Monday, August 08, 2005

a meme good enough to eat

So, here at long last is the "Top Five Childhood Food Memories" meme that the lovely and talented Sal tagged me for. This was really fun to do and when I went digging around in my ancient brain I was suprised at some of the memories that popped up. These are just a few.

1. Spending the day with Auntie Joey

I have two younger brothers. Sometimes when it just got to be too much for my poor mother (or for poor me), I’d get to go visit my favourite “aunt” for the day.

Auntie Joey, a very dear friend of my maternal grandmother’s, was from Denmark. Her real name was Johanne, but I don’t ever remember anyone calling her that. Auntie Joey had a cute little house with a wonderful garden in the back and a large kitchen just right for making a mess in.

We had our routine, Auntie Joey and I. First it was Scrabble, followed by a rousing game of “I Spy with my Little Eye” and a walk around the garden. Then came the really important part: crepes for lunch and cookie-making shortly afterward. Same thing every time. I loved it and she knew it. I think I set my own personal record once when I ate 11 crepes spread with homemade strawberry jam at one sitting. Not bad for a 6-yr-old!

When lunch was over we’d set out to make the sugar cookies. She did all the preparations, and I spent the afternoon in heaven. The buttery yellow dough got progressively dingier as I rolled and patted and shaped it with my grubby little hands, and the last cookies on the cookie sheet always took on a grayish hue, but that didn’t bother me one bit. The cookies weren’t for me, anyway, they were for my dad who would come and pick me up when my visit with Auntie Joey was over. When we got home he would eat every single cookie in the tin, praising their deliciousness and telling me they were the best he’d ever had.

2. Christmas Eve and Christmas dinner at home with my parents

Our family’s Christmas routine never changed: Swiss fondue (my father is Austrian) on Christmas Eve and a traditional turkey dinner on the 25th. My maternal grandmother was always with us on Christmas Day, as were an Austrian/Czech couple, close friends of my parents.

I loved Christmas dinner because I got to help my mother with the preparations. Early in the morning we’d stuff the turkey – sausage stuffing in one end, bread stuffing in the other, and to finish it off, a few strips of bacon over the breast to keep it moist while it was roasting. It roasted pretty much all day and it’s that aroma that transports me back to my childhood.

We always started off the meal with either my mother’s homemade antipasto, a mixture of tuna, olives, peppers, tomatoes and other delicious things, or Danish liver pate, courtesy of Auntie Joey.

The turkey was accompanied by braised red cabbage, wild rice, brussels sprouts, gravy and of course the ever-present cranberry sauce. For dessert it was English trifle, mincemeat tarts and Christmas pudding with hard sauce. Sort of a mish-mash of cultures when I look back on it now.

3. The On-On Restaurant in Chinatown

I learned to use chopsticks at an early age.

As far as I know, San Francisco has the largest Chinatown in North America. Vancouver's Chinatown comes in a close second, which means that there are literally hundreds of good and not so good Chinese restaurants to choose from. Back when I was a child, we chose the On-On on Keefer Street. The restaurant itself was nothing to look at, quite the greasy spoon in fact. The food, however, was divine, and judging by the scads of Chinese patrons, fairly authentic. We’d go at least once a month, I’d say, and have a wonderful meal. I even had a birthday party there once, as I recall.

Usually we’d just ask the waiter to bring us what he thought we’d like and what really sticks out in my mind was their sweet and sour pork, a mostly westernized dish, but exotic enough to the young palate. The little bone-in morsels were covered in a sticky bright red sweet and sour sauce that we couldn’t get enough of. The fact that you got to spit something out onto your plate without getting yelled at made it even more fun for us kids.

Another thing I remember about our Chinese dinners out was my grandmother just being herself. Our Nonna (English, not Italian, but spent many years in Rome) could not go near a pair of chopsticks (usually her own, thankfully) without sticking them up her nose and letting them hang there for a few seconds, making her look like some kind of walrus gone wrong. She did this every time we went and my brothers and I were absolutely mortified. So much for being a fine English lady. Now we wish she was still around to embarass us.

4. Finger food dinners

B.C. weather is pretty mild but occasionally there are strong winds or a violent thunderstorm. Because the power lines are above ground, a large cedar tree falling onto a wire can cause a power outage, or a “power perfailure” as my little brothers used to say. This didn’t happen all that often when we were kids, but when it did, it could sometimes take hours for B.C. Hydro to fix the problem. If it happened in the late afternoon, my poor mother was stuck as to what to make for dinner. Her solution: the finger food dinner. We’d get out all the flashlights and storm lanters and candles and she’d get everything edible out of the fridge and arrange it on a big platter so we could choose what we wanted. Although it was pretty scary sometimes, my brothers and I actually used to look forward to the power going out just so we could eat rolled-up bologna by candlelight!

5. Cheez Whiz and Stoned Wheat Thins

There was a new girl in my class in the third grade. She lived on my street and we became fast friends. K was the one who introduced me to the delights of Cheez Whiz and raspberry jam spread onto Stoned Wheat Thins. Sounds horrible, but to two 8-yr-olds there was nothing better. We used to sit out on K's back porch in the summertime and eat cracker after cracker, not worrying about stuff like trans fats or cholesterol or the evils of "processed cheese food". Ahh...those were the days.


Now I'm supposed to tag four more people to do this meme, but I'm going to be merciful and leave the field open to anyone who wants to participate. If you read my blog and are up to the meme challenge, leave me a note in my comments and I'll link to you so we can all go read your masterpiece.

Here's a kind of history of where the meme came from. If you do the meme, you're meant to remove the blog #1 from the top of the list and bump every one up one place. Then add your blog’s name in the #5 spot and link to each of the other blogs. Got that? I couldn't find the exact meme post on some of these so you're on your own there.

2.Becks & Posh
3.Culinary Fool
4.Sal De Traglia's Virtual Tapas Bar


At August 08, 2005 5:11 p.m., Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...


Wow!!! This was a fantastic post! You really kicked some booty on this one.

I think I may change my vacation plans and head north to Denmark in search of crepes.

But about the Cheez-Whiz/Raspberry jam on crackers thing...let's just that I'd need to be more stoned than the Wheat Thins before trying that one.

And of course, I'm always a sucker for Christmas it was interesting for me to read how a non-Italian family does it up for that holiday. Swiss fondue?! I had no idea. On second thought, perhaps I'll change my vacation plans and head east to Switzerland.

And finally, your diplomatic way of tagging everybody (yet nobody in particular) was brilliant. Had I more intelligence, I might've thought of it myself. I think I'll do that in the future--as I will surely be tagged four times in the near-future...out of vengence.

Thanks again for this post. Sometime later today, I will post a "Breaking Meme" item on my blog with a link to your write-up.


At August 09, 2005 1:09 p.m., Blogger Antipodeesse said...

Can you give us a recipe for hard sauce please? Your post has made me so hungry!

At August 09, 2005 1:16 p.m., Blogger Antipodeesse said...

Your Nonna sounds wonderful! I nearly died laughing!

At August 09, 2005 10:26 p.m., Blogger christina said...

Well thanks, Sal! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Antipo- yes, Nonna was quite the free spirit. We really miss her.

At August 21, 2005 5:45 p.m., Blogger Culinary Fool said...

Great post! It is amazing, isn't it, that the things that mortified us as children are the things we sppreciate as adults! :-) Maybe because we now have our own quirks...

I can't believe you once ate 11 crepes! But how nice that Auntie Joey let you eat to your heart's content!

~ B


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