Food and Memory

Posted on Friday 13 January 2012

Today, I had cheese stuffed tortellini for the first time in over a decade. It is strange, but I didn’t realize that I hadn’t bought or made this type of pasta in over ten years, even though it was always one of my favorites. It was also a dish that I cooked a lot for Gee, when she was in the hospital during the last weeks of her life. I would make it and then drive over to the hospital so she could have it still warm from the stove instead of the horrible stuff that passes for hospital food.

Earlier this fall, I realized that I hadn’t made cheesecakes in over two months, when they used to be a bi-monthly staple for me to make. In many ways, it is for the same reasons that I haven’t had cheese-stuffed tortellini—the person that I most associated with making cheesecakes is gone, like the person I most associated cooking cheese-stuffed tortellini with.

It is said that the sense of smell is the one that is most closely tied to one’s memories. The scent of the pasta cooking brought back memories of our home in Springfield, and my waiting with the Gladware container ready at hand so I could take the pasta off the stove and pack it for the trip to to hospital and get it there still warm for my beautiful wife Gee to eat.

Cheese-filled Tortellini

Cheese-filled Tortellini

Likewise, the scent of baking my mini-cheesecakes brings up the memories of delivering them to Ellie, and waking her up with a Ziploc bag of a half-dozen mini-cheesecakes and watching the smile I love so much appear as she saw them. It always amuses me how she would sneak one out and hide it, and then pretend that she was taking all of them and putting them in the refrigerator so she would have them for later. I always found the crumpled up aluminum pan from the mini-cheesecake hidden in the corner of her desk or some other place until she could dispose of it without me seeing it.

My Signature Mini-Cheesecakes

My Signature Mini-Cheesecakes

Other foods remind me of other people. Making kimchi jigae reminds me of Yoon Joo. It was one of the dishes she would make. Unlike Gee, Yoon could cook fairly well. Another food that reminds me of Yoon is Bing Soo, a Korean dessert that consists of shaved ice, miniature sweet rice cakes, green tea ice cream, green tea syrup and red beans. I still have the bingsoo ice shaver that is shaped like a bear that we bought together. The one we have looks a lot like this, but is white and black, not pink:

Bing Soo Manual Ice Shaver

Bing Soo Manual Ice Shaver

Fried chicken wings will always remind me of my mother-in-law. She makes the best chicken wings. They’re a special treat she will often make if she knows I am coming to visit. They look a lot like the wings in this photo:

Korean Fried Chicken Wings

Korean Fried Chicken Wings

Galbi, or Korean Grilled Beef Short Rib, is another of my favorite dishes. It will always remind me of grilling on my boat, s/v Pretty Gee. It’s a favorite of many of the guests and crew that have been aboard the s/v Pretty Gee. Galbi is cooked in two different styles, the one I prefer is generally referred to as LA style Galbi, and consists of beef rib that has been sliced into about 3/8″–1/2″ thick slices. It looks like this:

LA Style Galbi

LA Style Galbi

These are some of my favorite foods and the memories they evoke. What are your favorite foods and what memories do they bring to mind?


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