Everybody has them—those special foods, meals, flavors that were so significant in childhood that they evoke emotions all the rest of our lives.
One of my strongest flavor memories is connected to my father. He did not buy ice cream for himself. For some reason, he preferred a cardboard brick of vanilla-flavored ice milk. This product was not smooth or creamy enough to interest my five-to-ten-year-old self. But–when he dropped a spoonful of ice milk into his coffee—I was right there to drink it along with him. This sharing of sweet, milky coffee surely accounts for my love of coffee ice cream. It is my go-to flavor. When, in an experimental mood, I diverge from it, I’m almost always wish I hadn’t.
On my birthday, dinner was my choice. In the early years, I chose roast beef, mashed potatoes, and green peas. It was important to mix the peas into the mashed potatoes. When I was older, I requested a meal at the Imperial Gardens, a Japanese restaurant on Sunset Boulevard (in Los Angeles). The appeal was more the aesthetics of Japanese décor and presentation even more than the food itself. I loved sitting on the floor in the tatami rooms. I loved the lacquered bowls of clear broth with tiny cubes of tofu and seaweed floating in them. By the time the entrees arrived, I would have filled up on jasmine tea and soup. My father bristled with annoyance at the waste, and then proceeded to eat my meal, too. I still love Japanese food. The bowls of miso or broth never fail to recall the tatami mats and the atmosphere of Imperial Gardens.
Another special treat for me was lunch with my mother at the Brown Derby restaurant. This was a famous fixture of Hollywood in Los Angeles, where celebrities used to dine. The inside of the Brown Derby was hushed and dark. Tables were laid with heavy silverware and white cloth napkins. My two favorite meals there were a Monte Cristo sandwich or the vegetable plate (yes, I was the odd kid who loved vegetables).
A Monte Cristo sandwich is filled with a combination of sliced turkey, chicken, or ham, and cheese plus mustard or mayonnaise. Once assembled, the sandwich is dipped in an egg batter, browned on both sides, and finally topped with powdered sugar.
The vegetable plate was a stainless silver platter with different sections. Each section held a cooked vegetable: carrots, peas, string beans, corn, spinach. All were probably drenched in butter. Each portion was kid-sized.
My mother never bought Wonder Bread, which was probably a good thing. But my aunt did buy the nutrition-less bread, and I loved it. I’d peel off the soft crust and eat that part first. Then I’d smash the rest into a ball and suck on the doughy glob until it was gone.
What food memories from your childhood do you recall? Send me a comment.