I’m grateful for green beans, but give them to me raw, straight out of the bag. This is a habit that I got from my grandmothers. Grandma R grew green beans and we would drive them across town to Grandma L’s house, freshly picked from the garden. We would sit around the table in her aqua blue kitchen, the two of them catching up, all of us snacking on the green beans, fresh and crisp, right out of the bag. These are the moments that I remember most when I think back on my childhood visits to Long Island. They remind me that so much of our food habits come from those around us simply because we learn to do what they do.
There is a funny story about my older brother. When he was just a baby, our great grandmother fed him collard greens, something no one expected him to like. She just sat him down in her lap and offered him a spoonful. He tasted it, liked it and ate the whole bowl. There is a picture of the two of them. He’s sitting in her lap, in a green onesey, and she’s looking down at him through her round glasses, smiling. This is how I will forever envision that moment, always with a little envy, because I never got to meet her.
At most family get togethers you’ll find a pot of greens stewing with smoked turkey or ham hocks on the stove. Just last week I wanted to make some but realized that I never learned how. I conjured up the sweet, smoky and briny flavor, but couldn’t imagine what went into the pot to create it. I reached for the phone to call someone for help but my husband encouraged me to try on my own. I poured chicken broth into a small pot with several smoked chicken wings and two bunches of roughly chopped collard greens. I covered the pot and watched through the glass top as the collards started to steam and turn bright green. Soon enough, my apartment was filled with a familiar smell. When I tasted the greens I was pleasantly surprised. Somehow, three simple ingredients, with enough time and heat, had melded into one of the flavors of my childhood.
Food memories are like that, a combination of aromas, flavors and feelings. They connect us to our families and communities, allow us to converse with our ancestors and help us hold on to or transform the best and worst moments from our past. When I discuss the idea of eating differently with clients I know that we are talking about more than food. I help them slowly begin the process of acknowledging the emotional connections they make with food and consider if there are other ways that they can be experienced or expressed, without letting go of precious memories.
I am grateful for my food memories. I remember mom’s bread pudding with sticky sweet whiskey sauce, which she made for elaborate dinner parties that made me feel like a grown-up. I remember dad’s dinners. The distinct smell of fresh ginger and garlic hitting the hot wok would fill up the whole house, letting us know dinner was coming. I remember my brother’s bacon and cheddar omelet, a salty, greasy, in-front-of-the-TV dinner on the nights he baby sat. I remember Grandma L’s stuffing and gravy, which has always been my favorite post-thanksgiving breakfast. I remember Grandma R’s freshly picked tomatoes and green beans and those lazy summer afternoons spent catching up in a hot, blue kitchen.
What do you remember?
Category: Health and Nutrition