Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Food for Thought

My early childhood was impactful.  I was born in Russia where I lived for the first five years of my life.   I lived in poverty and food was scarce. Much of what food I ate came from the earth.  I remember pulling turnips, gathering eggs and drinking warm cow milk. When there was food, it was greatly valued and appreciated. Nothing was wasted. There were no scraps left unused. My early experiences with food laid a foundation for my current values.

Just before I left my birth country with my new adoptive family, in the home of our hosts in Moscow, we celebrated

my American grandmother's birthday. It was then that I began to learn that food is something that can be not only appreciated for its nutritional value, but also something that is a part of tradition and celebration. I felt proud to present my babushka with a traditional Russian cake that was hand-crafted by our Russian host family.  In addition to the special cake at our host's home, we later celebrated my gramma's birthday at a dacha, a country farm where family and friends meet, make small-talk and enjoy each others' company. On this day in particular, I had a chance to try something new.  It was something delectable, something that I would learn to love from that moment on. I experienced chocolate for the first time. I was so excited at the delicious taste of this rich sweet candy.  These foods exposed me to desserts and special treats that I'd never experienced before.  I left with memories of special food related to special celebrations.

In Russia it was customary to present departing guests with a gift of remembrance. I received a large, hand-crafted Khokhloma spoon from the people at the dacha. It is special to me still today. Every time I look at it, it makes me smile, and remember my very early childhood. That means a lot to me. 

Once I arrived at my new home in America, I quickly realized my opportunity to experience so many more wholesome new foods. Not only did my American mom prepare recipes  (such as borscht and shchi) to help me remember my Russian heritage and the Russian culture, but we had seemingly endless amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables, some of which I had never tasted before.  I appreciated everything and enjoyed eating them all. There was something about that produce that was just unexplainably delicious. It may have partly been a result of having had such a limited amount of wholesome food when I was a young child, but I believe that I simply had grown to love good fresh food.  Furthermore, since food had been such a high commodity in Russia, I felt the desire to eat all that was put in from of me. Most importantly I thoroughly enjoyed every bite I ate.

My value for healthy foods has stayed consistent as I have grown older. For instance, as a child, when I  had the opportunity to lick cookie batter from the beater, I would have declined.  I would much rather have preferred something more healthy and sustainable, for example, picking chicken off of a stewed chicken bone. This is a preference I still hold true today.

Good wholesome food has stayed important to me. I understand it. I've learned about it.  I value it. But there is something that I have never been able to grasp, something that has bothered me for a long time. One day shortly after I had arrived in America, I was at a store and I picked up piece of fruit. I touched it. I looked at it, turning it in my hands. I smelled it. I tried to eat it. It was odd. I asked my mom, "What is it?  I don't understand?" She told me, "It's plastic fruit." This concept of plastic food simply perplexed my mind. I could not understand why someone would make such a thing. As a child fresh fruit was a  rare thing to come by, and to buy plastic fruit was just inconceivable to me. There is still question in my mind today, "Why?" It makes little sense.  The answer still eludes me. I can only explain by suggesting, if the desire is to have decoration, why not buy fresh fruit and put it in a basket and use that instead?"
I truly realize how important food is to me today, and how it has shaped what I value. Coming from poverty, I have learned that appreciating what I have is important. I don't take what I eat for granted, rather I give it serious consideration. Honestly, I doubt that I will ever place a bowl of plastic fruit upon my table. Rather I would always choose to have a bowl of fresh and delicious apples, oranges, bananas and pears.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Fun at Grandma's House

Every Sunday afternoon was a big event for me as a child. There was the traditional Sunday feast at my grandparent’s house. This was quite the gathering that included my family as well as my Aunt and Uncle and my three cousins. After church my parents would pile my sister and I into the family caravan and head on out to Boulder to my grandparents house where the whole family would gather for a late lunch. As soon as we got to the front door the aroma of barbecued chicken and mashed potatoes and countless veggie plates filled the air. I would be overcome with excitement as I walked into the front room as Princes, my grandmother’s prize schnauzer, would great me by jumping all over me and begging to me to play. What came next was what really drove my parents crazy and me into a frenzy. The candy jars. They were everywhere and in nearly every room. It was literally my own slice of the chocolate factory. I looked forward to this moment all week, every week. As I gave my usual nonchalant greeting to the rest of the family with my eyes fixated on the colorful bounty that consumed my every thought I wiggled my way through the many hugs and kisses from my grandparents and my Aunt to finally reach my prize. It was all worth it. I was in heaven. There where chocolates, taffies, and hard candies galore. I would go half out of my mind just trying to choose which to eat. As a young boy I thought the smart answer would be to just eat them all. So, as the little go getter my grandfather claimed I was, I tried. Not to be out done by my sister, together we would hoard as much candy as we could and hide in the basement and go bananas. This, I am quite sure, is what causes ADHD.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Jamaica's Delicious Ackee and Saltfish

