Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Food and opera

This entry at The Traveler's Lunchbox made me remember a lot of things about my childhood that had to do with food. Nothing as interesting or odd as corn chip and ketchup sandwiches, but we did have peanut and banana sandwiches, one of my dad's specialties (not fried, like Elvis', though!).

My dad also made Jell-O for us when we were sick, using orange juice for part of the liquid, which makes it kind of a different texture, somehow thicker, almost chewy. My grandmother would make sugar sandwiches for us when we wanted something sweet and she didn't have anything else in the house--white bread, butter, and sugar--brown sugar was the best. I think that's what made me start thinking about the subject, since the first item on that link was "The Sugar Box." At home, in my cabinet, I have a jar that my grandmother kept cocoa in, and I use it for sugar, and think about her every time I get it out.

I remember tea parties that I had with the little girls next door. We had tiny little teacups filled with tap water, and bread and butter to eat (nothing elaborate here, but it obviously made an impression on me). My mother would make "picnics" for us that we would take out in the backyard and eat; I don't really remember what kind of food was in them, but I remember sitting out in the backyard on a blanket and eating. Whatever it was, food always tastes better outside.

Food always tasted best at grandma's house, too. My mother's mother made wonderful fried chicken, I remember that, and the dish I remember most from my father's mother's kitchen was oyster plant casserole at Thanksgiving. A very odd dish, and one that I don't think any of my other siblings would ever try. And something that I've never seen anywhere else, or tried to duplicate. "Oyster plant" is the common name of salsify, a root vegetable. I don't even know whether I could buy it in the store; maybe I should try. These recipes sound good.

My mother always let us choose what she fixed for our birthday dinners, and I always chose Swiss Steak--cubes of presure-cooked beef in a tomato-based sauce over mashed potatoes. And for my birthday cake, Devil's Food with a white icing that was almost like divinity. She would color the icing different colors with food coloring; one memorable year she made a several-layers high cake with different colored icing between each layer.

Which makes me remember my childhood birthday parties. Oh, she went all out for us! We would dress up in our party dresses and invite our friends over, and mom would make the decorations. Flowers made from tissue paper or actual tissues, gathered with wire. She would buy little pipecleaner ornaments, like bumble bees, at the dimestore, and attach them to the flowers. We had the parties down in our basement, and would play pin-the-tail on the donkey and musical chairs. We also had hats that Mom made out of tissue paper. I'll have to see if there are photos of those sometime when I'm home. I know there are home movies.

As for the opera part of the title, well, I don't know anything about, or care for, opera as it is generally thought of. I don't like "show tunes," I can't stand musicals of any type, in fact, I don't like live theater at all, but that's a discussion for another time.

Musicals just seem so contrived to me. When I watch a movie, I want to be able to suspend disbelief, to at least try to believe that the scenes I'm watching could actually be happening. Of course, most real life situations don't come with background music, but they could; more importantly, we usually don't burst into song at the slightest provocation. Well, Bob does . . .

But against all reason, I've become a fan of what I think I've seen called "Popera," that is, opera sung to a rock beat, or modern songs sung in the style of opera. Who would have thought? Certainly not me. First it was Il Divo, and now it's the East Village Opera Company, whose album has become my preferred workout music. I think it's probably just because, by virtue of the fact that it's sung in a language I don't speak, it can become background music, but it's not boring background music.

I really have no idea. I just know that I love it.

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