Saturday, March 27, 2010

What the kids remember

From Proust to your grandma's pot roast, food memories are primal. Mine are all tied up in my mother's illness when I was a teen. I strain to remember what she taught me before she got sick and gradually stopped cooking (when I was about 14). I seek those tastes and smells. Forty years later I still scour her cookbooks, looking for the pages that are stained, or where the binding stays open, because then I know she made that item a lot.

If I could give one piece of advice to young parents it would be "pay attention." I don't mean for them to turn every precious second of Princess's life into a Kodak moment, I mean observe, and savor. Be mindful.

I asked my 24 year old son and 21 year old daughter for their memories of food growing up.

From my son, Seng Lim:
My earliest food-related memories with you were of that little organic grocery store we used to go to. I don't remember the foods very much, more the smell and look of the store. I don't quite remember when you stopped doing as many home cooked meals, but I feel like it had to do with a combination of you taking on more work and Nga Jee coming along and getting picky.

I feel like the food started with good, healthy food in early childhood, followed by "the dark side" when Nga Jee and I were 8-12 years old. Once I got to high school, I remember full family dinners became less frequent—I can recall many evenings when I would get back from school around 5pm and be the only one there until 8 or 9 at night, or I would be out doing something late and have to buy dinner for myself. The summers around that time were different—you were growing lots of vegetables by then, and our schedules were less crazy so we were together for meals more. But during most of the year, I ate a lot of popcorn for dinner (hey, I was pretty lazy back then). Overall, I think we were pretty typical kids as far as randomly refusing to eat things, but I think we all always appreciated and enjoyed your meals, especially the "family favorites."

My memories of the garden are mostly of forced manual labor. I enjoyed the fresh vegetables and the colors when it was in bloom, but mostly I think about digging flower beds, laying paths and patios, and mowing it soooo many times. Also, I remember your compulsion with it—picking weeds to and from the garage every time we left the house. That one's easy to remember, because I'm pretty sure you still do it!

Also, why did you feed us lima beans? Do you actually like lima beans? I am never going to feed any child of mine lima beans.
From my daughter, Nga Jee:
I can't remember much of when you started feeding us crap*, but I'm almost certain it was because of me, because I don't think Seng Lim cared much about what he ate and if he did he's not really the kind of person to complain about it. Most of what I remember about the garden is you FORCING me to work with you (and not liking that). But I remember when we had the patio and the old porch. The flower beds on the left have always been there for me and I can just remember before there was the little side paths and all that stuff.

I always really liked the garden veggies. I thought the carrots were lame compared to the grocery store ones because they were so puny but they tasted better. And I remember walking to and from the grocery store with the red wagon. Strangely all my memories of groceries occur in the summertime. I can't even remember recent grocery trips in the winter. I remember even when we drove we would load the wagon in the garage with all the bags and drag it to the bottom of the porch too. Which seems funny to me now, cuz the garden's only like 7 meters long.

I actually really liked when you got new plants and we had to dig the hole and then put in the plant and then fill it with water.
*this would be because she was the fussy one, eating not so much "crap", as she puts it, as an all-carbohydrate diet. The child lived on bread and noodles. Neither of them were big candy-eaters until they were well in high school, meaning I ended up eating most of the contents of their Easter baskets and Halloween haul. This is how mothers get fat.

What do your offspring remember about food growing up? What do your younger ones think about it now?

Old-fashioned popped corn
about 1/4 cup oil
3/4 cup popping corn
(I got mine through from a local farm. Most farmers markets will have a vendor selling locally-grown popping corn.)

