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The importance of Stories

Did you see my last column in the paper? It is HERE if you didn’t, or if you just want to read it again and again to be sure it is really there…or is that just me?

Lately I have been thinking quite a bit about where I get my food tastes, what brought us here and why we have the values that we do in the restaurant. It all leads back to love and I have decided that I want to share some of it with you. A glimpse into the life of a restaurateur who is passionate about so many things. I was going to write a quick entry about it and then it started to evolve into something more, and too long to be just one entry. So the next few blogs will be my version of my story. Food memories, other memories and all of my senses have been involved in the planning of this. On Saturday mom and I went to see and hear the lovely Molly Wizenberg, author of one of the first major food blogs ever, Orangette, and then a book: A Homemade Life. Molly and her husband Brandon own Delancey Pizza in Ballard, she writes for Bon Appetit magazine, and if that weren’t enough she shared with us, her adoring audience at the Tacoma Art Museum, that she and Brandon recently got a dog! (Sidenote: Mark is forever telling me that we cannot have a dog right now because instead we have a restaurant and therefore no time to spend with a dog. I have been arguing that I would take the dog with me everywhere and the dog and I would spend all kinds of time together! We could make a doggy bed outside the cafe and doggy will love it! He just grumbles about needing a fence at home and calls me unrealistic which is beside the point. sigh.) So anyway as I was listening to Molly for the first time I realized that I wanted to tell more of the story than I was and hopefully you want to know more of the story, so I have decided to make it an installment series as far as blog entries go. So here we go…

My mother tells me that my first food memories stem from when I was less than 3 years old. Random thoughts: I ate graham crackers and called them ‘cookie nummy nums’; we lived across the street(and railroad tracks) from the Bur Bee Candy Company, though I have no recollection of ever going there or getting candy from there… it may have been shut down even then. I know that my grandparents played a role; my maternal grandmother (Marylee) taught me how to eat an artichoke when I was three years old, and it is a distinctive memory that I hold dear. She sat me on the couch to wait as she steamed the artichokes in the kitchen. The fact that I was seated on the sofa and waiting for her, rather than watching from a chair in the kitchen, was how I knew it was a special moment. She was treating me like ‘company’, and making a ritual around this event, which was something Gramma loved to do. She carried the steamy artichokes in with a side of melted butter and placed them on the coffee table. She showed me how to peel off the leaves and dip them in butter, then scrape the meatiest part off with my teeth. I love artichokes to this day! She must have been very adamant that I not eat the choke because I still get nervous when I see choke on my artichoke hearts! When I was a teenager I decided that I did not like the hearts (makes me shake my head in wonder now) and so I only wanted to eat the leaves. This made my great-grandmother-aka ‘Gram’- (Marylee’s mother, Dorothea) very happy because she did not like the tedium of the leaves.

I remember picking blackberries in the patch between our little house and gramma and grampa’s house (same piece of property) in Walla Walla. I remember my paternal grandfather (Dick) pulling over at someone’s farm and ‘sneaking’ into the pea patch to pick fresh peas for us to shell and eat right there like it was candy. (I am sure he knew the farmer, but he made a game out of it like we were being naughty, which of course made it more fun! We shouldn’t tell gramma (Louise) or she would be mad at him!) Of course he was also the one to take us to Baskin & Robbins where I always got Pralines & Cream ice cream. I remember my maternal grandfather (Virgil) growing tomatoes on their deck and they tasted just like heirloom tomatoes do at the farmer’s markets today. Marylee made ‘hamburger sandwiches’. When all the other adults got together to make liver & onions, grampa Virgil gathered up all the kids and got us out of the house. This was unique since the usual rule was that we had to have one bite of everything, and then we could go. Grampa hated liver and onions so much that he over-ruled the rule and took us kids with him when he escaped the smell. He took us to Ice-berg Drive-in for burgers and shakes. I have never been a fan of big chain fast food and it was rare that we ate fast food in general. When we did I mainly remember it being at local independent places like the Ice-Berg, and it was so good that it’s still there. Chocolate-banana milkshakes with premium ice cream and real chunks of banana in that thick chocolate! My mouth is watering with that memory.

