Tuesday, November 25, 2008

5. Feed yourself and others

"What is patriotism but the love of the food one ate as a child?"
~Lin Yutang

What did you eat growing up? What was your favorite food when you were a child? What is comfort food to you now; what do you crave when you’re sick or depressed? To me, it’s nursery fare — hard-boiled eggs mashed with butter and salt and pepper, accompanied by buttered toast and hot chocolate.

As to what we ate growing up, well, my mother was a resentful cook. One of her standby meals was creamed tuna on toast; if she happened to be feeling particularly festive, she’d toss in a handful of frozen green peas. I became a foodie when I realized I could taste the difference between a buerre blanc sauce and canned cream of mushroom soup.

Our household was much like that of Calvin Trillin, who says, “The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.”

Trillin says thank God for immigrants or we’d still be eating English food — the awful kind served before the English learned how to cook. British chefs used to believe in the motto, “Boil until no further changes occur.” Even today, he says, well-brought-up English girls are taught by their mothers to boil all veggies for at least a month and a half, just in case one of the dinner guests turns up without his teeth.

Trillin claims to have been first in print with the discovery that the tastelessness of the food offered in American clubs varies in direct proportion to the exclusiveness of the club. The food in such places is bland because the members associate spices and garlic with just the sort of people they're trying to keep out.

More about this later — but here’s the next question: what would you want for your last meal (this is a favorite chefs’ Q&A)?