Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Memorable Meals

I've thought about it quite a bit and it is not fair to single out one for the honor. There are just too many meals that stick out in my mind but I'll list three.

In the early 50's my grandmother's house on Sunday afternoon after church was the gathering place of pretty much every bit of family close enough to make an appearance. The food was just good grandmother food...pot roast, meat loaf, fried chicken and all that but there were always grandmothers yeast rolls and one of her homemade cakes and at least one or two pies. Sometimes there were so many of the family there that we had to eat in shifts with spill over from the dining room into the kitchen but there was always plenty of food. Always a relish tray with an assortment of homemade pickles and always a big bowl of home canned green beans(cooked with bacon of course) and usually mashed potatoes. There was also always a bowl of stewed fruit...apricots, peaches, apples, figs, whatever. It was a rule of my grandfather that every meal would have stewed fruit  and hot fresh bread...rolls, cornbread, biscuits, light bread but all homemade and usually very recently from the oven.
My first "real" duty after boot camp and electronics school was with the American embassy in Nicosia, Cyprus. Yeah, I had gone from somewhat rural Virginia to Great Lakes for the Navy and from there to San Diego and Mare Island, Ca. but Cyprus was really away from home. Those of us Navy types attached to the embassy were officially part of the United States Information Service but the reality was we were spying on the middle east...at least electronically. One of the perks of working at the embassy was access to the boathouse and boats in Kyrenia. On my first trip there the older Greek man that was the caretaker of the boathouse made a run to the kebab stand for us few that were spending the weekend. He collected a pound from each of us and returned with kebab sandwiches. This was new to me and probably the first time I had ever actually eaten lamb. The sandwich consisted of small cubes of grilled lamb, tomatoes, lettuce, parsley, a squeeze of lemon and a bit of Greek cheese stuffed into a large pita bread. I can still taste that first amazing bite. I must have eaten hundreds of those sandwiches in the year and a half I was stationed there. I have tried for more than 30 years to replicate the taste of that sandwich here at home but have only managed a pale shadow of an effort.
A couple of years ago I was fortunate to have a client in Nasu, Japan. I spent three weeks there and during that time had some wonderful Japanese food. One, however, stands out. Upon the recommendation of one the client's folks I went to a small tempura restaurant in some off the beaten path back alley in the middle of Nasu. In spite of my complete lack of Japanese language skills I managed to convey to the owner/chef that is was his choice. This place was small, I think maybe ten people could be served and 5 of those were at the bar. Being a single I was at the bar and I watched and ate as the elderly tempura master cooked course after course and served it to all of the patrons. All of us, it seemed, had taken the 'hit me with your best shot' option. I recognized most of it but not all... however what ever it was every bite was absolutely perfect. I drank way too much sake that night and had to have a taxi take me back to the hotel but that is probably the only meal I have ever had were each offering was perfect and obviously created by a master.
I could recite others but these stand out as such recurring and perfect memories.

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