Are there people, places, or things that you strongly associate with your childhood?
I woke up a few Saturdays ago with a longing for the time in my life when I was a kid. A kid beholden to my mother’s guidance and care. Living life as my mother saw fit, but still seeing every day through my eyes. I don’t remember most of my childhood, though I’m sure much of it was spent feeling a sort of idiot pleasure, totally simple-minded and innocent. I look back at it so fondly, at my childhood, even though when I lived through it I experienced all of the (silly) internal noise that makes children and young adults not see just how safe and at rest they actually are.
It all started when a good friend of mine had sent me a text about corn muffins that her mother makes and my associative mind bounced me all the way back to the buttered kaiser rolls my mother would make for me and my sisters when we were young. We didn’t grow up with much, despite living in New York City, but I didn’t know that until I made a life of my own. My mother never let us feel inadequate or with want.
The number one way my mom showed her love to us was through food. This resulted in some chubby trouble (good thing I also don’t have many photos from my childhood…), but I wouldn’t change (most of) how things went even if I had the chance. Food and nourishment is such a primal need, and the practice of mothers gathering, cooking, serving food to their kids feels special to me.
I recently read a piece in Atlantic magazine on diet culture and our psychological relationship with food. The article argues that humans have created so many rituals around eating and mealtimes, and more so than pleasure, and the reason why we fuss over making food a positive experience is because, in our psyches, eating is inherently linked to survival, which necessarily means that it is linked to our death. So, rituals around food exist to distract us from our certain death. Eating is fundamentally a transfer of energy, and any additions to the process of eating or expansions of the purpose of eating are cultural in nature. I agree with the general argument of the article but I think the scope is too sweeping. Not all rituals exist towards the same aim. Not all rituals around eating are aimed at distracting us from death. When you travel, engaging in food culture and mealtimes serves to give you a sense of normalcy and familiarity. When you invite friends to your apartment to eat, engaging in food culture helps you all bond around an activity that feels good, just a bit messy, and very human for everyone. The rituals of mothers feeding their children, for example, is not about avoiding death, it is, I believe, about facing being alive. And facing our chance to be alive is not neatly an optimistic one, there are burdens with being a sentient being that can feel exhausting. A mother feeding her child is helping her offspring thrive, feel loved, and safe, in a world that is filled mostly with unknowns and strangers.
One of the more gluttonous dishes we used to eat were hot, buttered kaiser rolls. It’s really just a salted butter festival in your mouth, and it is a damn good time. I think it’s something commonly served from the sidewalk coffee and breakfast vendors throughout Manhattan. Maybe that’s where my mom got the idea from. This kaiser roll is simple and straightforward to make and we spent many weekends and late nights doing it. You start with a fluffy kaiser roll that’s been cut into 1/3 and 2/3, pile on whipped butter that’s salted, and microwave for a little over a minute. By the time the microwave finishes with your roll, the fat piece that’s 2/3 of the roll will be soft and gooey with the butter, and the thin piece that’s 1/3 of the roll will be sort of stiff and chewy. I remember watching my youngest sister, just a few years old, pulling apart the soft side with dancing fingers (because she was too impatient to wait for the roll to cool) and chewing my own.
Now, that I’m mostly all grown up, my philosophy on food is different than my mother’s. I wouldn’t eat that kaiser roll, it’s too fatty…not nutritious enough…too much of an indulgence. My go-to toast recipe is more utilitarian, a bit different, but still delicious. It goes something like this:
Savory Egg, Butter, and Pistachio Toast Recipe
Start with your decently toasted piece of bread. I used whole wheat. The bread should be toasted to the point of being warm and crispy, but not so crispy that it would shatter upon bite. This recipe would be better with a fried egg but I was at work when I put this together, so no such luck.
Take the toasted bread, and spread your butter across evenly. If I had put this together at home with more time, I would’ve been more generous with my olive oil based butter. The more butter, the better this will taste.
Final step: slice up your egg and drop your pistachios across the toast.