by Franklin Crawford
I don't remember my first solid food. I remember my baby bottles, how they were gathered up one day and thrown out. It traumatized me. A pack of dogs knocked over the garbage cans and the bottles, my lifelines, were strewn all over the lawn. I shrieked.
From that point on, I was not to suck on a rubber-nibbed bottle, but to take my nourishment from a glass or at table with the family. I'm sure Mom cut my dinner meat into bits for me and I must've been trained to use a fork, but I was bottle-weaned, not breast fed, and the bottle was my solace. The rubber nipple was the perfect way to chew and drink at the same time.
You'd think one's first solid food would be a memorable thing. I don't recall any of my first meals. Later, I do recall trying to hide pieces of liver in my mashed potatoes because I was not as adept as my brother at slipping it to the dog. I was told to eat it all and my brother was no helper. Having discarded his foul meat, he told me I was a coward and that "John Wayne would eat his liver."
As I understand now, it was John Wayne's liver that eventually did him in. I sat there alone and choked it all down.
My mother was incredibly patient preparing food. No one could make a better glass of chocolate milk and no one could take longer doing it. Her peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were composed with great care and she buttered the bread before applying the nut and berry smack. I remember that as being the best chewing food, although baloney sandwiches were a close second.
Slices of meat right out of the package or, rarely, from the deli, were a delight. Certain foods excited me and I would dance a little baloney jig when the food hit my gut. I tried explaining the baloney dance to my immediate family but they didn’t get it. Aunt Terry, who was Italian, totally understood the baloney dance.
“Oh I get it! The food makes you so happy you want to dance!”
Yes! Someone understood. And not just anybody: Aunt Terry made the best eggplant parmesan ever.
I still missed the bottle. I would rediscover them in another form soon enough, taking sip-sips from Daddy's Schaeffer Party Bottles. Ah! To drink from a bottle like Dad! That’s the ticket. And there was a bonus to this beverage not to be found in chocolate milk. Beer made the world softer, fuzzier and dreamy. That was food, dammit! After a few sips I was swaddled in crib memories and the colorful bird mobile hovered above me, just out of reach, the vibrant reds, yellows and blues made me drool and I wanted to suckle them but they were always out of reach. Eating colors was a problem for my brother. I would sometimes chew on his painstakingly painted model cars. He cuffed, me once, for ruining his work: Twice for being stupid enough to eat poison.
But let us move onto later times when the whole house cleared out whenever Dad got it into him to make a specialty of his called "clamcakes." It was always on a Saturday, the day Mom listened to the Texaco Opera Broadcast, but even she disappeared once Dad showed up with a bushel of "chowders" – big bivalves he bought direct from clam diggers down by the docks. He was happy on those days. No one else was, and I guess I felt sorry for him because I stayed to watch him shuck dozens of clams into a big pot. I must’ve been about ten years old. Dad could shuck with the best of ‘m and I watched his competent hands crack, scrape and disgorge the clam bodies. They plopped into the big pot that slowly filled with stuff I didn’t know much about.
He fed the clam bodies into the spout of a hand-cranked meat grinder, clamped to the counter. The slurpy sound is with me still, a perversely succulent noise that reminded me of the dog licking his genitals. Dad moved with an economy of motion gained from his work as a master carpenter. His motions were a study in efficiency and purpose. I learned a lot watching him. I never learned a damn thing about carpentry – or making clamcakes for that matter. But I loved to see him in action.
I didn't care for seafood as a kid, which is a damned shame because we lived on the Great South Bay and could have all we wanted. Seafood tasted like poop to me. Although, for absolute food horror, liver remained solid-food enemy number one. What I really craved was sugar. I wanted sugar in a bottle. Coca-Cola helped a lot. I drank a lot of soda and was occasionally invited for sip-sips of beer. The soda was sweet; the beer was bitter. But beer was in a bottle and there was that dreamy reward I would never forget.
Having filled a second pot with gooey clam bits, Dad rubbed his hands together excitedly. Here his genius for using every seasoning on the shelf revealed itself. I used to remember the ingredients, but I don't any more. The only thing that didn't go into the clamcake batter, it seemed, was more clams. Dad tossed in this and that, worked his secret recipe into a batter with his hands, his thick forearms deep in the pot, making more squeamish sounds.
