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There was that day that I dragged you past the window display and showed you – look, so perfect, delicious. exactly what I want!

Several days after that, I pointedly mentioned the virtues of gourmet versus generic, the quality of a smaller offering, thoughtfully wrapped, rather than a large garish homage of obvious ostentation.

Not a word from you on that day – our first together to celebrate our young, playful love – and by dusk, I’d given up fearing or fuming. I’d simply given (you) up (for dead).

And the next day, when you did show with a sheepish grin and a discounted box of pithy, chalky declarations, I swallowed them like antacid, and resolved to try – just once more – to school you.

That was the year you actually remembered.

You never have, since.

By flickr user bored-now


Inspired by a Scintilla project prompt, and written for WordCount2012.

Written by marginfades

May 3, 2012 at 11:03 pm

Posted in Food

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with 11 comments

Though it’s not among my earliest memories (which reach far back into toddlerhood), I first ate a hamburger at the state fair when I was two years old.

It’s recorded in family lore: my father snapped a picture of my mouth opened wide, capturing both buns, the layers of burger, tomato, lettuce, pickles and onions in between – my eyebrows raised in effort, anticipation. My mother was feeding it to me, her expression serene and indulgent.

And that’s all that matters – that there’s proof, even permission.

Had I eaten that burger (or any burger – even a veggie or turkey burger) as a teenager, or in college, the act of eating would have been interpreted by my extended family as rebellious: a slippery slope into having feet firmly planted in the western world. As it was, they didn’t lament – they knew that while they had my love, and their corner of the world was mine, too (it lay claimed soul long before I was born), my heart is always and forever bideshi to them – wholly American.

Il Meraviglioso Mondo Del Roskilde Festival.

Il Meraviglioso Mondo Del Roskilde Festival., by Kollaps

It wasn’t with any resignation that my parents heard me narrate my weekly “treat” lunch at school – predictably, hamburger, curly fries, and chocolate milk. It was bafflement at its one relatively healthy inclusion. “Chocolate milk? You can get milk at home.” My father believed “in for a penny, in for a pound” – and having never touched the stuff, there’s no way he understood the sugary appeal of the chalk-latey drink – his choice would have been a soda. As a teenager, my body burned through that weekly ritual as if it carried no calories at all – and it satisfied something in my palate that I felt otherwise lacking. This is what my peers eat at home, I thought.

That was a belief my family held, too. Because of those unfortunate offerings by the school’s cafeteria, as well as the ascendance of fast food in every day meals – we believed what our neighbors ate could not sustain us, and might eventually kill us. Obesity had not yet achieved epidemic proportions, and while “The Jungle” was long-published and widely read, Mickey D’s chicken nuggets were a status symbol among my friends. Only the kids whose parents were doctors ate at the clown’s cafe twice a week as a treat – both Friday night and Saturday, with their families – they afforded. Pink slime and Jamie Oliver’s dire pronouncements of reconstituted, blended chicken innards were a generation removed from this novelty.

That hamburger I ate that day was a rare treat. I can count on two hands how many times we ate fast food hamburgers as a family – my father firmly believes that nothing good could come out of food that he couldn’t watch being cooked, and my mother loves to cook. We ate out seldom – and when we did, Dad would already be planning his palate’s return to the home-made dishes he loved.

Hamburgers grilled at a cook-out were a different matter. With my mother’s home-made ketchup and finely ground mustard (which our German-American neighbors loved), the burgers from our fall bonfire cookouts were the most fresh and juiciest I’ve ever eaten.

Those burgers set my conscious bar for any that I’d eat in the future. I’d eat those served in my college cafeteria for fuel, not with any tripti. Even those served by our college as a game-day fundraiser were middling – until the day a benevolent alumnus donated some fresh quality beef from his farm.

Meatward Season

Meatward Season, by Joshua Bousel

Biting into that burger took me back to the state fair. I tasted the burger, yes – but I remembered how my mother looked, luminous as a young mother and wife. I hear my father teasing me into a post-burger smile, chuckling at my greed/hunger. “Did she really eat all of that?” he asked my mom with some consternation (he’d been hoping to wolf down what I hadn’t, I think).

There’s so much more to the memory. How handsome my father was, with his then ever-present smile. The camera around his neck, taking pictures of us, rather than the sights and the crowds. My mother’s hair, flowing past her knees in bountiful, silken waves. My prescience in realizing that my mother’s luminescence came from within – a scintilla of life within her, quite new and precious.

I’ve tasted many burgers reviewed as excellent by critics or stylized as “gourmet” by the chefs and restaurants that serve them. I’ve had backyard burgers and burgers cooked in a pan. I’ve had burgers grilled over charcoal, gas, and campfires. I’ve eaten traditional (beef) burgers, turkey burgers (ground turkey as well as compressed meats), black bean burgers, and tofu burgers. But I’m certain none of them taste quite like that burger I had when I was two.

Of which I really have no memory – just that picture my father snapped. Was it juicy, or dry? All the fixings, or did mom leave off the cheese? Was there pickle juice oozing rivulets through the other condiments? My parents don’t remember, and I’ve given up trying to guess. It’s no one burger that brings back brief flashes of the minutes that make up the memory of the first burger I ate – and no two that bring forth the fragments are quite alike.


