Friday, March 22, 2013

Craving A Taste From Childhood

Nostalgia can be so bittersweet, especially when it's unexpected.

This morning, I dropped my car off for service in Ballard. There was an hour to kill, so I walked to Honore, a lovely bakery that makes beautiful and delicious pastries. And, boom, I found myself on the street where my great grandmother, Signe, lived when I was a little squirt.

We called her GG, which sounds vaguely French, but she was straight-off-the-boat Swedish, one of those big, soft, old-world women who smelled like lemon drops and moth balls. There, on my morning walk, I spied the kitchen window I had looked out of many years ago while drinking coffee with cream and three teaspoons of sugar. At that sturdy table, she fed us damn fine fried chicken. Sheee-con, she pronounced it. She used to buy a live bird at a butcher down the street. They'd slaughter it and she'd bring it home and bread it and fry it and -- not really sure why -- she'd finish it in a pressure cooker. It was tender, but soggy. Like the pork in sweet and sour pork.

Walking past that house stirred some powerful memories. Of riding the bus downtown with her, of being slightly embarrassed because she seemed addled with age. Of watching her make delicate cookies at Christmas and of the feud that simmered for years between she and her daughter, my grandmother, Sigrid. The true story of their festering rancor is buried with them. There's nobody left to illuminate the hurt. When GG died, she left her daughter $10 and said it was because she had been to see her once in the past 20 years. She actually put that in the will. That had to burn my grandmother because she cared about money so deeply.

GG left me and my sister and brother a whole bunch more than that, to be in trust for us until we turned 21. The $12,000 I received was like a fortune back then and I put it to good use, traveling around Europe after college, discovering so many incredible flavors and having a mostly wonderful time. That gift sent me down the path that I'm still on today, the never-ending search for food made with love and the stories behind the people who grow or make that food.

I ordered a croissant at Honore, and it did take me back, flashing on the first time I had a real French pastry on my very first trip to Paris. It sounds so corny, but that bite changed my life for the better.

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