"This is good stuff, Fritz," he'd say, using my nickname at the time. To think he fought in a war against Germany and gave me that handle is a bit of a wonder still. "This is gonna make a man out of you. You can't beat my clamcakes. Best damned food ever."
The recipe included a generous amount of beer. I got to drain the bottle.
What happened next? The whole lot was dumped into as many baking pans and dishes as we had. The boats of clammy freight were smothered in seasoned bread crumbs and shoveled into the oven.
Then we waited … and waited.
How long did I sit there in the dimly lit kitchen on a summer afternoon when there were so many other things to be doing? Forever. I was the only one who braved the whole thing. My brother took off, my sister was gone somewhere. Mom was next door drinking Four Roses with the neighbor, Annie Mae, listening to her extensive collection of 45s, blues, R&B, soul. I studied the second hand on the clock, each tick an event. The house filled with the redolent odor of baking clams. This was not like any picnic I ever knew. This was personal. Dad was making loaves of clams, the way you bake bread. It took hours, but there was great expectation in that hot kitchen air choked with shellfish odors.
I felt much older by the time the first batch was done. The moment came to sample the goods. Dad blew hot steam off a hunk on the very first forkful. He took a nibble, then a bite. He face expressed something as close to joy as I’d ever seen.
“Deee-licious!” he announced.
“Your turn, Fritzie!”
I obeyed. Dad served me a lump. I opened my mouth, closed my eyes. Jesus in pajamas was it ever awful! But I didn’t gag. I couldn’t do that in front of my father, not on this day of days, not at that hallowed hour.
"Ain't it the best stuff ever?" Dad said. "We got enough for two, three days!"
I nodded, swallowing hard. It was good, Dad. The best ever. My eyes watered. I asked for some sip-sips and got my own bottle! Proof that I was a son worthy of Dad's supreme culinary achievement: Clamcakes! Clamcakes for the rest of our lives!
Of course I had to eat them with him, because nobody else would – a huge insult to my father who brooded over his clamcake meals, hot or cold, washed down with beer out in his shop, a sullen repast.
“This family, all of ‘em with their heads in the air, not a one knowing a good thing when you stick it under their noses. To hell with ‘m.”
Did that include me? I hoped not, because I sensed his hurt and I sat with him and I sacrificed myself to his gift of cold clamcakes.
If I had thoughts that maybe I’d have more fun outside with the dog, they were dispelled when Dad, tipping back the remains of a bottle, belched, then said: “Fritzie, toss this in the barrel and get me another, would ya?”
I took the empty to the big steel drum, dropped it, walked to the old Frigidaire.
“While you’re at it, get one for yourself. We’re gonna have ourselves a meal.”
Yes! To hell with the rest of them! We sat, we ate, we drank. With enough salt and enough beer, the clamcakes tasted of sweat, rusty nails, sawdust, piss and tears. It was the very stuff of my father himself and I ate him and I drank him and I loved him.
Don Pawberlone & Franklin
I’d always had a sweet tooth, but about twenty-six years ago I suddenly developed absolutely insane cravings for desserts. I’d mix double batches of chocolate-chip cookie dough and eat half the batter raw. Then, I’d eat a bunch of mouth-singeing cookies minutes after taking them out of the oven. Harley was lucky if there were a few cookies left for him.
When I went grocery shopping in Wegmans, I’d fill a small bag with cookies and chocolates from the bulk food section, pay for my groceries and devour everything in the bag before I got home. Sometimes I managed to resist and didn’t buy any crap in Wegmans. But then, on the way home my cravings would overtake me and I’d stop at the little store where I usually bought gas. I’d buy myself horrible things like stale cookies, or cup cakes with gross icing on top and goopy-crap inside them, and eat all of it before I pulled into our driveway.
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EatingWith the Ancestors
by Nancy Vieira Couto
Those milk bottles, with a generous amount of cream at the top, reminded me of the milk of my childhood, but I should say right from the start that milk and I have always had a difficult relationship. I remember that we had three kinds of milk in our tenement: chocolate milk, coffee milk, and plain milk. Chocolate milk had some sort of cocoa powder stirred into it, while coffee milk was made with Silmo Coffee Syrup, a long-gone product that was once a staple in the New Bedford area. Of the three, plain milk was the one I liked the least, although it was the simplest to prepare. My mother would remove the orange cellophane from the top of the milk bottle, rinse the top of the cardboard cap, and give the bottle a vigorous shake. Then she would remove the cap, pour some milk into a saucepan, and start warming it up. Of course when my mother poured the warm plain milk over my breakfast Cheerioats, they immediately turned to mush. Truth is, I didn't like Cheerioats much either, and changing the name to Cheerios didn't make them any less mushy. I didn't know then, and didn't learn until I was in college, that other people enjoyed their cereal with cold milk.
