Schmaltz

by Matt Mahon

An incomplete list of fats.

The fat that rises to the top of chicken stock, after you’ve skimmed the scum. If no one’s watching, leave it there and drop all the vegetables through it so they bob around coated to a high gloss. If someone objects, the fat is removed from the stock but is snuck back into the soup in the kneidl mixture.

The connective tissue and fat in a shoulder of lamb, rendered to the point that the meat can be pulled from the bone with tongs. My father always says, “The meat can be pulled from the bone with tongs!”

That same lamb fat in the bottom of the tray the next day. If the lamb was rubbed with spices, the congealed fat is grainy and fluorescent yellow, and the gravy is bitter. The hard sheets of fat can be lifted out nearly whole to be thrown away, but there’s always a remainder. Mix in washing up liquid and emulsify it so it doesn’t clog the drain.

The grainy fat in cold lamb sliced the next day, a fat which coats the roof of your mouth like a cheap pastry.

Jellified chicken fat, schmaltz, revealed as you lift the cold chicken carcass out of the pot the next day. Best if still studded with the roast carrots and fennel. Put it in a sandwich with the chicken, roast vegetables and with mayonnaise. The first foie gras was a by-product of the schmaltz industry, as Ashkenazi Jews who didn’t have access to vegetable oils began force-feeding geese to produce more cooking fat.

Other jellified fats: pork pies with enough jelly (hard to find) and piccalilli, beef tongue sliced with gherkins.

Rendered fat, and fat mixed with meat. I’ve inherited a preference for streaky bacon over back. The fat in belly pork. Çöp shish. Crispy fat down the length of tandoori rib chops and pirzola.

Lardo, sliced thin on thin toast and grilled clear, with creamy goat’s cheese added afterwards. I can’t cut it finely enough by hand, and Continental Stores has closed down.

The fat on pork chops. These were not often enjoyed in our house. We didn’t keep kosher, but unadulterated pork was sometimes a step too far. Pork chops were out, but in a nod to the Irish side, boiled bacon ribs were fine (most of the fat to be left behind on the bone), and always eaten with floury potatoes and greens covered in butter.

Butter. Butter in everything. Every recipe begins: fry onions in butter with a bay leaf and salt.

Paris, parsley and pasta

by Sophie

I was in Paris when I received a text from my mum saying my dad was in hospital, again. As an alcoholic these hospital trips were no rarity for my father but the frequency and unsurprising nature of them did not reduce my anxiety. Repeatedly having seizures (in a Tescos car park, in the newsagents around the corner from my house, at home alone and falling down the stairs, breaking his leg and cracking his head open) were the cause but nothing would stop him drinking. When it was announced he might have pneumonia I had a quick google and found myself in a state of panic. 

Distance added to my worry. I normally live about 2 hours away but i wasn’t going home for a few more days and couldn’t afford another flight. I lay in bed waiting for my friend next to me to wake up and once she did spent my day thinking about what we would have for dinner. I find that food is the only remedy when I feel low, I spend hours watching ‘River Cottage,’ and browsing recipe books, but here I had none of my  usual comforts. 

The aim of the trip to Paris was to eat well so when I requested to make dinner my friend eyed me suspiciously. She is normally in charge of the cooking and is very good at it, she’d made steak with garlic greens the night before and it was a tough act to follow. We visited the local Monoprix and after walking around and eyeing up the fish counter, smelling the herbs in the vegetable section and thinking ‘carbs will help me here’ I decided what to make. Tagliatelli with prawns, chorizo, garlic and parsley. Quite a simple dish but it was the best meal I’ve ever made, my friend even quipped ‘I didn’t know you could cook’. I don’t think I will ever be able to make or eat the meal again but I always keep it in mind. 

That’s quite a kick

by Anonymous

A family holiday in Slovenia when I was about 16 was my first time trying something wasabi flavoured, it was a large bag of wasabi flavoured crisps which I ate entirely on my own, revelling in the spicy kick they had. That night at dinner I thought the soup we were having tasted a bit strange, it didn’t seem to have any flavour. It tasted cold even though I knew it was hot. It took me another course to realise that I’d managed to damage my tastebuds and couldn’t taste a thing. It was 2 days before I was able to taste anything again. Since then I’ve not stopped picking anything wasabi whenever I’m given the chance.

