-butter sauce, but I add ample grated Parmesan when I serve it, as well as torn fresh basil. For the most authentic experience, I’d be ten years old and still in a leotard and tights from dance class. A handsome Italian waiter would take me by the hand to the tray to choose a dessert after dinner. I’d be blushing.
If you could recreate any food memory, what would it be? What is your madeleine moment? Where would you want it to take you? Back to those great breakfasts you had on vacation? To your grandma’s kitchen, with its unique smells and sounds? The scrappy dinners your mom or dad would make when they’d had a long day? Or something bigger, like whatever you were eating when you realized you were in love.
Or the cheap, cheesy, bodega-bought thing you ate throughout college? My high school had an old-school food truck on campus (nothing like today’s food trucks with punny names and Korean-style tacos), from which I’d get a greasy bagel, egg, and cheese sandwich that I can taste even now. (Smitten Kitchen’s version is really good.)
What flavor did you once absolutely hate that maybe makes you laugh now?
What’s great about food memories is how innocuous they can be when they’re happening. At five years old, stealing slivers of my nanny’s raspberry Danish twist, I was not anticipating that I’d be writing about it, wistfully, at 35. I was anticipating not being very hungry for dinner. But of course, these memories are important. They run deep. They comfort us and can remind us of times we’d forgotten. They’re not even up to us, in a way.
I didn’t grow up in the same house as my father, but when I did go to his house there would inevitably be penne alla Bolognese for dinner. You could put money on it. That was always fine with me because he made an amazing Bolognese ragú. I’ve written about it before. And I make it now with alarming frequency. In times of crisis, in happy times, to comfort, to impress. And when I strike that flavor, the one that takes me back, what magic it has!
My son is five and I think about what flavors will transport him back to now, to when he’s 10. He is an eater, so perhaps it’ll be his favorite sushi (I know) or the endless bowls of pasta I make for us. Maybe it’ll be the elaborate snack plate dinners we concoct on Tuesdays for movie night. More likely, it’ll be something that strikes me as very un-special, very ordinary that brings him a rich, soulful happiness in thirty years.
I have never tried to recreate that raspberry Danish twist. As much as I love to bake, I don’t want to make it myself. It won’t have the same factory-made taste, it won’t have that perfectly drizzled white icing. It wouldn’t be my nanny’s sacred boxed version.
Ya want some links, now, don’t ya?
(What if they were all fakes, linked to a bunch of Victor Borge videos? That’d be classic Borge.)
I haven’t written enough about the abiding love I have for the wine club I’ve been a member of for YEARS. It’s called Naked Wines and with this link, you’ll get a whopping $100 off your first case of amazing wines from small producers around the world. You’re most welcome.
While we’re drinking: Cocktails from around the world…for “research” (Suitcase Mag)
Cannot WAIT to get my hands on this new cookbook, by Molly Baz (Bookshop)
goop told me about fonio—an African ancient grain that’s gluten-free, naturally nutty and sweet, high protein, and cooks into porridge quickly. I bought it and have made it for breakfast thrice already. (Amazon)
I wrote a thing for my friends at (the very cool) Weed Sport about indie sports magazines, so take a gander (Weed Sport)
Shoutout LA asked me some questions and I gave them some answers, take a gander at this too (Shoutout LA)
Stanley Tucci’s new show about eating in Italy premiered on CNN, so stop whatever else you’re doing. (CNN)
Can you guys feel the sea change? I know things can shift at a moment’s notice these days, but it feels like there’s a light (and reopening) ahead (The Atlantic)
P.S. I'm reading David Sedaris right now and I’m really happy about it, if you’re looking for something to read (Bookshop)
Oh my god, I miss bars (Maverick)
Please comment or reply with your food memories. I’d so love to read them and share the ones you want me to share. They take us back and they bring us together and they make me smile.