Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Where I'm From: Food Edition

I am a different eater now, but I have not forgotten where I am from.

I am from Lauren’s salty chocolate chip cookies, from Good Season’s Italian dressing on iceberg lettuce, and take-in double-cheese Bocce Pizza while we watch the game on Sundays, always. I am from weekly chicken fingers at the Four Seasons Diner, hands and face dripping with chunky-tangy Rudy’s blue cheese.

I am from home-baked chicken dinner with steamed broccoli and Uncle Ben’s wild rice pilaf. Four people at the dinner table, every weeknight; TV off. I am from Lauren and Arthur, bickering, bickering. A kiss. A smile. Bickering more.

I am from “how was school today?” and “pass your chicken bones to Dad” and “yes you can have seconds on dessert.” My sister talks about Grease rehearsal  while Dad Hoovers the drumsticks clean. They wait forever for me to finish my broccoli stalks (tops go to mom).

I am from thumbs on the wishbone, pulling hard, and taking turns for chores: Aimee set, so Tammy clears.

I am from a camera shop owner and a Catholic-turned-Jew. I am from a boy scout troop leader and a dentist who found chickens and eggs on his doorstep as payment for pulled teeth. I am from theater people. They wrote their own stories and sang them. I am from travelers. I am from Poland and Russia and New York and Syracuse and Buffalo.

I am from sloppy/sappy/noisy/crowded Christmukkah in our brown living room, where dozens of family and near-strangers gathered to devour a mountain of presents and bagels and lox and sweetsweet kugel. High on holiday spirits, dripping brisket juice and applesauce onto the shag rug, the guests pledged lifelong devotion to my parents. They made good on their word. 

I am from 30 Jews and adopted Jews stuffed around the Passover table, helping themselves to seconds on everything except the lousy kosher desserts. They sing about four flawed brothers to the tune of Clementine and belt out God Bless America in honor of Irving Berlin. Slowly I progress from "the one who cannot ask at all" to "the wise son."

I am from shore lunches on the rocks of the Georgian Bay and Sahlen’s hot dogs charred and steaming from the grill, indoors or out. I am from Lauren’s fresh blueberry pie at family reunions by the stream. I am from Easter in the woods with The Woods, where I helped peel potatoes for thirty. I stole my annual taste of ham and gorged on peanut butter cups from my Easter basket while Aimee was off fishing with the boys. 

Today, I am the keeper of half-forgotten recipes. I’m from “add a little of this and a little of that” followed by the shock of “yours doesn’t taste like mine.” I am from much more sugar. I am from a significant amount of real butter.

I am the owner of Synagogue cookbooks and the handwritten matzah ball soup letter (“because someday you’ll want to know how to make my soup and I won’t be around to tell you.”) I have bound copies of the close-enough zucchini bread recipe card and the transcribed, “best I can remember” ratios of potato to egg for Aunt Robin’s scalable potato kugel. My own record-keeping has not been much better.

And my children will inherit this tangled mass of edible history. They will know that the food we eat is bound up in our identity. It is part of every story we tell about ourselves and about our families. As in all cultures, our food links us to our past and helps define our future. 

My childen will understand their place in my history and reconcile it with their place in their father’s very different food legacy. They will eat with us at the table (screens off); they will hear our stories, and they will add their own. They will know their food, and they will know where they are from.

# # #

Thank you to Nina Badzin, via Brain Child Magazine, and Galit Breen, via Mamalode for introducing me to this template and prompt. Also thanks to MamaKat's Writer's Workshop, for reviving the template again. It was a perfect jumping-off point to help remember the food that defined my childhood.


  1. This is wonderful. I really love this prompt. It's amazing how food can summon up so many memories.

  2. I was thinking the same thing Rachel. It brings us back to so many times and places.

  3. I have a sudden urge to join you for dinner...what wonderful traditions!


If you're having trouble leaving a comment, send me an email at tammyjkleinman [at] to let me know.