Sunday, July 20, 2014

Smorgasbord

Some years after the Great Depression ended and World War II was over, your mother set out on a campaign to, as she put it, "make up for those awful years of Kraft Dinner."  She did so with two macaroni-based dishes, one featuring a sauce of a sharp, tangy Tillamock cheese, purchased at the Farmers' Market; the other macaroni dish had fresh roma tomatoes and diced Kalamata olives.

Both dishes became immediate successes to the point where you were not alone in requesting them. Nor were you alone in your enjoyment of them.  To this day, when offered a chance at some first-rate mac and cheese or even a recent macaroni tossed with a fruity California olive oil and goat cheese, you held back, this in honor of Annie's versions.

 To this day,  thoughts of Kraft Dinner, a packaged concoction purporting to be macaroni and what Kraft considered cheese, cause your stomach to describe a lurch.  

The Great Depression brought disaster to the fortunes of your family in many forms, including the regular appearance of Kraft Dinner and Campbell's cream of mushroom soup, both of which your father accepted as payments of debts from the owner of a neighborhood grocery, itself a victim of the depressed economy.

With the end of the Depression and the War, family fortunes, while not back at their former glory, made a return to  a level where your mother's abilities in the kitchen were once again able to flourish.  

True enough, you were making up for the effects of rationing and some privations, and you were entering the teen years, where no food, good or bad, goes unrecognized.  Of equal truth, your eating interests extended well beyond mere quantity, bounding into variety and innovation.

Thus your then favorite restaurant of all restaurants, The Bit O' Sweden, a smorgasbord of epic proportions on Sunset.  Large platters of sea foods, herrings, pates, salads, and savories punctuated chafing dishes of meat balls, which stood like prison towers above roasts of lamb and beef, which in their turn nested among various fowl, some en plumage, others such as Cornish game hens, awaiting the pleasures of passersby.

Not since the days of the Pequot Room at the Hotel Narragansett, in Providence,where you relished the slight tinge of iodine in the Little Neck clams, which you mouthed thoughtfully, waiting for the wedge with bleu cheese dressing, the the pasta with a tangy Marinara before the New York Cut of a splendid steak; not since then did you see such variety, thus forming many of your tastes for the years to come.  

At the Bit O'Sweden, you ate all the obligatory dishes, salads and individual vegetables, stipulated by your mother, filing those away as well in your memory banks, because this was, after all, a gustatory coming of age beyond the mere filling up on whatever fuel was available.

By then, the metaphor had grown to include reading, in which you loaded your plate with unknown variations on unknown themes, wishing to take it all in, showing little or no patience and even less discretion.  Of the two, dining and reading, your tastes at the table are probably more disciplined.

Now, many of the great buffets of your time are past memory--past-but-vivid.  Today, you see the greatest smorgasbord of all as Life, itself.  Your gait quickens, your spine straightens, your eyes twinkle as you inspect the possibilities, looking for adventure, understanding, and the hearty melange of challenge in the chafing dishes before you.

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