A few Sundays ago, I wrote a post remembering Peter Jennings. His passing had sparked memories of my childhood, as I associated the anchorman who joined my family via a small glowing box in our living room with family dinnertime. I reminisced about the lazy Susan on our dinner table, the foods we ate, and even the topics of Dad’s many lectures (he still asks us about the Rule of 72 today). ABC World News Tonight with Peter Jennings makes me think of linguine with white clam sauce from a can.
What an odd coincidence that the same night that I wrote that blog entry about Peter Jennings, a fellow food blogger sent me an email tagging me with the Childhood Food Memories meme that has been floating around the blogosphere of late.
"The rules of this meme are simple. Write about five foods from your childhood that you miss...what's the catch? There is none, really.”
Between the linguine with white clam sauce and this meme I caught from Pam (*whoa* that sounds so wrong, doesn’t it?), guess it was about time for me do the Mr. Miyagi, and wax on, wax off, about foods from my childhood.
The instructions say that there is no catch, but there are three little words in the rules of this little game that make this a very big challenge for me: “that you miss.” There are lots of foods that were my favorites when I was a child, even as a teen, but I’m not exactly sure I can say that I miss them now. So in order to really see if if these things were ones “that I miss,” I went out and did the best I could to recreate the foods I loved as a child and taste them again as an adult. Did they really taste good to me when I was a child and I do miss their taste? Or do I only have fond memories of the food simply because I associate them with a time when childhood life was easy, carefree, and if I were to taste them now they’d taste like poo? Let's see...
Linguine with White Clam Sauce
Sometimes it’s called linguine alla vongole – hand made pasta tossed with clams, briny liquor spilling out of their shells creating a decadent sauce with the olive oil, garlic, and white wine.That’s in fancy Italian restaurants. In the Delicious kitchen, Mom opened two cans of “white clam sauce,” mixed it with two cans of New England clam chowder, and served it over spaghetti noodles. When I think about it now, I have no idea why she added clam chowder, but obviously, I never thought twice about those grainy little diced potatoes when I was seven. I also never thought twice about eating linguine with kimchee and dahk-wahng, a Korean sweet pickled radish.
I looked for the same brand of white clam sauce at Ralph’s (because I was quite certain I wouldn’t find anything we ever ate when I was a child at Whole Foods), but I didn’t see it. I couldn’t remember the name of the brand, but I distinctly remember the can being bright blue, because yes, I used to help Mom “cook” by opening cans. I also don’t know if Ralphs just doesn’t carry condensed clam chowder, or if Campbell’s doesn’t make it anymore, but I had to settle for some healthy crap brand with 99% less taste. Unlike Mom who used spaghetti noodles, probably because unless it was soba, ramen, or udon, every other noodle is the same to her, I actually had linguine in my pantry.
It said white clam sauce on the can, and I look now and there are no instructions that say “Add canned soup” so I have no idea why Mom felt it necessary to add clam chowder. *shrugs* I added the two together, heated it in the microwave (that’s exactly how Mom did it), then ladled some over cooked noodles. I didn’t feel like traipsing all the way out to K-town for dahk-wahng just so I could eat it with the linguine like I used to – this is a focking internet game, loser! Why so serious?
But I did have kimchee, and when I wrapped a big, stinky, fishy piece of kimchee around a little bite of noodles with my chopsticks, it left a beautiful fermented red orange paisley swirl with the cream sauce in the bowl, just like I remembered. I did say chopsticks, because despite my Dad’s wishes for us to be American with forks, there wasn’t a thing we didn’t eat with chopsticks. Even turkey and stuffing with gravy. By the way, I couldn’t believe it, but when I put the linguine in the bowl, I realized it was the same bowl that we used as kids. Mom had bequeathed those lovely relics on me when I moved into my first apartment in college, and I’ve just never really had a reason to throw them away. Or maybe I’ve just been too cheap to buy more dishes
It tasted exactly what noodles in a 1:1 mixture of canned white clam sauce and canned New England clam chowder would taste like. Except with kimchee. It didn’t taste bad, but the sauce was little runny for my taste, and some of the clams tasted sandy. *ew* I guess either I had already eaten so much dirt from playing outside or my Dad's lectures were so captivating that I never noticed the sand when I was seven. Oh well. Next!
Canned Meat Products
When I type it out, “canned meat” looks and reads absolutely disgusting. I’m not sure why canned meats were so prevalent in the Delicious lifestyle of the 1980s. It might have been that canned meats were extremely popular for some silly macroeconomic reason in American households when I was a child. Or my immigrant parents were innocently brainwashed into thinking these were real “American” foods. Or perhaps canned meat really tastes good. Or maybe my family was just so poverty-stricken that we had no other option. Whatever it was, I never questioned our meals. I just did the best to make taste as good as possible to me, and that meant even at age five, I was mixing heaping tablespoons of goh-choo-jahng (Korean red pepper paste) into my Dinty Moore Beef Stew or Hormel Corned Beef Hash over rice. Who says taste is learned? I was born with fire on my tongue.