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Where Food Goes
by David S. Warren
So we bought a fruit crusher and new, larger press to use on our pears when they ripened last summer: a mixture of sweet and tart, mostly Asian pears. Some of the cider was consumed when still fresh and sweet, and most is now in the later stages of fermentation.
Meanwhile we had realized that a cider press is about the same thing as a cheese press. Being big cheese eaters,we ordered the basic tools, the coagulants and the fermentation cultures to make most any cheese.
Of course cheese making doesn’t always require a press, or need to be a lot more complicated than letting raw milk go sour. I heard on the radio that in prison, where improvisation is necessary, determined cheese-addicts use Real Lemon concentrated juice to coagulate non-dairy creamer. And there it is: easy cheesy.
We have now read so many recipes for cheese making that we are dazed and confused or maybe confused and dazed. The biggest cheesiest site on the internet has hundreds a recipes - new ones all the time, including some for mozzarella, one of which claims to be an easy thirty minute mozzarella, perfect for kids.
Don’t be fooled. The thirty minute mozzarella took a day and a half; we nearly scalded our hands in the process and never got the stuff to be stretchy as pizza dough, like it is supposed to be. So we don’t suggest you make it your first cheese.
You might want to begin with the prison cheese version, or better than that: try making the simple Portuguese kitchen cheese that Nancy Vieira Couto writes about in this issue of the magazine.
(read the beginning of this article)
Dull Ny Thinger
by Gabreal Orgrease
“Hey, sonny doy, dull ny thinger.”
“I’m not yer Granda ya little tord. Now dull ny thinger.”
Aubergine Bawcutt, the talking eggplant, is the infamous Catskill ventriloquist Lorne Surlingham’s most famous dummy. Which is not saying a whole lot for dummies or back alley ventriloquists. A fat purple eggplant poked onto the top end of a broomstick, fastened with brass thumbtacks -- white eyes of radish slices with red peel rings, a petite carrot nose and a thin white-green slice for a mouth. The Chef’s Dummy they used to call her in the good old days on the underground circuit. A sort of Ubu Roi take-off in the vegetable and janitorial kingdom that never translated well to television but was a backstage hit at a thousand and twenty-three catered birthday parties.
“Oh man, grandpa, do you really have to do that? It isn’t funny any more.”
(read this story in its entirety)
by Sue-Ryn Burns
One Saturday shortly after July 4th, when it was fairly quiet and we had released most of the first-litter squirrels and had most of the waterfowl in outside pens, the phone rang. In what can only be considered a moment of temporary insanity, I agreed to take 11 baby Opossums, rescued from a very busy roadside after their mother was killed by a car.
I was of course immediately charmed by the cute little babies. They look like they're wearing opera gloves and their tails are like a fifth hand. Their big pink scalloped ears have black stripes. They each had a widow's peak! They seem to be always in some kind of physical contact with each other – piled up to sleep, sitting on each other, holding paws, or keeping their tails entwined.
(read this entire story here) _______________________
Sharing food with family and friends, while appreciating life’s blessings, can be a form of mindfulness that allows us to receive more energy from our food.
While enjoying food with Reiki practitioners, it’s not unusual to see people holding their hands above their food to fill it with Reiki before they eat. Most people seem to have the right attitude that this is a blessing and an enhancement of the food. But it’s clear that some are worried that the food might have negative energy within it.
When we experience fear, worry or anger, we cannot practice mindfulness. These feelings disconnect us and take us out of the Now. We feel unloved and unsupported. “Be Grateful,” the third Reiki Principle taught by Usui Sensei, serves as advice to help us become centered. Being grateful means nourishing gratitude in your heart, for no specific reason. It means being grateful for the gift of existence. Gratitude brings you here, into the present moment. When you are present, you are connected with all of life, with all of creation. And all is well.
All is as it should be.
(read this entire article here)
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