Ming at Mermaid Ave

by Bre Audrey Graham

Sunscreen may be the first thing you smell, but sea salt is the first thing you taste. Standing on the top my balcony, overlooking the ocean you take one big breath in and you’ll taste the sea on the tip of your tongue.

I’ve lived away from my house for most of my life. Our family home sits at the top of a cliff on Mermaid Avenue in a seaside suburb in Sydney. The only way to describe it is that it’s paradise. When I land back home in Australia, I always have the same ritual. After the 24 hour flight from London and after the unfurling of limbs, my Mum takes me home via the slower scenic route.

It’s all about the first look. The glimpses of the ocean that I can catch from the car windows. They start slowly like little flickers of blue between the houses and then just before we turn onto my street, there she is. The ocean, the bay and rock pools I grew up on and all that salty sea air that is waiting to push itself into my polluted London lungs.

Last time I went home, the house was all but empty. With my parents living overseas, half the contents of our home was sitting in a house by the Rhine in Germany. With no drivers license and an aversion to getting on any form of Sydney public transport once it’s over 30 degrees outside, I walked 25 minutes uphill to the fish shop.

The walk was worth it for the brown paper wrapped huge prawns I left with inside a plastic bag filled with ice. Big green tiger prawns, prawns that you don’t see outside the southern hemisphere. As I walked home the ice dripped in the sun, soaking my leather sandals with every step as the heat beat down on me.

This wasn’t just going to be a meal for me. I was cooking for my Ming, my cat. Ming is my mirror in life, my little cat from Singapore that I miss every time I hear a bell ring or a cat purr. Ming has been my baby since I was ten. I was first handed her when she was a three-week-old kitten my mother had found left for dead in a plastic bag at the wet markets in Singapore during the SARS outbreak. I dripped water into her mouth and fed her the best things I could find.

Her fur constantly damp with my teenage tears, she knew about all the bullies and all the boys. And still, now, things feel real again when I can whisper them to her and tell her how I’ve changed in our years apart since I left for London at 18. She’s been there for it all and knows things that no one else has ever heard. The things she has given me, I give back to her in food. A slight cat, her appetite knows no bounds.

A strange cat, my Ming eats anything. From a long line of market dwelling street cats, she happily gnaws her way through plastic bags to get to a roast chicken inside and shreds paper bags to chew the corners of fresh baguettes. At 12 when we left Singapore and moved her to Sydney, I knew how much she missed the humid rain and sleeping under our mango tree and chasing the tropical butterflies that filled the air. So I as a bored and curious child left her out bowls of coconut milk to sip thinking it might remind her of the tropics she was from.

I’ve seen her lick at the lid of a jar of curry paste and we share pancakes and bacon and every Christmas Ming has her own plate of ham, turkey, and stuffing to suffice her dealing with a house full of children for one day. A tiny cat, she eats with curiosity, and a ferocious fear like it’s all about to be taken away. But after watching her lick her paws in the sun, she’s the perfect vision of contentment. I love watching her belly swell before she curls up like a little Russian hat and falls asleep.

So, after not coming home back to Sydney for a year, I knew I had to make Ming something special to make up for it. Chilli and garlic barbecued prawns to be shared with the love of my childhood in the garden of my family home. She sat on top of the kitchen bench watching me while I tossed the prawns in chopped red chili, garlic, lemon zest and olive oil. I heated up the charcoal on the barbecue outside and grilled them till they were charred and blackened.

The chili was strong and hot, and the olive oil dripped through onto the charcoal and hissed. Once done, I squeezed over more lemon and put them on a plate that balanced on my chest while my legs were stretched out on the table in the Sydney sunshine. With Ming sitting next to me, I peeled off each shrimps shell and made her up her own plate of prawn heads, legs, and tails.

My hands looked like I had been digging for diamonds. Ming didn’t care about the shambles of this scene. I ate each prawn one by one, with a sip of very cold white wine between each bite as Ming crunched her way through the plate of shells. Breaking through their brains, licking her lips after eating their little black eyes. She loved the chili, she loved the garlic. At the end when all our prawns were gone, I washed up and Ming and I lay out on the hot tiles and napped in the sun.

All that was left of the scene was an empty wine glass and two ladies sleeping. Both not as young or as foolish as when they first came into each other’s lives, but still the same under the Sydney sun very full with a lifetime of love.

