Sat, May 24th - 8:14AM
There is an area in India where, because of religious beliefs, many folks do not eat onions or garlic. Now, you’ll find me a most tolerant person of even the most odd-seeming religious convictions but – onions and garlic!? Since my husband and I are of the ‘live to eat’ rather than the ‘eat to live crowd’, I tried to imagine cuisine without onions and garlic.
Unbelievably, though, I survived the first twenty years of my life without garlic (I do believe I’ve made up for it since). With all the amazing fresh produce that emerged from my Dad’s huge and thriving yearly gardens and with the universal love of anything green and fresh, I don’t now how garlic slipped by them. I think they pretty much stuck to the vegetable array that had filled their plates in childhood. Thinking about that endless stream of green things to our table, though, they really did stick to the basics, onions, green and yellow, literally tons of potatoes, ears of corn, cauliflower, radishes, carrots, lettuce, cabbage (for vats of homemade sauerkraut) tomatoes, big, yellow Hubbard squashes (to be baked with butter and sugar), a few pumpkins for Halloween carving and cucumbers. There was that odd and wonderful asparagus patch my dad tended lovingly and bunches of rhubarb on the side of the garage. And, Oh, his huge and enviable raspberry patch with plants in it that were, he’d proudly explain, ‘75 years old’. How spoiled I was by all those readily munchable raspberries. And by the beautiful quart jars filled of peaches, apricots, and pears that lined our basement shelves each year. One day each year the whole family, grandparents, aunts and kids would trek to Wawawi, a sunnier place some twenty miles or so near a river and spend the day picking fruit for canning.
And, they’d bring home extra cucumbers from those picking trips because every year they would “put up” 60 quarts of dill pickles. I suppose the proper term is dilled pickles but when everyone you’ve known has called them dill, that’s the way it is. Only after my cousin married a German fellow who introduced the “amazing” idea of hot peppers amidst the pickles was there a change from the established pattern. After that a certain number of quarts would get the peppers, for my Dad who quickly developed a taste for the peppery hotness. Hot peppers had certainly not been a part of those gardens or of the food they ate (wrong soil I now know - hot peppers had grown well in the soil of my husbands folks in Nevada and, thus had been a part of what he had learned to love.)
I guess there wasn’t a lot of vegetable experimentation. No garlic appeared in our dishes. I never met a bell pepper until I was grown. An avocado was a foreign animal to them (an adventuresome Uncle would return once in a while and enjoy avocado with salt, I heard said. I vividly remember my mom commenting, “They taste like soap.” Though a vegetable lover and willing experimenter, it took me way into my twenties to develop a taste for avocado (in guacamole) and into my thirties to enjoy it straight on sandwiches. Yeah, I know it’s really a fruit but it seems awfully vegetably to me.
The tomatoes were eaten fresh, not “put up”. Dad ate the thick sweet slices with salt and pepper. Mom and I loved sugar on ours. In the summer, salads (something unfamiliar in their youths because of no refrigeration for mayonnaise) would appear. Iceberg lettuce (my favorite to this day) and chunks of fresh tomato mixed with mayonnaise. On special occasions, a can of shrimp would be added. The concept of a salad appearing as part of what they ate stuck in my Dad’s memory. He told the tale of remembering his mother chatting with friends on the party line all agog over the new idea of a “vegetable salad”. He called them vegetable salads all his life.
Ah the vegetables of my youth, all freshly picked and full of taste. And back to onions, my Dad loved those little green onions, we now call scallions, on a little plate at dinner along side those slices of white bread. He'd eat each one with a little salt. Funny, as so many other dishes were filled with onions, no one ate them straight except dad. I guess there were some chopped into those green salads sometimes.
Since learning to make Indian food, I’m amazed at how they’ve come to combine vegetables. I make a Dahl (a dish with lentils or dried peas). It’s a heavenly mixture of zucchini, onions, tomatoes and green peppers all swirled together with aromatic spices and at the end combined with yellow peas. My folks would not ever have imagined combining vegetables this way. The only combining they did was to dump carrots, potatoes and onions together into a beef stew. The only vegetable combining I truly remember was when the “new potatoes” were on, new potatoes and fresh peas swimming in a cream sauce with a pinch or two of sugar. It was yummy but certainly not the serious vegetable combining of the Indian dahls. And, even though where I was raised is now known as the “Pea and Lentil Capital of the World” no dried pea I ever knew existed outside split pea soup and I never munched on one lentil during my entire childhood.
Ah, see where onions and garlic can lead one? I certainly thank my folks for my love of vegetables. I wish I could share with them some things I’ve learned and amaze them with my vegetable repertoire. I think they’d have loved, or at least tried, anything done with vegetables as long as avocados weren’t in the mix. And, if dad had his garden today, I’ll bet I could convince him to plant some garlic.
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Sun, May 11th - 9:10AM
A White Bread World
OK, so I love white bread. A BLT on toasted white bread with lots of butter and mayo - heaven. A deli-sliced ham sandwich with mayo and lettuce on soft buttermilk-based white bread...yummmm. It's how you were raised, I'm sure, although I'm bane to give too much credit to nurture. Neurology and many of its buddy scientific specialties are clearly showing we are as we are largely because of the inner working of our brains and bodies. I'll give a nod to nurture, though, in little preferences like a love of white bread. Every evening on our middle class, American supper table appeared a small plate topped with neatly piled pieces of white bread. Looking back it seemed a bit odd, but I guess it was the precursor to the basket of French bread baguette slices that accompany many gourmet meals today. I wonder if more sophisticated 50's era moms put those white bread slices in a basket? Were there baguettes in middle class America then? Yeah - where were all the bread choices we have today? Did stores only have the colored dot-covered Wonder Bread brand or was it that my Mom only brought home that brand? I suppose more women still made bread then, but not crusty baguettes, at least not anyone I'd ever head of.
I don't remember eating bread from that little plate very often (more likely I'd make a between meal PB&J or slather a slice with butter and top it with sugar). My Dad did, though. He'd sop up gravy or use it to grab pieces of meat sometimes (hm, kind of like how flat bread is used in Mexican and Indian cuisine). He loved a treat of toasted white bread chunks soaked in milk. There was nurture sticking out its head again. He'd been raised in on a subsistence farm. Homemade bread and milk from the cow were probably in abundance. It seems his mom, though making all her bread, must have favored white, processed flour. Funny, they raised wheat and oats and barley, yet there wasn't a fondness for the unprocessed "healthy goodness" from bread made with whole grains. I wonder if it wasn't maybe a small indulgence? Maybe white flour was her small "modern" treat in a culinary world limited to what came directly out of the ground or the barn? Wow, white flour as indulgence! As haughty as the nutritionally conscious world becomes, though, I still see a long aisles of familiar oblong plastic packages of white bread. It's a sign, I think, that folks with middle class roots like mine still thrive.
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