Foods for Thoughts
American and European Customs and Cookings
Flavored with Autobiographichical Anecdotes
Even as a kid, my desires were to get to the essence of things.
This became more involved as I grew older, but at 9 it meant baking a „real“ cake.
I had started with a box of Betty Crocker white cake mix, and the chocolate frosting came pre- mixed in a can. Just add an egg and water and you’re done.
And that’s how it tasted.
My pleasure was starting from scratch (that’s a strange idiom),
mixing butter with sugar and eggs,
then milk, baking soda, and flour.
Using the measuring cups and spoons was as fun as watching
and smelling the cake rise in the oven.
I’m still fascinated by these measuring utensils, nesting mathematically in one another,
like the Russian Babushka dolls.
After the bloodless revolution, when the Berlin Wall fell, a lot of Russian people came to East Berlin to sell their wares for real money- fur hats, Soviet stars, Babushka dolls.
Their German was just about sufficient to be convincing, with more vocabulary than I had when I moved to Germany, in 1975 to study Eurythmy in Bonn.
With a finger pointed to each size from large to miniscule-
„papa, mama, brother, sister, dog, cat, mouse“ . I like the German sound of it-
Vater, Mutter, Bruder, Schwester, Hund, Katze, Maus.
Returning to brother and sister, David loved licking the batter left in my baking bowl.
And sometimes being mean, as siblings are at times, I too often denied him that joy.
How I regret that these days.
But what I really wanted to describe is my initiation into Italian cooking.
My first boyfriend was first generation Italian, and his family welcomed me at their
table. That was cooking from scratch at its best. Tomato sauce had nothing to do with
opening a jar of Buitoni.
The tomato sauce pot was always there at the back of the stove, gently simmering. You took some out in the morning and added new ingredients at the end of the day.
So start with olive oil, onion and garlic, and let them cook a bit.
Add what the Italians call odore. It has little to do with odor,
but everything to do with perfume.
So it’s a carrot stick, a stalk of celery, lots of parsley, basil. When you buy fruits and vegetables at the market in Italy you get the odore gratis
being a so integral part of cooking.
Then comes tomato in whatever form you have it, fresh or canned, later some tomato paste, sugar, salt, and pepper. And the most important ingredient- time- to mellow.
Meat or fish would be cooked in the sauce.
The primo piatto was spaghetti with that sauce,
the main course was then the meat or fish that had been cooked in it,
with salad or vegetable.
The family and relatives met in the morning and cooked and ate and talked and sometimes yelled at each other all day till late in the evening.
I was fulfilled by those days and loved the meals and ate every bit.
Only on a special occasion, when an eel came into the pot, I would do without. And once there were fresh snails that were of course still alive and came crawling out from under the lid of the box, nice and fresh.
Here I also abstained.
I decided to learn how to make real Lasagne, so as to please my boyfriend.
A good sauce, parmigiano, mozzarella, noodles, Ricotta mixed with one egg and
lots of fresh parsley, layered and baked.
You can also fill ravioli with the Ricotta mixture,
cook gently, and serve with meat sauce.
My boyfriend’s comment at tasting it was first, It’s not as good as my mother’s.
Then, it’s not as good as my grandmother’s.
Needless to say, the relationship did not last.