Tomato Cabbage and Egg Soup

Warmness.
It was after my first ever survival training the the Royal Canadian Air Cadets. I had spent three long days sleeping and training on dirt soaked with water and covered with rotten leaves in a remote forest. It was a typical Canadian winter — heavy rain, cold biting wind, and despair in my heart. I’ve been struggling to stuff freezing MRE into my mouth because food was essential to survival in such a grim environment. My tongue refused to taste yet my stomach screamed in coldness and hunger. Each night I slept with my eyes open in the small tent I built by myself with few sticks I found and a piece of “waterproof” fabric the RCAC provided. The overwhelming Water droplets squeezed into the gaps of the fabric and danced on my face. I’d count each second until 6:15 AM — when the blaring sound of the bugle would wake us up and… another day.

I memorize all these trivial details so vividly partly because of my deteriorating mental state throughout the three days of training. I can clearly recall that on the last night I convinced myself to not die because the next morning I could go home.
I don’t know how to describe the relief I felt when I saw that familiar white SUV parked in front of the doors at the squadron’s headquarter. My dad welcomed me with a smiling face and a warm embrace. I felt grateful looking at the interior of my house — the ceramic lamp was giving off a dim and soft light, the baby blue blanket made by mom covered a corner of the sofa, and my little betta fish named Jayden swam cheerfully in his little home. My dad said to me, “ you must be hungry! Let me make something quick for you.” and hurried to the kitchen. Soon enough, I smelled a mouthwatering aroma from the kitchen — something that’s one hundred times better than MRE…no, maybe two hundred times. My dad came to me with a bowl of steaming tomato cabbage and egg soup, a simple Chinese homemade dish. The red sliced tomatoes and jade green cabbage leaves made a bright contrast. The vegetable soup was embellished with golden fried egg omelette so that it tasted both refreshing and flavourful. The crispiness of the cabbage, the silky egg omelette, and a slight touch of sweet and sour tomatoes danced in harmony. No doubt, it was the perfect dish for me at that particular night — simple yet invigorating. Its warmth not only went down my throat and soothed my empty stomach but also went directly to my heart. It might have been the steam coming out of the soup but by the moment I took the first sip I was immediately misty-eyed.

That bowl of tomato cabbage and egg soup was the most delicious meal I’ve had for really long time, and I think it’s because of its taste of home.

Electric

The tomato sauce, bright with specs of green (oregano), covered my lips as I slurped the long, knotted, homemade pasta we overcooked. The eggplant Parmesan was cold and seemed like it soaked in its own water but it was deliciously cheesy. All the effort we put in to prepare this birthday dinner helped us ignore the few mistakes we made along the way. We even had seconds. And thirds.

It was fascinating to watch the filamentous beaten eggs slowly being incorporated into the ring of flour formed onto the kitchen’s working surface. Heaps of flour could be found even on the kitchen floor. Once I manage to blend the flour and eggs in a somewhat homogenous mix, Anna took over and started kneading the dough. Watching my tomboy girlfriend painfully handling the task while wearing a bright pink apron on which could be read the word “princess” made me laugh so hard I had to take a video to commemorate the event.

Giving the dough its actual pasta form proved to be more mechanical than expected, but was quickly done in three simple steps:

1. Roll out the dough to make it thinner
2. Insert the dough in a (preferably) shiny, silver pasta machine’s opening
3. Crank the pasta maker as many times as needed to make long, thin, stringy pasta

Making the eggplant Parmesan failed to be as exciting as making the pasta itself, but the process was nonetheless interesting. Anna pulled out an enormous tub of breadcrumb to cover the eggplant slices while I grated some cheese and waited for the oil to sizzle in the pan. I was in charge of grating the said cheese, while little drops of boiling oil flew off the pan and burnt our arms.

The white wine we drank and the electronic ambient music we listened to created a perfect, mellow ambiance, which was mixed with a feeling of closeness and intimacy brought by cooking together. She made sure to set up the table in her dining room with the fanciest cutlery and plates she could find. Anna even bought a simple, glass water jug to make the dinner seem that more special. We talked for hours, and felt like we were the only people on Earth for a moment, until we noticed Anna’s younger sister quietly coming down the stairs to sneakily take some food back to her room.

Food takes an essential and central part in our lives. We were both brought up to appreciate and enjoy it, rather than just see the technical and necessary aspect of it. This food memory is therefore made even more notable by the fact that we prepared it and worked hard for it—together. Eating the food we made was not the highlight of this dinner, although it still was an essential element of it.

