Since the kids left home to go to college and strike out on their own, writing the phrase, “Since the kids left home to go to college and strike out on their own,” fills me with an immediacy of fatigue, which is my way to express longing.
Certain dishes I served in the home when we were all A Happy Family, contained within the four walls, sadden me instead of filling me with delight: Turkey meatballs, fish & chips, pea soup, chicken parm, etc. Memories are evoked when I cook and eat these dishes and, OK, I still cook them, but now, in addition, to the pleasure derived, I can picture things past. Well, duh. Duh and double duh. Wah, wah, wah. Get a grip.
Meanwhile, the kids call every day, ironically, to get the same recipes that make me miss the good old days.
In the past two weeks, my son has requested recipes for: Jerk chicken, pea soup, and chicken parm. (He cooks for 20 each Monday in his college co-op.)
Over the same period of my time, my daughter has called up for: Pea soup, white bean soup, and arrabiata.
You know what Faulkner said, right? “The past is never dead. It isn’t even past.”
What this means when talking about food is that the best meals evoke and restore a place, a home, a sense of time. That’s why, in part, NYC has so many wonderful Italian and Italian-American restaurants, why Boston has good pubs, and San Francisco excels at regional, seasonal menus.
Terroir in dining stems from a need for home. Certainly the best of the new places opening recognize this…so do I. For example: Look at Andrew Carmellini’s new restaurant, The Dutch, which will feature classic American dishes. Andrew talked to me about this idea two years ago; I’m thrilled he’s finally doing it. Or take Jonathan Benno’s new place, Lincoln, which will serve refined versions of Italian-American dishes like eggplant parm. Note, too: Andrew is naming his place The Dutch because Manhattan was once home for colonists from Holland. Lincoln’s home is in Lincoln Center.
You want the family ties to be strong? Cook and eat at home. Make the dishes with six ingredients, tops, and fast to prepare, no more than 20 minutes prep. Gary Danko told me that a home cook is lucky to have 25 or so good, reliable dishes unique to to that kitchen. Work on getting ten.
You can roast, baste, braise, or bake all day, have a ball, but the time to cook: Brevity. You’d be surprised, too, perhaps by how talkative people get while anticipating a meal…