This is how we made popcorn when I was a kid, before air poppers and before microwave popcorn (in fact, when I was a kid, only The Jetsons had magic ovens like microwaves)

Get a large, lidded pot. It is important to use a pot large enough, so that your popcorn won't overflow and cause a mess. Coat the bottom of the pot with a thin layer of oil (about 1/8 inch). Heat the oil on medium on top of the stove until it's hot, or until it appears to reach a watery consistency. (Another way to test whether your oil is hot enough is to stand back and flick a droplet of water into the pot and wait for it to sizzle.) Coat the bottom of the pot with a layer of popcorn. A 1 gallon pot will take about 3/4 cup of popcorn, which will yield about 2 quarts popped. Try to ensure that there is only a single layer of popcorn and that none of the kernels overlap.

Cover the pot and turn the stove up to medium-high/high. As the oil begins to bubble, gently shake the pot in a left to right motion (not up and down) so that the popcorn kernels move and don't burn. After a minute or so, the popcorn will begin to pop. Continue to shake the pot on the stove until all of the kernels have popped. It's a lovely sound.

Transfer your popcorn into a separate container. Melt butter in the microwave and drizzle over your freshly popped popcorn! You can add any seasonings you like-- grated cheese, herbs, pepper, salt (of course).

Dial up a movie and kick back! I can't believe Seng Lim used to eat microwave popcorn for dinner. I am apparently the Worst Mom Ever.


  1. I admit I'm confused, but that happens when you're a bear of very little brain, LOL! When I first saw your handle, Xan, I thought it was Asian, probably Chinese. But then the whole Mahlzeit thing is Germanic (it's OK, my dad was Austrian, often lecturing anyone who would listen how Austrians are NOT Germans, but he would agree they're GermanIC, lol)... I know you studied in Austria, and you've since told me of your Greek background (and a friend told me Xan is Greek too (I didn't know; I wasn't exactly in a a sorority)). So far, so good. Except for reasons entirely unclear to me, I always think of you as Canadian (?!) and have to remind myself, no, you're in Chicago. But now, your kids' names take me back to my original Asian vibe (Korean maybe, not Chinese? I'm a bit clueless on Asia)... but then your daughter mentions meters, not feet, which puts me right back to Canada or Euro and I'm really confused. Not that it's really any of my business, I'm just fascinated, is all. :)

    P.S. It's nice your daughter feels free to speak so openly to you. You must have a good relationship. Even at 44, I could never tell my mom stuff I hated about my childhood, LOL, and MAKING me work in the garden was one of them, believe it or!

  2. My kids' dad is Chinese. If you look back, there's some posts about our ridiculously confusing food heritage. To complicate matters further, my sister-in-law is Polish-Hungarian, and my father is francophone (probably where you're getting that Canadian vibe. My friends used to marvel at how unfussy my kids were about eating; but in our family, it's a survival strategy. You never quite know what weird stuff is going to turn up on your plate. (Cloud ears in garlic sauce anyone?)

  3. Oh, and the meters thing. She travels with an ice show, and has been in Europe and Asia for two years; most of the people on the show are Canadian or European, hence the meters. I laughed when I read that, myself.

  4. Oh, I am soooo happy to see somebody promoting homemade popcorn. My dad always made it in a frying pan when I was a kid. The last time I tried to do likewise, I burned it so bad I had to throw it out. I usually use an electric popper. If you like hot peppers, a few drops of hot sauce stirred into the melted butter is really good. I use Thai sriracha (NOT that California Huy Fong rooster label stuff).

  5. Oh yum, hot sauce in the butter-never thought of that! Watch for an upcoming post on chocolate-cayenne cookies!

  6. We love popcorn popped the old-fashioned way. We like to use homemade ghee or coconut oil for popping. Sometime we make kettle corn, simply sprinkle a tablespoon or two of sugar over the corn in the pan as soon as the first kernel pops (adjust sugar to desired sweetness on next batch). Such a healthy hearty snack!

  7. I just love popcorn on the stove. I am fighting the urge to go make some now. My kids are 5-20 I would be afraid to ask them what is their memory of food. However they are all still home but the oldest and I could change if necessary. A little constructive criticism. I am sure they would say I cook too healthy.

  8. Christy, they might complain to you but I'm betting they probably brag about you to their friends!