Thanks for the Meat, Mom

While I foraged the fridge for other delights, her meat got me through. Sometimes after school, it drove me home through the swampy woods. And when I was lucky, she’d have foil-wrapped flank steak waiting. Charred on the outside, bloody in its center, ready to be sliced ever so thinly, it beckoned.

Her company ham smelled bright and salty. It was meaty rather than slippery in texture, which made me strangely proud. On a good day, I would uncurl my brown bag lunch and reach inside for a sandwich graced with her ham. My sisters carried only one sandwich to that cement school. How early on was it that I ate two? Because I asked for more, she complied. No questions asked.

I loved the dense white bread against the roof of my mouth, which always followed the sharp tang of the mustard and salty ham. That ham pulled me away from that lunchroom smell, the roar of my classmates. And after I ate them, the weight of her meaty sandwiches slowed me down, so I could walk with deliberation back to my classroom to face the shame of my subpar reading group, where I’d try to decipher the incomprehensible tangle of words on the page.

By high school, the rich aroma of leftovers in our bag lunches embarrassed my sisters. But waiting in my locker, her lunches supported me—especially sukiyaki after my birthday and brisket after Passover, laid onto rye bread with thinly sliced pickles.

Decades later, I’m not sure if her meat was a mother’s love, but it felt like it. Did she know I was out there, leaping towards the strong taste of meat, each meal a stepping-stone out?

ξ

A Trinity of Flavors

The Father and the Son, yes. But the Holy Ghost always stumped me. My husband, a lapsed Catholic, was never much interested in discussing church doctrine, but he speaks in metaphors, not my forte.

When I taught students how to season food, I spoke in flavor trinities, never in metaphors. Food is hands-on, literal, and that’s something I adore about it—cook, savor, satisfy.

My seasoning class was a simplification; cuisines can’t really be reduced so perfectly. But the flavor combinations, trinities of ingredients, worked superbly. This is especially true for those with little experience cooking, who can suddenly create a Thai curry or Provencal chicken. But even excellent home cooks, especially recipe-followers, feel liberated when improvising international mid-week dinners with three flavoring ingredients

I can season food well. But, generally I’m an ingredients-based cook who prefers to let the individual components shine, rather than adding them up to the sum total of their parts. Trinities are a compromise. They evoke a cuisine with their synergy—think butter, shallots and wine for France—but you can taste the individual flavors too, because there are so few of them. When you start with raw ingredients that are fresh and seasonal, you don’t have to add much to make them work.