Food: A Privilege, a Routine, a Weapon

by Quentin

Growing up I had two mums: birth-giver and caretaker. While my birth mum came home almost every day, she worked very long hours, and so I spent most of my time with my Indian nanny: Geeta. My mum also spent several years in residency school training for her medical profession and was required to spent many nights away from home. I spent far more time with Geeta than my mother from before I entered kindergarten to the end of my Junior year of high school. I even used to call Geeta “mom” constantly by mistake which would upset my actual mother. Geeta was from India, and had spent most of her life there. As such, Geeta raised me and my siblings with different values and a different set of worldviews involving food. Food may seem like an insignificant factor in your life, but in mine, it has shaped me as a person.

Growing up, we weren’t allowed to throw out food or even speak to one another during meal time. Food is a privilege, not a right is what we were taught. Geeta made my siblings and I eat every crumb of food in silence: just as her dad made her growing up. Focus should be on the food not the conversation. She would always say, “people are sick and dying for food”. We were each expected to consume all the food presented to us on our plates, under threat of being struck by the large wooden spoon I now use to cook pasta at home. When we’d start to chatter or argue during dinner (as children often do) she would grab that spoon or her favorite frying pan and lift it up as if preparing to strike.

Geeta was also a women of pattern. Every day, all those years, we received the exact same meals and meal order without fail. Each exact meal corresponded with a day of the week:

Monday: Stove-cooked steak, microwaved green beans, and sticky, buttery rice with a cup of milk and fruit.

Tuesday: Chicken (sometimes substituted out for awful fish sticks with ketchup), side of pasta and Broccoli with a cup of milk and fruit.

Wednesday: Cannot remember currently.

Thursday (My favorite): Salmon, mixed vegetables, and pasta, with a cup of milk and fruit.

Friday (second favorite): Sliced Hot dog pieces with ketchup, mixed vegetables (from frozen package), and corn, with a cup of milk and fruit.

Food however, wasn’t always my friend. At times, it seemed more of the enemy. Geeta was more traditional in her forms of parenting. She believed children, particularly “stupid boys” needed to be strictly disciplined. One of her signature methods was by using weaponized food she kept in our freezer at all times. I distinctly remember getting into an argument with my brother one afternoon at dinner when we were kids. I cannot recall what the argument was about, however, I remember Geeta shouting and pulling out her bag of ‘Hot Indian chillies’ as she called it. I remember refusing to be silenced and she, as a result, said she would shove the hot peppers into my mouth. I, being the rebellious child that I was, refused to open my mouth. Unfortunately, Geeta always had a solution: she grabbed my nose until I gasped for air, and then squeezed the pepper juice into my mouth. I tried to pretend it wasn’t affecting me, however, I still ended up bursting into tears. To this day I can still hear her telling me, “That’s just the juice”.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Geeta very much and I still remain in contact with her. I have many great memories of her teaching me how to cook various Indian dishes such as chickpeas and dal and watching Tom and Jerry with her as she laughed and clapped each time Jerry the mouse injured Tom the cat. The way she raised me has certainly influenced my life. To this day I still set patterns for myself constantly. I think setting routines for myself helps me feel comfortable and safe. I still feel privileged every time I eat, and to be completely honest, I still get ancy whenever I see someone eat chilies or pass them in the supermarket.

