I never forget a face or a signature dish. Perhaps it’s because I am food-obsessed and associate everything with food, even things that have nothing whatsoever to do with it. But I suppose it’s not so strange that certain dishes remind me of certain people.
When I think of butternut squash, not only do I think of one of my old next-door neighbors, but my stomach growls. I remember Flo, the nurturing spirit, who loved to cook and took it upon herself to feed me while my son was a toddler, and I was rather pregnant with my daughter. Her personal deliveries of many delicious dishes were especially appreciated after I gave birth and I felt like Lucy working in the chocolate factory trying to keep on top of everything.
One of Flo’s signature dishes, and the most memorable one for me, was her butternut squash soup. While I didn’t do as much cooking for myself as I did for my children, it was wonderful to receive the gift of a meal at my door on any given day. I did, however, create a bit of an addiction to experimenting with vegetables in the baby food processor to make sure they got a good variety of nutrients to help their little bodies grow strong. Apparently, it was time well spent because both of them, now ages 14 and 12, stand at least a head taller than I do.
I suppose I was trying to do what my mother, who is only 66, did for me. Teaching me to eat well was possibly the best thing she ever did for me. I can’t look at an avocado without thinking of her because I remember my 10-year-old self cringing while she ate sliced avocado on whole-grain bread. Although I tried, I could not get past the bitterness that I eventually grew to adore. Mom also made crepes incessantly when I was a kid, so much so that I will never eat or make a crepe without thinking of hers, which were more dense than the average crepe and therefore, in my humble opinion, more substantial.
My father, however, creates a blur of food in my mind because there are so many things I associate him with I can’t name just one. The same goes for my father’s mother, Celeste, who spent her life cooking as if she operated a restaurant out of her home. I still laugh about my younger cousin, who once quipped that certain members of our family needed therapy for their cooking disorder.
Claire, my best friend from high school, is raisin bread because that’s what we’d eat for breakfast at her house. She’d toast it and put her mother’s homemade jam on it. The combination of flavors of the crunchy toasted raisins and the fresh fruity delight (especially raspberry, my favorite) was soothing enough to squash any anxiety I might have about going to school that morning.
My great-grandmother, Rose, on my mother’s side, was my beloved fettuccini noodle. Being the quintessential Italian, she’d make the noodles from scratch and lay them out on trays all over her apartment, even on the beds, because there were too many noodles and not enough flat surfaces. She probably would have resorted to putting them on the television if it didn’t have that crazy-looking antennae on top.
My great-grandfather, Albert, liked to drink more than he liked to eat. His alcoholism inspired her to exercise her lungs daily, and occasionally throw cans of tomatoes in his general direction. I knew Rose was happy when she was making fettuccini, but wondered if that was the only time.
It’s no wonder that food is the drug of choice for so many people. Rose lived to be 89. Albert, however, lived to be 100 without ever once sustaining a flying can of tomatoes to the head. And that explains my food association with my great-grandfather.