The holidays is the time of year that I look forward to the most. My family that now lives all spread out around the United States, meets up in our home country, Jamaica. On Christmas Eve and Christmas morning my family and I prepare some of the most amazing dishes for our Christmas dinner that night.

The foods that they make are Ackee and Saltfish, which is Jamaica's national dish. You can find the recipe at http://www.jamaicans.com/cooking/traditional/ackee.htm. They also make jerk chicken (another Jamaican food), curry goat, corn beef, white rice, bread fruit, fresh pineapple, and fresh guinep fruit.

The preparation of these foods takes a pretty long time. On Christmas Eve morning my uncles go out to our chicken coop behind our house and find a chicken that will be cooked for supper on Christmas. A week before Christmas we also find the perfect goat and fatten up the goat the whole week then on Christmas morning my uncles get the goat ready for our dinner meal as well. My aunt goes to pick up the corn beef and white rice from a small market down the street from our house. Also on Christmas Eve, all of the grandchildren go out to our field behind our house and help my grandmother pick fresh bread fruit from our bread fruit tree, we also pick fresh pineapples and fresh guinep fruit from our trees as well. We get most of our foods on Christmas Eve, but the cooking happens on Christmas day. We begin cooking early in the morning, and everything is finished by 6 pm for dinner time.

This is really the only time of year that the whole family comes together. The fact that everyone in the family helps prepare a part of our traditional dinner, it really makes it much more special. This Christmas will be a especially special one for me, because I get to do more of a job in preparing the dinner by helping with the goat and chicken. This time of year brings so much happiness to my whole family, because we get to reminisce on old times and make new memories.

Yummy Family Traditions

The holiday times are full of different family traditions. My family has had a tradition with food since I can remember. Every Christmas Eve, my Italian side of my family comes together to scoff down on an array of different traditional Italian dishes, with yours truly cooking it all. The family torch has been passed to me about three years ago. It is a creation of food that takes several days to produce everything, with the end result of it all disappearing within a couple hours. The whole process is very strenuous but is worth it, for one time per year, our whole family is together. That never happens except on this day. The food brings everyone together to share not only the exquisite entrees but also the memories, love and family times.

Our recipes for Christmas Eve, goes back generations straight to our ancestors in Sicily. My father and I value our still intact recipe book from all members of our late family so much that laminated it to prevent any more aging damage. Starting a week before Christmas Eve, we start our legendary spaghetti sauce, which is absolutely to die for!!! It cooks for that whole week, making quite a mess on the stove top, I might add. In the end, the mess is worth this savory sauce.

The selection of food provided ranges from the spaghetti sauce, calzones, pesto pasta, mussels, and a different array of fish, lasagna, manicotti and Italian pastries.

The pastries we get from Vincenza’s Italian Bakery, which is a little family owned restaurant and bakery that is traditional Italian food. The website is right here for anyone that would like to experience great Italian food in an intimate environment.

Here is a link for the best recipes I have found online that offers authentic Italian food, the closet to Italy you can get (that is without family recipes) by clicking here . The other entrees we make that are relatively new dishes. It is a different fresh zucchini salad every year and my famous chicken parmesan.

Everything is topped off with cappuccino, red wine and a bottle of Asti Spumante to toast our wonderful family. Family and food are the most important things in my life. I was brought up to charish those things the most. So when Christmas Eve hits, I put my heart and soul into the whole process. Christmas eve is pretty elaborate and beautiful at our house. You can even say, its more important than Christmas day. Needless to say, at the end of the night, everybody is too tired, stuffed and tipsy to drive anywhere, so we all end up spending the night at my fathers. That in itself is a sight to see; people placed about in the guest room, on the couch, recliners and even on the floor. I am so sorry I have no pictures of that, but I will definitely get one this year, that is, if I'm not already passed out.