Food Memories

Everything in life has always centered around food. My earliest childhood memories involve donuts, cognac and mud pies (the kind you make in the backyard, with a pie tin and grassy dirt). My most vivid memories aren’t necessarily of scraped knees, Christmas or new toys. I remember scents and tastes.

My earliest memory is of teething. My dad would rub his big forefinger, covered with cognac, on my gums. The alcohol was not only calming on the gums, but the taste was warm and pacifying. I remember teething not because of the pain, but because of the soothing taste of the number that lingered on my gums. To this day, a snifter of cognac throws me back to the living room floor of our house in Southern California, with my dad trying to calm my sore mouth with an Old World remedy.

As a little girl, my mom would take me and my two sisters on “big shopping day” with her.  Before I was in school, this was the most exciting day of the week. With the discovery of boys in kindergarten, my priorities changed, but before kindergarten, my life revolved around shopping Thursdays.

My mom would pile us into The Clunker, a monsterous gray Suburban with a wide red strip running around the exterior. We loved that car and all the trips it allowed us to take. That car ambled up to Carpenteria for beach days filled with pennies on train tracks, fish and chips at the local shack, and searching for sand dollars in the shallow shores. It would rumble to Pasadena for penny sundaes and rock candy. And most importantly, that old Suburban would heave and ho to the local Hughes where we did family grocery shopping for the week.

My mom would herd us out of the car and have us all hold hands as we crossed through the parking lot. She would always put baby Georgie in the front of the cart (the seat where I once rode and now regretted having a baby sister for that one reason) and we would always try to convince her that it was safe for us to ride in the basket portion of the cart.

No dice.

My mom would bundle us up in sweaters before reaching the entrance because she had learned the lesson that we shivered and inevitably moaned when we reached the dairy and meat aisles. She tried to make this grocery trip as easy as is possible with three young kids.

She was a wise woman. The first thing she would do was walk us right over to the bakery counter. Genius. She placated us with sweets. For her it was strategy, for us it was heaven.  We could pick out any pastry we wanted. Did you just read that? My mom would let us have whichever sweet our hearts desired! Now you see why this day, every week, was so momentous.

Growing up, my mom was a health nut. If we had Cheerios in the house, they definitely were NOT the honey nut kind. Oatmeal with only a scant teaspoon of brown sugar to sweeten the gruel? If we were lucky! I used to force kids in Mommy & Me class to share their gummy treats and fruit roll ups with me(when their mother’s weren’t looking of course!).

So Thursdays were the day that we were allowed to eat a big sugary breakfast. Oh the delight. Julia and I would stand at the bakery case and press our chubby fingers against the glass, absorbing the moment, eyes glowing with glee.

Would we eat the chocolate covered donuts? Should we get the sugar glazed long donut thing? A cupcake? No, definitely not big enough. We would take minutes to finally pick our sugar bombs, my mom patiently waiting with Georgie and the cart.

I made a big production about choosing each time, yet inevitably my choices came down to two options: a cheese Danish (maybe cherry or apricot if I was feeling fancy) or a raspberry filled donut. Once I got a cream filled donut by mistake and cried until my mom took it back and had the baker lady remedy her terrible pastry faux pas.

Julia usually finished her chocolate donut in less than a minute. Her face smeared in gooey brown smudges, she’d look longingly at my Danish as I nibbled and tore at pieces to make it last for at least the first quarter of the shopping experience. Once the sweet was gone, the experience of Thursday marketing was less fun…so I tried to make that delicious sucker last.

Georgie, just a baby, would sit quietly in the cart, crumbling her muffin all over her lap. Sometimes she’d make such a mess that mom would get frustrated and give us the remainder of her mangled pastry. Those were the best days.

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