My first food was breast milk, and I hope yours was, too: A finer cuisine for an infant just does not exist. Add to that the fact that it is usually served up by a chef with soft arms, an hypnotic heartbeat, and loving eyes, and I feel quite fortunate to have ever feasted at such a deli. In fact, the bonding that occurs with nursing is the start of a person’s ability to love someone (‘attach’) later.
But as was typical of the times, I soon moved on…
I don’t recall the baby foods that were being marketed as ‘superior’ for babies and ‘convenient’ for busy moms. My earliest memories of the development of a more catholic palate began about the same time as the de-pantsing debacle described in my last post, Of Perverts, Prophets and Posts.
I was four-ish, my mom was a young divorcèe, and we lived in Los Angeles. When I wasn’t in nursery school, and she wasn’t working, as far as I was concerned, we were just two swinging girls out on the town! She was the blonde, buxom vixen with pouty lips, Marilyn Monroe style, while I, the brunette, was more the Jane Russell type (at least in my mind) – the sassy sidekick but nonetheless quite a looker in her own right. Put us in some mother/daughter sundresses and matching huaraches, on the leather seats of my uncle’s borrowed white convertible T-bird, and all I can say is – watch out, boys!
It seems I’ve digressed, but let me just say here and now that I think the appropriate fashion adornment can be essential to sense and setting. In Licking the Spoon, my book about food, sex and relationship, I take the time to paint a verbal picture of the vestments that can help to create a mood. For example, in Chapter 2, “Latin Lover Pasta (Finding Him),” I describe the tantalizing look and feel of silk caressing a woman’s cleavage, and the masculine appeal of a man in a crisp white shirt.
But the point is, a girl needs to eat. And so, as my mom and I cruised the not-yet-so-mean streets of the City of Angels, waving to men in uniform and being whistled at by laborers and businessmen alike, we also stopped, as the budget allowed, to sample the culinary offerings of the time. In colorful Mexican cantinas with tile fountains and mariachi music, we enjoyed steaming platters of cheesy goodness. Dark Chinese dens, eerie with fish tanks, promised hot crunchy egg rolls along with little parasols in the Shirley Temples. Juicy farm-raised California beef burgers (not the polluted burgers of today) on toasted Kaiser rolls, with crisp lettuce, mayonnaise and sweet onions, were served up by perky teenagers, not in drive-throughs but at drive-ins where one could see and be seen.
Even the more pedestrian fare we ate at home had a certain panache. Like when Mom let me cut corn tortillas into cookie shapes before steaming and serving with butter. And how on Wednesday nights when she had to work, her father gave me a bowl of canned chili and a glass of wine before putting me up on a stepstool to wash our dishes. (He had that babysitting thing down!) I don’t approve of giving alcohol to children, but I know that there are cultural pre- and proscriptions about it. My grandfather’s culture, I suspect, was the one of “make sure that kid gets to sleep!”
Right or wrong, there began my memory of a lifelong romance with the sensual experience of dining. Does it call up any memories of your own?