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Linda Alessi: Food: a common denominator

Linda Alessi • Updated Dec 30, 2017 at 1:00 PM

The telephone rang!  My husband, Joe asked if it was okay to bring his friend to dinner this evening.  “Sure,” was my answer.  “Does he like spaghetti?”  “Of course, everyone likes spaghetti”, Joe replied.  His friend, Leo Podulsky commented that evening the aroma of garlic, basil and tomato reached him as he walked up the stairs to our apartment.  At the dinner table Leo had his first introduction to spaghetti “Italian style”.   He had a puzzled look on his face and then he told us his “bubba”  (Jewish grandmother) made noodles with ketchup and told him that was Italian spaghetti.  This was his first experience with Italian food.

This brought to mind the many different foods I had the pleasure of experiencing as I grew up. I can remember the pleasure of eating the first bagel.   Bagels remind me of a cold winter night when my brother Lou called to ask me to put up a pot of fresh coffee.  He would bring the hot bagels from the local bagel factory.  I think he enjoyed holding the bag of hot bagels that kept his hands warm.  Maybe he just loved bagels, since on a warm summer night he still would bring the bagels.  The fresh aroma of the bagels permeated the house.  Of course a smear of cream cheese or butter was a must on the bagel.  We enjoyed this ritual for many years and it never was an inconvenience.  Jewish immigrants brought this delectible treat from eastern Europe in the early 1900’s.  Whether we eat it for breakfast, lunch or with butter, cream cheese or with lox, it has become a favorite with most Americans today.

Pizza was made in almost every Italian home, bring the art of making the dough and adding he best ingredients of mozzarella cheese, tomatoes and olive oil and spices.  It became a most popular item eaten in neighborhood pizza parlors where people gathered to have a meal.  I can remember as a teenager a perfect date.  It was a cute boy, pizza a coke, and a movie at a local theater.

Every neighborhood that I can recall had a Chinese restaurant.  Here was an introduction to oriental cusine that brought together from different ethnic backgrounds to enjoy the preparation of ordinary meats, fish and vegetables in a new and exciting way.  Spices enhanced the combination of ingredients  that were new to many.  Few of us mastered eating with the chopsticks, but that never stopped us from enjoying the exotic food.  The highlight of the meal came at the end, when a small cookie was presented.  All this and our fortune too.

Can you remember some of the unique specialties that we no longer see in our midst? When was the last time you enjoyed a Charlotte Russe, that delicious slice of sponge cake, a layer of jelly, topped with whipped cream and a cherry on top.  All of this was enclosed in a small, round white cardboard container that could be pushed up from the bottom as you ate it until the last piece of cake was devoured.  I can also remember many a tear was shed then the bottom was pushed too hard and the whole treat fell to the ground.

Remember the apple dipped in caramel or red candied coated attached to a stick.  As you ate it you hoped your loose tooth would not come out.

The most unique treat was the “Mellow Roll” found in Brooklyn.  This was ice cream shaped like a log that was placed in a rectangular cone with a round base bottom.   I would watch closely as  the paper wrapper around the ice cream was released and the ice cream log was placed carefully on the cone.

Today our country is a true melting pot.  We can enjoy delicious dishes from exotic places.  We have adapted our tastes to a myriad of foods and have become adventurers in the quest for even more varieties that are so readily available to us today.  Our integration of many cultures affords us authentic treats from places far away.  How fortunate we are to have this opportunity.

Many of us have the ability to taste foods from places around the world we may never have the opportunity to visit.  Today the range of international food has broadened.   The variety  and scope of foods from different parts of the world indicate to me that a kaleidoscope of national and cultural backgrounds can and do live in harmony.  Each culture has provided us with the pleasure ofa unique cuisine, bringing forth the universal pleasure of satisying the sense of taste.

As our life progresses we look back and remember the comfort foods of our day.  Some of them are specific to our own unique ethnic background, others are the introduction to new and different treats.   Food seems to be a common denominator.  The basic food groups are available, only our individual ethnic approach makes the presentation unique.  We have found a way to enjoy and be in harmony through our sense of taste, and share these common qualities.  With this in mind, surely people can bring forth other ways besides food to achieve the harmony we all hope and pray for.

Linda Alessi is a Lebanon Democrat contributing columnist writing about life in the younger years.

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