Monday, September 25, 2006

Home Cooking

With the onset of cooler weather, a new school year well underway and football on every other channel, it's hard not to think about fall. For some reason the first cool breezes bring me right back to high school - field hockey games, various anxieties from being in a different class, the anticipation of wearing all of my new clothes even if it's still too warm. The shift from summer to autumnalso affects the way I think about food. I was so excited to see squash in the grocery store that I bought one (butternut) to go with baked pork chops and broccolini.

Food from home has distinct tastes and feelings, combined with memory, comfort and an expectation for familiarity. My mom's steamed broccoli is better than mine, even though I prepare it exactly how she does. My grandma's Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur meals follow a traditional pattern, and there is something soothing in this consistency. These holidays coincide with the beginning of fall, when grilling slows down and there are different vegetables to buy at the grocery store.

I tend to eat differently at home, for the sole reason that I don't get the food on a regular basis anymore. I haven't even had brisket since my senior year of high school, and matzoh ball soup was something I've only eaten once or twice since I started college. My aunt's homemade challah is such a treat that I ate three doughy pieces of it, and was even able to ignore the raisins because I wanted to savor every possible bit.

My dad has been eating jerk seasoning on his grilled chicken for years, and he had just made a fresh batch on Friday when I came home. I don't think I've ever eaten my own jerk chicken, but I was happy to have a sweet, spicy chicken breast all to myself on Saturday. It's the kind of meal that needs little accompaniment - broccoli and fresh bread the perfect simple side dishes.

There are some very specific culinary moments that remind me of autumn in Pennsylvania. Seeing squash is one of them; another is biting into a crunchy, slightly tart apple. I happened to bring some McIntosh apples back from the Farmer's Market in Harrisburg, and it easily outshined any apple I've eaten in Richmond. I used to get excited about "locally grown VA Gala apples," but I can't trick myself into liking them when I know what I can find at home.

Wherever I am, fall brings back old feelings and familiar ingredients, promising that the end of summer shouldn't be mourned, because there are just as many cooking possibilities on the horizon.

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