It’s safe to say that food has an association that few other things have. And smell is one of the greatest triggers for memory.
When I smell baking bread, I’m immediately back in the kitchen in our old house in Highland County, Virginia (which had really hideous green linoleum, as I recall,) watching my mother flip fresh, hot loaves of bread out onto the cooling rack.
The way food tastes is just as important a memory as the way it smells. Eating certain things at my mother’s house, I can always tell when she’s varied a classic recipe. It’s not that I don’t like the change ups, but I love the original taste, which drove me to fall in love with the dish in the first place.
My birthday falls in the month of July and as usual, my mom will probably make me dinner. As usual, I will ask her to make me spinach quiche. It is the most sublime creation that has come out of an oven; cheese and spinach, a flaky crust…
Rather unusual children?
Of course, my mother also had a secret weapon, which I have carried on in my own culinary traditions: citrus. I know many people cook spinach in bacon grease. All I have to say is why? Why are you drowning a beautiful, leafy vegetable in grease? Below, a kinder, gentler way to treat spinach.
Lemon-Sauteed Spinach (for 2)
1 large bunch of fresh spinach leaves. (And I mean fresh. If you picked them that day, that’s a good place to start.)
½ lemon, divided in two*
3 Tablespoons of butter
1 Tablespoon of olive oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
2 lemon slices
In a large pan over medium heat, melt two tablespoons of the butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil together.
When the two have melted, begin adding the fresh spinach, tossing it lightly to get an even coating. Allow the spinach to begin gently wilting. Squeeze ¼ of the lemon across the spinach and keep tossing.
The spinach will continue cooking and wilting, taking on a shiny, dark-green coloring. Toss the last tablespoon of butter in and squeeze another quarter of the lemon over it. The spinach should still have a little crunch to it.
If you want to eat mushy spinach…I can’t help you.
Season with salt and pepper, remove from heat and serve immediately. Garnish plates with lemon slices. Weep with joy.
I am what I am
Spinach is comfort food for me, just like Pad Thai is also comfort food. Everyone finds their own niche.
For some, comfort food is the stuff you’ve eaten all your life. For me, it’s a combination of home meals and traditions, like eating Chinese food out of the carton on the couch while watching Battlestar Galactica. (It makes me happy, okay?)
A comfort food that carried over with me from the Peace Corps is something my host mother called “Eggplant Sauce.” She used to make it in the early fall. I remember eating it with fresh bread that was baked in the village.
3-4 tomatoes, skins removed and discarded
4 sweet bell peppers
Salt and pepper
Slice the eggplant no thicker than ½ inch. Fry in the oil until done (the eggplant will have a softer texture, and become darker) and set aside.
Fry the peppers skin-side down until they are softened. Peel off the skin and set the peppers aside. Cut peppers and eggplants into smaller pieces and return them to the pan.
Using a cheese grater, grate the tomatoes over the pan. Add a little oil and water and allow to reduce slightly. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve with homemade bread, or over pasta.
*Lemons aren’t really locally grown food. Unless you grow your own. My mother has been tending a lime tree for a number of years with surprisingly tasty results. She’s also tending a couple of young kiwi trees.
–Alex Klein for Transition Voice