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May 30, 2009

Food Friendly May: Memories of Moms and Others of Significance

Filed under: Food — Twistie @ 8:30 am

Last night, Mr. Twistie and I ate in one of our favorite restaurants. It just so happens it was also a favorite of Mr. Twistie’s mother. Why? Because she felt it was the best Japanese food in the Bay Area, hands down.

She knew whereof she spoke, too. She was Japanese. Not of Japanese descent, but born and raised in Japan and a Nagasaki survivor to boot. It wasn’t something she liked to talk about.


Kamakura was one of her favorite haunts. One year she took us out to Kamakura for my birthday. Since Mr. Twistie’s mother was friends with the owner, we wound up getting some extra goodies added to the meal on the house.

I’ll never forget the appetizers Faith sent out to us. They were luscious little Asian eggplants filled with miniscule shrimps. The downside? Mr. Twistie won’t touch seafood with a barge pole and has even less intention of ever allowing another eggplant to pass his lips. His mother loved eggplant and seafood, but happened to be allergic to shrimp. I was forced to eat the entire plate by myself. After all, we didn’t want to offend.

Okay, and eggplant and shrimp are two of my favorite things ever and I think they’re even better when combined. I was in culinary heaven and my mother in law beamed.

As it turned out, lung cancer took her from us before my next birthday.

So last night as we had our gyoza and shogiyaki and green tea ice cream, it turned out we were both thinking of that night and of Mr. Twistie’s mother. And though I’ve never gotten them again, I thought about those shrimp-filled eggplants. I thought about the flavor, yes, but mostly about how happy my mother in law looked watching me eat them.

There are times, too, when I find myself making a pot of split pea soup and realize how much my decision was prompted by nostalgia rather than appetite…or rather nostalgia for my mother and appetite combined. She made amazing split pea soup. I never asked for her recipe, and mine has never turned out quite the same, but I think of her every time I make it.

Last week I was in the grocery store looking at the ice cream. It was a hot day, and I wanted a nice frozen treat. As if compelled, I reached for the mint chocolate chip. It wasn’t until the ice cream was in my cart that I thought about the fact that it was my fathers’ favorite flavor.

Food has a way of making us think of the people who have eaten it with us. It connects us viscerally with friends, lovers and family years after they are gone. The scents, the flavors, remind us of times gone by. Sometimes it’s a bit disconcerting, but I also find it comforting, in a funny way. It’s almost like visiting with people we miss, including our younger selves.

Last night Mr. Twistie and I missed his mother, but we also remembered the best parts of having her with us. As we left the restaurant, I felt well fed in both body and soul. And I know that when the weather turns colder, I’ll spend time in the kitchen making split pea soup with my mother, too.

I’ll even share it with people I love who are still around to build memories with.


  1. HOLY MOLY!! My fiance and I LOVE Kamakura and dine there frequently, because, as you stated, it *is* the best Japanese food in the Bay Area. Fortunately, its right down the street from our house. An old college friend, who is a Japanese native, turned me on to the lovely little place years ago, and I can’t imagine going anywhere else for sushi.

    Oh, how I adore Faith and all of the gift appetizers/sushi that she drops off at our table every now and then. She is darling!

    I had no idea you were a Bay Area gal, Twistie! How nice!! =)

    Comment by JayKay — May 30, 2009 @ 7:44 pm

  2. Whenever I cook stew, my house smells so exactly like my beloved grandmother that my heart almost aches missing her and the long talks we had while sitting at her kitchen table. I had to smile when my younger brother stopped by one day while I had the stew simmering and immediately upon entering my house said, “Wow, it smells just like Grandma Brown’s. Man, I miss her!”

    Comment by AmelieWannabe — May 31, 2009 @ 1:40 am

  3. @JayKay: Not just Bay Area. We live about six blocks from Kamakura. Best. Sushi. Ever.

    @AmelieWannabe: I know that moment! Okay, not about your grandmother, but the way a house smells like your best memories of someone.

    Comment by Twistie — May 31, 2009 @ 12:17 pm

  4. Grilled ham and cheese with pickles always makes me happy, because that’s what my dad would make us for lunch on the weekends if my mom was away. It was always more than lunch, because he would ask each of us individually what type of bread and cheese we wanted.

    Also, 3-bean soup makes me think of my father and his mother. He’s tried for years to emulate the recipe she used while he was growing up. He makes it for them every time he visits them, as they have a really hard time getting around now, so we spend the afternoon in their kitchen talking and reminiscing. It’s been a great way to learn about the family history and hear stories I otherwise wouldn’t.

    Comment by jojokaffe — June 1, 2009 @ 10:46 am

  5. I know, my favorite smell in the world is a roux cooking, and it makes me think of my mom and my granny and all our family dinners. I love Kamakura too, and will miss it now that I’ve moved to Puerto Rico. They really do have the best Japanese food in the Bay Area. Randomly, where do you like to go for breakfast in Alameda? I must admit, I never understood the fuss about Ole’s or Jim’s.

    Comment by Elaine — June 1, 2009 @ 12:16 pm

  6. Ah, Elaine, thanks for reminding me of roux. It’s the smell of my other grandmother’s house and always foretold of pots of darkly colored and deliciously thick gumbos and etouffees. My husband loves to watch me cook a roux; he says it’s magic how adding liquid to that bubbling mass of oil, flour, and trinity results in culinary perfection.

    Comment by AmelieWannabe — June 1, 2009 @ 3:56 pm

  7. @Elaine: Jim’s used to be better, but it was always a greasy spoon lover’s greasy spoon. Sometimes I’m in the mood, and others I’m really not. Ole’s is good at some things, but not others. I do love the fact that I can go to Ole’s and get a big bowl of grits for breakfast. It’s the only place I know in town where you can get that done well. The place I go most often for both breakfast and lunch is a little hole in the wall about two blocks from my house called Mona’s Table. Mona’s cooking is amazing and the atmosphere is like sitting in a good friends’ home.

    In fact, Mr. Twistie has taken to going there on saturdays, which is the one day every week when Mona does her eggs Benedict. Awesome and delicious. Me? I’ve yet to have something bad off her menu, but I do have a particular fondness for her fish tacos.

    @AmelieWannabe, I can smell the roux just reading that. Mmmm…roux.

    Comment by Twistie — June 1, 2009 @ 6:42 pm

  8. Elaine, I’m SO glad I’m not the only one who didn’t understand the mystique of Jim’s or Ole’s. I’ve given both places a few chances and have left underwhelmed each time.

    We like The New Zealander or Tillie’s (both on Webster) for breakfast, although Tillie’s seems to have closed…don’t know what that’s about. The fact that the New Zealander will serve you a delicious burger before 11am is amazing…plus its walking distance from our house. Can’t beat that.

    To be honest, when we’re up early enough for breakfast on the weekends, we usually head over to the Lakeshore Cafe in Oakland. They have really great omelettes and coffee. The only bummer can be the parking situation.

    Comment by JayKay — June 2, 2009 @ 3:02 pm

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