A taste of home

by Anonymous

Going to my grandparents’ house up in northern Japan was always something I looked forward to. I got to eat whatever I wanted and my grandma knew what my favorite foods were. What I happened to look forward to the most, was a Japanese dish called “niku-jyaga” which translates to meat and potatoes. It’s not like the German meat and potatoes. It wasn’t as dry, and it wasn’t as “manly” or “hearty.” My grandma’s niku-jyaga was more moist and stewy. Natural juices from the beef was blended with the sweetness of the onions, the carrots, and the Japanese condiments used to stew everything together. My earliest memory of my encounter with this dish was when I was five years old. It was a cold winter day in Koriyama, where the dry winds slap your face and make your spine shudder. It was the kind of cold that made you crave soup. My grandma told me that because we were going to have a family dinner, she was going to make niku-jyaga. As an eager child, I jumped to help her peel the potatoes and carrots, and sloppily dumped ingredients into the hot pot. I stood on my little stool, watching my petite grandma dirty her apron and work her magic with a smile. As the scent of niku-jyaga began to fill the house, my grandfather, a man with a nose of a dog, came downstairs. He pointed his long thin fingers at the pot and told my grandma she needed to add more salt. My ill uncle wobbled down the stairs and took his seat and gave his signature crooked smile at the sight of me cooking with his mother. As the niku-jyaga was almost complete, my parents come home, dressed in their business suits, and I ran into their arms and told them I cooked for them. My father, tall and muscular laughs at my excitement, while I pull on my mother’s hand to urge her to sit. As they all sit down, my grandmother and I bring out the niku-jyaga and I brag that I helped make this beautiful concoction. “Itadakimasu” we say and sat down to eat. The niku-jyaga tasted like home. Though my Chinese grandmother and my own mother tried to recreate it, their versions never tasted the same as my Japanese grandmother’s. Her’s tasted like home. I tasted the warmth of her smile, the time put in to cook, and the love she has for me. Her niku-jyaga, to me, will always be the epitome of what home cooking tastes like.

Chocola!

by Anonymous

Chocolate. Chocolate everywhere – on the smooth surface, on the sides, dripping steadily down towards the plate. The drizzled snowflake designs on the top of the pudding put one in mind of freezing Holland winters, not burning Arizona summers. Chocolate is more of a winter food, or at least a cold weather food, definitely not suitable for the Sonoran desert. Survival mechanisms here include: avoid outdoors as much as humanely possible between the months of May and October, scurry from one air conditioned haven to another, consume solely ice-cold drinks and ice-cold food. My grandmother, however, was a firm believer in the restorative powers of chocolate. She fostered this knowledge on us during one hazy summer afternoon where the heat shimmered in waves off of the pavement and thermometers reached 115 Fahrenheit.

My grandmother came from a tiny town in Northern Holland, where it snows up to three feet in a “light flurry” and where the method of transportation for most months is skating on frozen canals. I visited, once, when I was 12 years old. It was a fairytale village – pointed rooftops, green shutters, window flower boxes. A canal cut directly through the center, with houseboats moored there for the summer. One, a small blue-lined thing, was home to an old lady who gave me massive cookies and told stories of her life. I ate the semisweet chocolate and nodded politely as she showed me faded photographs of days long gone now.

Arizona summers are furnaces of boiling, still air. The dusty ground cracks and forms spiderwebs across the dry land, and the roads look like they have water on them even when there’s none there. My grandmother was not a fan of this weather. She loved the cold, she loved the snow, and she loved chocolate. And that meant, the first time she came to visit us in Arizona, she came prepared, with bags of chocolate, raisins, and more chocolate. We were about to be blessed with her famous chipolatapudding, a traditionally Dutch dessert— three types of chocolate, glazed with sugar, dotted with raisins, made kid friendly by the substitution of melted dark chocolate inside of the typical Maraschino liquor.

Although the heat was as oppressive as ever and everything in my brothers’ and my bodies were telling us to avoid heavy foods, we watched eagle-eyed as the pudding was completed and placed majestically on its plate. As we eagerly prepared to begin eating, a thunderclap outside heralded the arrival of rain.

When it rains in Arizona, it really rains. We rushed to the front door and flung it open, standing in the shelter of the small overhang and watching the torrents of rain crashing down. Up and down our street, our neighbors were doing the same. The end of the road was shrouded in sheets of water, and the giant cactus in our neighbor’s yard swayed in the strong gusts of wind. My grandmother waved hands covered in chocolate and sugar towards the gray thunderheads and exclaimed “gezegende regen!” (blessed rain!)

My brothers and I sat crosslegged just outside the front door and dug into the pudding to the soundtrack of thunder and rain on tiled roofs. It was as good as expected – the hard chocolate shell breaking apart to reveal the creamier chocolate inside, the raisins tasting better than they could ever taste by themselves, everything melting on my tongue in delicious celebration.

My grandmother leaned against the doorframe and watched us proudly, close cropped hair dusted with sugar and fingers tipped with chocolate. Later, she taught us a clapping game and kept the rhythm in chanted Dutch, still smelling of three kinds of chocolate and hair frosted with delicate grains of sugar. The remains of the chipolotapudding rested on the kitchen counter, invoking thoughts of snowy villages and frozen canals in Holland amidst the boiling Arizona desert.