I couldn’t believe that I actually found both of those things at the market. I don’t even remember when I stopped eating them, but for some reason, it had been so long that I thought maybe they had gone out of production. Maybe they have and the ones I bought have been sitting on that shelf since 1983, because when I opened the can of corned beef hash, I was scared. I swear to Julia, it looked and smelled like dog food. Holy shiitake, had Mom been feeding us dog food this whole time?!?! I stuck my spoon into the solid mass and when I pulled it out with a heaping spoonful of Alpo, it made a weird sort of shlooping hissing noise. *shudder* I heated it up with white rice, and oddly enough, it was in the same small little semi-opaque Corningware mini casserole with the olive green design that we used when we were little. Aw, kind of nostalgic! But still kind of mad at myself that I had no problem eating dog food when I was younger. *sigh* When it’s heated, corned beef hash looks much more edible. And if you use enough goh-choo-jahng, you can’t taste the processed “meat” at all.
The beef stew was much better, but I was sort of worried that the “beef” looked so....real. I mean, they really look like little chunks of beef! Wow, technology.
On the canned meat products, I will say though, that I never liked Spam, even though to this day, my sisters and father insist on adding it kimchee jjigae and bokkeum-bahp. *gross* At least I’ll give them credit for cooking it, because I have seen some people eat Spam raw (though how something that is neither a plant nor an “animal” could ever be considered raw is actually up for debate).Vienna sausages, on the other hand, I could eat right out of the can. Vienna “sausages.” (Why does everything from a can have to have quotation marks?)
Vienna “sausages.” Isn’t that digusting?!?! Oh well, I loved it when I was little so I tried them again. And yes, not only do they look disgusting, but they pretty much taste disgusting too. I am starting to wonder about my childhood taste. But who knows, maybe I should have heeded the serving suggestion on the can. I could have had miniature “kabobs.”
This one is much less noxious than the canned meats. I used to love watermelon, and in Texas, it just wasn’t summer if I wasn’t double fisting green and white rinds with watermelon juice dripping from my chin and running down my forearm from wrist to elbow in sticky pink rivulets. Ok, that never happened because I never ate entire slices of watermelon. I had the terrible habit of stealing the watermelon tips. You know what those are? When Mom cuts the watermelon into those handy little triangles and arranged them so neatly on a platter, I would steal over, break off all the tips, transforming perfect isosceles triangles into trapezoids. The tips were the best part – the dead center of the watermelon, sweetest darkest pink, and never any seeds in that two inch triangle. I think they just tasted that much better because it made everyone else so mad. And you know what? I was right when I was little. Watermelon tips taste damn good as a thirty *cough cough* year old, too. Now I just have to figure out what to do with all that watermelon.
Little Caesar's Pizza! Pizza! Crazy Bread
These next two have no pictures. I wasn’t even sure that Little Caesar’s even existed anymore, let alone here in Los Angeles, but apparently, they are alive and well all over southern California. The thing is, I didn’t have it in me to order pizza! pizza! just so I could re-live a moment with Crazy Bread. I totally remember getting Little Caesar’s when we were little, and holy shiitake, pizza at the Delicious house was a big a treat as Baskin Robbins. But we never got it delivered. I think we were too poor to afford the delivery charge, so Mom would drive the white-with-wood-panelling Buick station wagon to pick it up. I didn’t care about the pizza all that much, which is consistent with why I am sort of indifferent about pizza now. I just wanted my sticks of Crazy Bread, dipped in the sauce that I enhanced with Tabasco. Yes, Tabasco, when I was like...five. *fire*
(As a side note: Any sort of fast food for Delicious dinner was considered a real treat. I still remember getting the little fried things from Long John Silver, Mexican pizza from Taco Bell, and Church's Fried Chicken.)
Cider Doughnuts from the Franklin Cider Mill
The first four memories were primarily from my early elementary school years, which were spent in San Antonio, Texas. This last one is from a bit later, when I was in junior high in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. In the autumn, after apples were harvested, fresh cider was served warm with cider doughnuts at the Frankling Cider Mill, which, I am going to guess, wasn’t all that far from where I lived. Honestly, I can’t remeber though, because I was never paying attention to the drive. I aso have to be honest, I doubt I’d be able to recognize now the taste of a cider doughnut from the Franklin Cider Mill if someone gave me one randomly. But the memory I have of piling into Lindsay Miles’ family suburban along with a few other girlfriends and Lindsay’s sister whom she hated, I will never forget. We would whine about our Spanish homework from Señora Jones, make fun of our friend Amy because Ara Kacha-something-or-other had ohmigod such an obvious crush on her, talk about getting ready for Ski Team...I miss the cider and doughnuts; they are a great memory. But the people and relationships are even better memories.
So there they are. Five childhood food memories. Now I remove the blog at no. 1 from the following list and bump every one up one place; add my blog's name in the no. 5 spot; link to each of the other blogs for the desired cross-pollination effect
Then tag three people and I’m over and done with it all. You out there? Looks like these memes are highly contagious, so I’m spreading it to you! The Amateur Gourmet (wow! two times!), Year in Food (can he do it from abroad?), and another LA girl, LA Ritz.