Thursday, November 30, 2006

I'm a time traveling nostalgic fool

Think time travel is tough? Nah. We all do it, practically every day.

I've just come back from the early 1970s, Xmas eve, dressed in my flannel footie jammies, my long brown hair frazzled with excitement, as I open my packages. The shag carpet is green and long (you could lose a small kitten in it, I'm sure). The furniture is Early American, and the picture window drapes are heavy olive-green numbers backed with a strange rubbery substance to keep out light. My little brother is in the picture somewhere, but he's important only in that he stays out of my path to the presents. In the corner of the living room is the red brick cardboard fireplace that my dad would assemble every Xmas season for us to pin our stockings on, in hopes Santa would fill them with the usual nuts, hard candies, and hopefully a few small toys.

So how did I travel backward thirty years? I've just finished off a sugar cookie my son made last night. The taste of a sugar cookie instantly places me in my childhood home, the scent of vanilla, sugar and flour filling the air, and always it's Xmas and Elvis Presley is singing about a white one, because that's when Mom dragged out the dozens of cookie cutters and rolling pin and worked all day to make treats for us.

If I nibble a square of rhubarb, I'm magically transported to my Grandma's garden, sitting on a blanket next to my brother. I've been given the cup of sugar to hold, while grandma hacks off a few huge stalks of rhubarb and hands them to us. We dip the juicy thick end in the sugar and savor. We never cut of the big leafy end; that's the cool part--the trio of us, sitting there with our rhubarb cigars, roasting in the summer sun.

Hamburger invariably transports me back to 1973 (I'm 8) and the evening news is playing in the living room as I stare at a huge chunk of uncrumbled, tough, cold hamburger (a remnant of the lasagna my mother cooked. I can't fathom eating that chunk, so utterly solid and not mixed with anything, so it is literally a slab of cow. It is HUGE. My mother (in a rare stubborn streak) insists I not leave the table until I clean my plate. I sit for over an hour, and I'm sure I hear M*A*S*H playing in the other room (which I love) but I cannot choke it down. I am hot and clammy at the same time. My throat has shut off. I Can Not Do It. I go to bed immediately that night, the hamburger chunk sitting somewhere in the garbage can (where it belongs) To this day hamburger disturbs me. Just ask my kids, whom I always summon to assist should I need to fry hamburger for a recipe. And please, chop it in tiny bits. When they've finished, I have to grab a fork and go at the cooked crumbles myself, ensuring they are microscopic. (And no, it is NOT crumbled finely enough in this pic. Somebody get the fork!) Yikes! Talk about a traumatic trip! Back to the present, please!

I've got thousands of pleasant taste travels. The icey Mr. Freeze treats place me on a bicycle, my 10 yr old legs peddling through the neighborhood, happy as a cat with cream. Roast beef and dumplings transport me to my grandma's kitchen, stirring with a stew of relatives, the windows fogged because grandma has been cooking all morning for a big family event. Vanilla ice cream will now place me in a trendy little restaurant across from the Trocadero in Paris where I tasted the most divine ice cream ever only this year. SweetTarts bring me back to my first kiss...

Oh no, I don't kiss and tell!

So what's your favorite taste travel? Are there some foods that always bring you to the same place, or can they change locations?


Betina Krahn said...

Michele, what a vivid memory you have. . . and so lyrical! I want to go back and eat sugar cookies with you!

Coming from a semi-southern state, I have a massive fondness for brown beans cooked with ham and cornbread. The taste takes me back to my girlhood and reminds me of my dad.

The smell of ham baking reminds me of Saturday nights when I was young. . . my mom baked a ham with the pineapple-brown sugar glaze on Saturday night so we could have it for Sunday dinner, especially when the minister was coming to eat.

And as for traveling. . . gellato in Rome. . . to die for. And cappucinno in Arles in Provence. Oh-- and of course, the corn dogs at the state fair. . .

Agh! You got me started! And after I've lost 7 pounds!!!

;) Betina

Helen Brenna said...

Michele, my mouth started watering as I read your description of rhubard and sugar. What a memory that is!

Crab apples take me back to summer in my neighbors back yard. We'd pick them off his tree and he run out after us and yell, "You kids get out of my yard or I'll shoot ya with my tirty tirty!"

Chicken liver's a Sunday morning in my childhood kitchen, my mom at the stove frying up our traditional Sunday lunch.

Do you remember the old hams that still had the rind/skin? Every Easter we'd crack off the chunk and chew and chew!

What a fun topic!

lois greiman said...

Lefsa. My mother is full blooded German and has made lefse every holiday for my Norwegian father for as long as I can remember. I'd sit on the counter, where I wasn't generally allowed to sit, curl my skinny little (those were the days) legs up under me and help her turn them on the electric griddle. I got to eat the imperfect ones, so I was sure to ruin a few. They were sooooooooo good, butter all melty when I rolled them up. Yikes. I'm going to call Mom right now and ask her to start cooking potatoes.

Michele said...

Hams, crab apples and lefse? I just did some more time traveling!

So Lois, do you eat lefse with butter and sugar?


Candace said...

One whiff of salt water taffy and I'm back on the boardwalk in Santa Cruz, CA. I can smell the Pacific Ocean and the coconut suntan lotion, feel the salty breeze in my face and the sun on my shoulders, and hear the screaming gulls as they fight over the hotdog somebody dropped in the sand.

Fresh carrots, just pulled from the garden,with the faint smell of earth still clinging to them, and I'm a kid on the farm again, wiping that carrot clean on the seat of my jeans before I eat it.

Debra Dixon said...

Oh my gosh, my mother is just a wonderful cook and there are so many foods that transport me back to a particular time and place.

If I see Crabmeat Imperial on a restaurant menu, all I can think of is the special occasions when we all got the fabulous serving dishes that were actual big thin/wide shells and my sister and I eyed each other to be sure neither of us got more than the other.

Oranges will forever remind me of Christmas morning because they were always in the stocking.

Any sort of creamsicle reminds me of being six, wearing the foo-foo dresses we even played in if Mother would let me and trying not to get ice cream on it.

lois greiman said...

Sugar is lefse is for demons, Michele.