Sunday, February 19, 2012

SmartyGirlHealthyRecipes Autobiography: A Taste of My Childhood

Photo Credit: Migrant Strawberries
Photo Credit: Amazon Esperanza Rising
You may have heard the "Entertainer" by Scott Joplin blaring from ice cream trucks in the summertime but I didn't. However, I was lucky to have fresh produce. My dad bought oranges from migrants and strawberries by the flat from roadside stands.
Photo Credit: Dad Peter Lam & Renee Marchol

I lived in a San Joaquin Valley suburb. Suburb may be the wrong label for Tracy in the 1980s. I remember my blue collar neighborhood with fondness. Kind dads would sit on their driveway in soccer chairs drinking beer after an honest day's work as plumber, assembly line worker, or mechanic. Their kids would play with me, running from lawn to lawn before dinnertime. My childhood made me appreciate stories such as Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan about the experiences of other children living in California.
Photo Credit: Renee Marchol in Tracy

Their wives worked at the cheese factory like my mom or at the Spreckles sugar plant not far down the road. My mom wore a white plastic hard hat and earplugs to her job at Leprino Foods. She worked in the dairy lab but she brought me twice to tour the factory and the mozzarella vats. Very interesting for me to watch metal paddles stir heated milk and men wearing plastic gloves press curd into blocks. I loved cheddar curds best! Heaven was eating Gina Leprino cream cheese with a metal tablespoon at home. My mom studied food science in the Midwest in the other dairy state.
Photo Credit: Flickr Stanford Tamales

I didn't eat too many non-Chinese foods at home but when mom cooked I ate enchiladas, tamales and lasagna with sumptuous layers of cheese that she purchased with her employee discount from Leprino's. Maybe all that calcium from cheese made me taller than some Chinese American girls and perhaps it gave me the healthy, white teeth my husband admires.

Photo Credit: Flickr Gourmand Breaks Blog Spanish Churros
Did you know that I grew up in a rural factory town full of silos, grain elevators and fields of corn? One of my classmates was popular because his family was known for growing asparagus. Instead of sugared cereals, I craved tender asparagus. I also liked to play with cornsilk. In elementary school, before my mom's graveyard shift at the factory, she volunteered to help make cornhusk dolls in my class. My friends were Spanish speakers and my most of my mom's friends were Portuguese. This meant that I ate churros, Christmas tamales and Portuguese sweet bread. I am such a lucky gal.

When my parents were away at work, my mom's mother would babysit me. She's sing hymns, knit and play Pop-o-Matic Trouble with me. It was a good childhood. In the afternoons, a musical truck would circle our neighborhood. My grandma would walk to the front yard with me and hand me cash to buy fish! Yes, fillets! Nope, not ice cream. A Portuguese-Italian fish truck would play music to alert my neighbors that he was coming through with freshly caught halibut, ling cod or salmon. My favorite Chinese American kid's dish was ling cold with steamed white rice and ketchup! My grandma would take a dark skillet, fry green onions and ginger matchsticks. Then she'd grill the fillet perfectly so that it had a bittersweet char in some spots.

Photo Credit: Flicker Acts 2 Hot Pot
Photo Credit: Renee Marchol & Grandma Sivia Chen
On weekends, I'd accompany grandma on a Greyhound bus to San Francisco. We'd stay the weekend with her friends.

They were happy people from Swatownese Chinese Church, a cool chapter that also immigrated from Hong Kong. At their homes, I'd be part of wonderful hot pot style seafood dinners. If you haven't experienced such a thing, please put that on your bucket list! You use golden baskets to lower thinly sliced meat and vegetables into a communal cauldron. This pot is filled with aromatic broth. You eat fresh vegetables such as dark leafy baby bok choi. You sup on glass noodles. You taste the freshest lean meats and seafood. You do this together as a friends and family during the winter.

I grew up where food was grown so I delight in Farmers Markets in Los Angeles and take interest in nutrition for children. Also I am interested in First Lady Michelle Obama's remedy to "food deserts"and Alice Waters's efforts to reform school lunches. My husband and I volunteer through Feeding America to do fresh produce sorting at a local food bank. Eating at Chez Panisse is on my bucket list. I also aspire to write about food and travel as well as Chef Anthony Bourdain, author of Kitchen Confidential

I'll share more in future posts. Until then, please contact me to share your favorite writers about food and health.

Best wishes!

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