Birthdays were really celebrated and the ‘rule’ was that we could have anything we wanted to eat on our birthday. I always wanted something like steak and lobster, so my folks were saving up all year for me because I never chose anything like fast food or quick serve places. I have never worked in fast food, though I’ve had friends who did, and in high school my best friend worked at Taco Time. I would go visit Lana at work and sometimes she would bring me something to eat and, ironically, she always made me something that was embellished and not on the menu. So even when I did eat fast food I didn’t technically eat the food that others did. I stayed with Gram for some time after high school graduation and on my nights off from the restaurant that I worked at we would go get Chinese take out, then go to the Burger King drive-through and get milkshakes. Yes, I know it is odd, Chinese food and milkshakes, but Gram loved it and it was her idea and it was just funny and strange enough for me to totally support it! We shared artichokes and acted like 2 teenagers home alone for the weekend, doing things our parents would never have approved of, and it distracted me from my first (and so far only) broken heart, which I am sure was her intention all along.

We vacationed at the beach, both the Oregon and Washington coasts. I was on the beach making sand candles with Marylee when Elvis died. There were always lots of snack foods: licorice, peanuts, cookies, chips, etc… though we vacationed with other family friends and so did not go out to eat, we cooked. We went to Ocean Shores to go razor clam digging and mom and gramma, etc, made clam chowder and broiled steaks and Aunt Betty (who is not really my aunt but my grandfather’s niece, which is confusing so I have always called her aunt) fished for sturgeon and that is still my favorite swimming fish to eat. We ate foods that members of the family fished, foraged, dug, and at Dick & Louise’s house I seem to remember venison that someone hunted. We got sides of beef from the local ranchers and in general what I remember is that most often we made our own food. Mom and dad both worked (I was the original latch-key kid) and of course they dipped into the frozen convenience foods now and then. I also remember mom teaching us how to dry and roast our own sunflower seeds. We had fresh peaches and at the neighbors we churned fresh peach ice cream (I hated churning!) I developed food sensitivities that I grew in and out of: tomatoes and peanuts each made me throw up at different times and I love them both to this day! (Though I hate catsup!)

Dad made popcorn on the weekends and it is still my favorite snack. Mark makes it on the stove in a stainless steel popper and I love it! Friday night was ‘eat wherever you want to’ night, so we were freed from dining at the dinner table with the family. My sister usually opted for eating in front of the tv (we were limited in tv hours so maybe it didn’t count against hers, I don’t remember. Or more likely, as mom would say to my sister Lisa: we liked you better so we gave you more tv time; mom would say to me: we liked you better so we saved your brain for better things.) I would more often want to eat in my room. More specifically I would eat in my closet. I had a ‘fort’ carved out in there with a blanket and pillow, a little lamp, a round red plastic am/fm radio with dials that made it look like an alien smiley face, and lots of books. I have always loved to read and I would sit in there and read for hours. When I wasn’t reading I was creating fantasy day dreams that were quite elaborate. Sometimes I would sing and on Friday ‘eat wherever you want to’ nights, I would dine in my fort. No one else could come in and I thought that no one knew of my private world, it was my secret space.

I don’t have a fort in my closet anymore, though I do still love to read and I have a very active imagination. Pretty much every night is ‘eat wherever you want to’ night at our house and while it would not necessarily surprise Mark to find me eating in my closet, he would probably shake his head in wonder and ask me if there was anything that I needed, because he always takes good care of me. Except for when I need a dog… but I digress.

Do you want a recipe this week? How about instead a list of books about food. These books are all on my wish list, some of which I have read, and others that I have not read but really, really want to. Not in any particular order:

‘Take Big Bites’ by Linda Ellerbee (whom I ADORE)-this one is food and travel
‘In Defense of Food’ and ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma’ by Michael Pollan
‘Forking Fantastic’ by Tamara Reynolds, Zora O’Neill
‘The Deluxe Food Lover’s Companian’ by Ron Herbst
‘Animal, Vegetable, Miracle’ by Barbara Kingsolver
‘Slow Food, the Case for Taste’ by Carlo Petrini
‘The Art of Eating’ (and anything else written) by MFK Fisher
‘An Omelette and A Glass of Wine’ by Elizabeth David
‘The United States of Arugula: How We Became a Gourmet Nation’ by David Kamp
‘Best Food Writing 2008’
‘Slice of Organic Life’ (and anything written) by Alice Waters
‘Fast Food Nation’ by Eric Schlosser
anything written by Ruth Reichl
‘Gluten Free Girl’ by Shauna James Ahearn and watch for her new one coming out!

There are a billion more out there… tell me what you think I should read, I would love to add to my wish list!