Inspired by Prompt B – Day 1 of the Scintilla project

Written by marginfades

March 14, 2012 at 9:37 pm

Posted in Food, Margins Fade

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Fresh Juices & Ginger Chai

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Illness is the theme of the month.

The fevers have receded, thankfully. But not the body-wracking cough, which brings with it unmitigated weariness: unintended exercise, and interrupted sleep.

It’s a few days (and nights) of this before I remind myself that medication’s my friend. Cough suppressants, antihistamines, and a continuous volume of water.

Oh, and juice – fresh, thanks to a recently acquired juicer.


Growing Ginger at Home

It’s amazing how invigorating a fresh glass of juice – without reconstitution, preservation, or flavor additives can taste.

Also? Ginger, added to chai, is a reminder that my grandmother was right: ginger tea for any upper respiratory ailment. It soothes the throat, and I swear it thins out the gunk trying to set up camp there.

Chai Tea

Written by marginfades

January 25, 2012 at 6:53 pm

Posted in Food, The Week

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New Year’s Ghugni

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Apparently, it’s a popular tiffin item in the city where many of my family still call home. Ghugni’s typically made from whole yellow peas, and garnished with raw red onion, cilantro, and cross sections of hot peppers.

I grew up with it as just another daal that my mom made primarily in the winter – though her recipe called for channa daal instead of whole yellow peas. Canned Garbanzo beans were just more readily available in grocery stores of the south/central U.S. of the nineties.

Even though her recipe morphed from minute, relished bites to planned-over batches, she kept that spirit of street food for her ghugni: it was always a treat to eat, rarely made more often like her standard daals. Until, of course, she decided that it was another standard in her daal repertoire. Though the family’s not vegetarian, there were days we chose to eschew meat – and there were always the afternoon snacks that we indulged in, imagining the street vendor’s cart that my dad always stopped by on his way home from college.

At some point, my mother decided to try her hand at making ghugni with black-eyed peas – I remember it as evolving one New Year’s Day, when my dad wanted black-eyed peas and my mother decided to put her own stamp on tradition.

Behind that story is a salient detail: the pound bags of dried beans were quite likely on sale – particularly the black-eyed peas, given the proximity to the holiday. I’m sure my father, in his great wisdom, picked up more bags than my mother would want. And since it was the dead of winter, my mother made her usual filling fare of ghugni, simply substituting one pea for another, and making a large enough batch to last the week.

I just finished eating the batch I made for New Year’s.
And yikes, I forgot to take any pictures.
And no, I usually don’t make it more than once a year, for New Year’s.

My planned over pot of ghugni lasted because I keep forgetting that I’m feeding a couple of adults, and possibly a couple of New Year’s house guests. Even with the enticement of new flavors (without too much heat) for their palate, I haven’t met too many people who are eager for a dish of black-eyed peas, even if served with naan.

A shame. Or perhaps not. More for me.

Images by Kaberi Kar Gupta and Joana Petrova.

Written by marginfades

January 11, 2012 at 5:00 am

Posted in Food

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Comfort’s Flavor

with 4 comments

When the fever spikes, then falls, you want to celebrate as you do with any team touchdown – a swig.  You see a half-raised eyebrow – nothing like Mom’s, entirely her own, and agree that water is the best option.  You’re avoiding her home-remedy electrolyte concoction at all costs – even if it means putting off sampling your home-brew for a while.


On its way on to wellness, illness takes a detour through irritation.  Only comfort and familiarity will do. Warm in its makeshift womb, your favorite blanket must soothe you, keep you cool.  Pain pills should pull you under far enough to ease you into sleep.   But not so far that the childhood monsters emerge from they’ve been lying in wait, all these years.  Food must be bland enough to swallow and nourish, piquant to the point of interest.

Somewhere between childhood and now, mom’s chicken soup (grandma’s, really) gave way to your girl’s chicken-flavored ramen – doctored up with a pinch of oregano, a heaping teaspoon of  basil, and a half bag of frozen peas and carrots.  For color and flavor, of course.

She won’t tell you that she added in a pinch of white pepper – and you’ll pretend you have no idea she added it in.  Grandma’s was plain, and Mom used whole black peppercorns.  You refused to eat the last version that evidenced heat – all those rivulets of some foreign hot sauce.

You roll a spoonful of this one around your tongue, and it blazes through your sinuses.


It’s that pinch of pepper that reignites your appetite – all of sudden: ravenous.  You want food.

She shrugs, smiling, trading your fare for your favorites: an antipasti plate of garlic-stuffed olives, winter salami, grape tomatoes, slices of extra sharp cheddar – oh, and those terribly dry crackers that you think are perfect.  (She thinks they’re terribly cheap, at odds with a plate that otherwise attempts at elegance).  Dessert used to be applesauce, or yogurt – perfect after soup – but she winks at the rules and gives you gelato.


Top image: Spring Ramen Chicken Soup, by Wendy Cooper.

Written by marginfades

January 9, 2012 at 8:53 am

Posted in Food

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