Meals to remember

By Kris Ferrazza | Sep 17, 2020

Food is love. Food is life. Food is medicine. They say it’s even the way to a man’s heart.

Since the pandemic struck, thoughts of food have dominated my mind. I think about what I need, and how to get it. I mentally strategize about when and where to go to gather it, and how much to buy. It used to be fun for me, but now it’s a burden.

Oddly enough, I always enjoyed grocery shopping. I liked the routine. As a regular Sunday shopper, you could almost set your watch by my arrival at my local market. I joked that I could do my shopping blindfolded because I knew the store so well.

I’d dream up the week’s menu as I roamed the aisles, checking out the sales and mentally putting together meals as merrily I rolled along. I rarely used a list and always bought everything we’d need for the week ahead. This was a source of pride. I considered it a personal failure if we had to stop mid-week to buy milk or bread. Sundays only.

Friends would complain about the chore of grocery shopping, the price of food, and the tedium of planning meals. I couldn’t relate.

“Really?” I’d say, then chirp, “I like it!” This would annoy them even more.

For me, shopping was a pleasure. I felt fortunate to be able to throw most anything into my cart without having to worry about facing my fate at the cash register. With a small family of three, it seems reasonable to me.

Growing up in a family of seven in the 70s, I remember my mother having a red plastic grocery clicker that tallied her spending as she shopped. The “Add-a-Matic” was a nifty little handheld gadget that calculated the total as you went. Anytime I tried to help out by tracking every dollar and cent, I’d click-click-click and then lose count. Once you messed up, that was it. You had to start from the beginning.

Back in those days, every shopper’s greatest fear must have been getting caught short at the register, and having to put items back. I don’t remember that ever happening to us, but the concern must have been real if we were using the retro calculator. It lived in my mom’s purse, along with her coupons and S&H Green Stamps.

Since the pandemic, I’ve been doing grocery pickup and spreading my trips out, so my zen shopping routine is disrupted. Given the loss of the Sunday supermarket stroll, I’m out of sorts. Rarely do I know what’s for dinner, or what to make for side dishes. Instead, I’m serving up strange and random combinations regularly, and often find myself apologizing to my tolerant family.

After a lifetime of building my day around meals, everything is out of whack. I come from an Italian family where we discuss lunch at breakfast, and dinner at lunch. We may even discuss Sunday dinner in the middle of the week. I’m always thinking of tasty meals to bring the family together and pondering the perfect dessert to top it all off.

Not anymore.

So after one especially disappointing dinner, my family and I started fondly reminiscing about the best meals we’d ever eaten. The answers were surprising.

My husband harkens back to the Norman Rockwell-style Sunday dinners my mother hosted in the 90s. My siblings and I would crowd around her over-sized table with our mates and later our children, and feast on roasts, potatoes, veggies and homemade pies.

These dinners were full of happy chatter, laughter and delicious food prepared by a master cook.

My daughter likes to eat out, ironically enough. So she waxes poetic about a giant meatball she ate in a fancy Boston restaurant, thick slices of chocolate cake, crisp fish and chips, ice cream pies and other tasty things we don’t make at home.

The most memorable meals I recall were linked to pivotal points in my life. There was the special “birthday dinner” I got to request as a child: grilled steak, salad and lemon meringue pie. I felt like a queen for a day.

Once I reached college it was the sandwiches — PB&J's, McChickens and drive-through bagel breakfast sandwiches — I vividly recall devouring on road trips with friends. We were always starving, and too busy to eat, so every meal was memorable back then.

Once my husband and I started dating, I made homemade stuffed shells. I’m convinced that sealed the deal. This pasta dish is a ton of work and uses every pan and bowl in the kitchen, but it was worth it. Nearly three decades later, he still asks why I never make those anymore.

When I became pregnant, I craved shrimp pizza. I finally ordered and ate one. It was divine. An hour later, I felt a sharp pain in my side. I was convinced it was food poisoning, but it turns out my baby daughter liked shrimp pizza too. She chose that afternoon to start kicking for the first time. Magical.

But perhaps the most carnal food experience I can recall is a steak sandwich I ate in a Portland restaurant. I had just had an ultrasound and, much to my relief, learned two wonderful pieces of news: our baby was perfectly healthy and it was a girl. We celebrated with lunch, and once the food arrived, I dug in with gusto. My husband later compared it to watching a lion tear into a gazelle on The Nature Channel.

During the last six months, there have been no meals that will make the highlight reel. Due to the pandemic, we finally are eating to live, not living to eat.

It’s not for a lack of trying. My daughter and I have cooked and baked many things since we’ve been home together. We’ve experimented with homemade donuts, pizza, pies, Chinese food, heck, even funnel cakes. Although some of it was downright delicious, it’s just not the same.

Clearly it’s not about the food, we’ve decided. It never was. It’s about the emotions and the times we were experiencing. The excitement of a birthday, freedom of college, rush of true love and unique thrill of a baby on the way. That is what makes the food a special memory, I guess.

Well, maybe with one exception: I still believe it can be the way to a man’s heart.

And the beat goes on.

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