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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Remembering the Dead

The Day of the Dead, for all the associated paraphernalia, food, and symbolism, is really about remembering those who have died.  Since I grew up in Southern California, where the Day of the Dead cakes could be had in barrios (yes, there were still barrios when I was growing up. They are likely high rent districts now, but not so 50 years ago), I have always had a love of the day but lacked the cultural underpinnings that went with it.

Today I am remembering my great grandmother Bertha.  She was a woman who lived the way Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan recommend we all live.  She did not so much shop around the periphery of the supermarket as she largely stayed out of one altogether.  She didn't so much avoid processed food as she couldn't afford them, and made her own.  She canned and made jam and used whatever was brought home to feed company with. She baked oatmeal bread and showed me how to make it.  I have to admit that lesson didn't really stick and it wasn't until I was in college that I learned to bake good bread.  When I got to college, I could only make two things with any kind of reliability--chocolate chip cookies and quiche.  I had very good knife skills, an immature but eager to learn palate, and one cookbook.  It was the Moosewood Restaurant cookbook, which is not the perfect cookbook to start with if you are have spent more time in a chemistry lab than a kitchen because a lot of the seasonings are way off base in terms of amounts, but it was what I had, and I learned from there.  When I moved into a housing coop they had a Joy of Cooking, which is not the most imaginative cookbook, but it is very accurate, and between the two of them, some more experienced cooks, and 20 people who ate what I made every week I became a good cook.  My love of creating food comes directly from my great grandmother, and I thank her for that.

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