Sense & Sensuality, succulence, spirit. And some satire and sarcasm. But not as much. This is the yummy page.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Proustian food meme

Just to jog this page awake again: a blog meme culled from the archives of Chocolate and Zucchini. Five childhood food memories. (no, I wasn't tagged, but what the hell).

1. A restaurant in South Bend, Indiana, where I lived until I was eight or so. "Bill Knapp's." Specifically, they had these giant chocolate chip cookies at the end of the meal that for some reason I always associated with the intro from "Come Together" ("Sssshhooopp," little bass run). Something about the fact that they were abnormally BIG. That "ssshhooop" always frightened me just a little, and I used to hide under the coffee table whenever it was played in our house. The cookies didn't scare me, though. They were properly soft, just sweet enough, and melty in the right places. Crunchy, brittle chocolate chip cookies are an aberration.

2. A hot cereal called "Maypo." Oatmeal flavored with maple syrup, I believe. It is one of the few foods of my childhood that I'm not at all sure I'd like today as well as I did then. I believe it's discontinued. Commercial tagline: "I want my Maypo!"

3. Spaghetti with butter only, or maybe with garlic or parmesan cheese added, but nothing else. It was the only pasta sauce I'd tolerate. Unlike the Maypo, this one will forever be in my heart (one way or another). There is something elementally satisfying about this dish, in a way that bread and butter or rice and butter or even potatoes and butter just can't replicate, at least for me. Noodles in general have that effect on me, really: they're a mood elevator.

4. Prime rib. Tender, juicy, rimmed with soft white fat (which I considered then the best part, and to my regret I am not at all disabused of that impression even now), and oh-so-glamorous. There was a time when I could imagine nothing "fancier" or more wonderful than going out for prime rib, particularly at "Sportsman's Lodge" in Los Angeles. The ritual was absolute and perfect: coke with a maraschino cherry, rolls and butter, a nibble or so at whatever they put on the table (olives and carrots, I think). Then the prime rib, medium rare (I hadn't yet progressed to "rare," but I did love the pink even then), with its accompanying cup of (say it like it's one word, or a sneeze) "au jus." Something chocolate for dessert, no doubt. And then, I would gather up all the remaining rolls, and my father and I would go outside to the small pond in back, and I would feed the swans, all the while dreaming of fairy-tale princesses.

5. The dinner that I would always order when the family (including grandparents and sometimes great-uncle) went to a small restaurant called "Alouette:"*

1) Potato-leek soup, hot, smooth and velvety
2) A small crisp salad, undressed, until I learned better
3) Coq au vin, with the soft inside of a roll to mop up the tangy winey juices. On the side, their famous twice-baked potato, soft and rich with cheese, sparked with paprika (I think) and black pepper, topped with pleasing golden crunchy scallops. And maybe a few peas and tender baby onions, or slender green beans.
4) Pear "Alouette." This was their own version of what I now know is "poire belle Helene," but I've never had any quite as good. It was poached to (not mushy) softness, probably in a bath spiked with liqueur of some sort. Bittersweet melty chocolate coated all of one side. It was then placed on a bed of marzipan cake, and surrounded by fresh whipped cream.

I loved the food for its textures and tastes, obviously, but I'm sure the whole experience has a Proustian resonance for me. "Going out to eat" was a happy time, and had a feeling of Event to it, somehow, even at the most casual place.

*(sadly long defunct; it was a down-to-earth, not-too-pricey, non-nouvelle, homey, set-menu-having French restaurant of the sort that one still finds in New York, particularly around the theatre district, but is now rare as hen's teeth in L.A., if not actually extinct. That I know of, anyway).