In terms of my memory, you could say I'm like an elephant.
I have an assortment of food memories stored up, too. There's me, with sticky fingers, constructing my first peanut butter and jelly sandwich, standing up on the kitchen chairs. The fascination that came along with breaking a sunshine-yellow piece of cheese into quarter to eat. Sifting the flour for "my cookies" -- a recipe my mom and I made together often until I was about 6 or so and other recipes were deemed acceptable by my youthful tongue. I ate them so much, though, that ten years later, my grandmother made the same recipe for dessert when we were eating at her house one Sunday. She didn't mention that they were "my" cookies. I didn't recognize them by how they looked, but when I tasted them, oh how I knew. At once, the taste sparked a recognition. They were, indeed, mine.
Memory is a powerful force. Scents, tastes, experiences, textures, places -- all can come back to life in the form of memory.
Another food-related image I have is making spinach pies with my mother on our dining room table. We'd buy the dough in a bag from the refrigerated section, you'd find them piled up underneath the Italian cheeses. I love how it felt through the bag, squishy, and with a memory of its own visible from my finger indentations. At home, we'd scatter some flour, roll out the dough, and pile a mixture of previously frozen spinach, diced black olives, and pine nuts. Oh, and cheese. Don't let an Italian forget the cheese. Thee were times where I'd pick out the nuts or show my disgust in the spinach, but my love affair with olives never wavered.
A few years ago I came to the realization that, not matter how picky (or peculiar) my childhood taste were, I down right adored spinach. Frozen, fresh, baby-sized or teenage-sized, Popeye knew what was good for him. Turns out, spinach is full of lovely little phytonutrients, ready to keep inflammation down and fend away cancer. With ample amounts of vitamin K, C, and magnesium, spinach is great for keeping bones strong, and supplies our bodies with a great deal of iron and vitamin A.
So, with my new found affection for spinach, I put it in salads, made saag, pureed it in soups, almost forgetting about the pine nut and olive combination until this past November.
Andrew and I had volunteered ourselves to host our first Thanksgiving and cook for our families. "You can handle the bird," I said. "I'll make the other dishes." We pored through cookbooks, looked at blogs, and talked with friends, making a list of possibilities. Then we started to talk about the food we at growing up. That's when the spinach pies came back to me. Since gluten and I aren't on speaking/eating terms, I thought I'd whip up a pie-less version. I tried it out before the big day at a pot-luck we hosted. Steaming hot in our large cast-iron skillet, I tested a big spoonful, making sure to get both olives and pine nuts in my sample. Without the dough surrounding it, the dish didn't have quite the same flavor, but it was close. The softness of the spinach was accented by the delicate crunches of pine nuts, and the olives added a burst of pleasant tartness. Everything was accented by a healthy drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. I served it on Thanksgiving, and no one was seen picking out the pinenuts or eating only the olives like how I had, years ago. Everyone's plates were clean.
Sunday, and served it along with the "oated" eggplant and a heaping bowl of tomato-laced lentils. I added onions and garlic to the mix this time, to make it "mine." The pine nuts, which are usually expensive, were bought in the bulk section, so I only paid for what I needed. Organic spinach isn't that costly when it's frozen, and the rest of the ingredients I had on hand. Pine nuts add a bit of luxury to the dish, making each bite seem like a treat.
Spinach with Pine nuts and Olives
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion, sliced
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 1 lb frozen spinach, organic if possible
- 1/4 cup pine nuts optional - toast them in the oven for 10 minutes beforehand
- 1/2 cup olives, sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- optional: a healthy bit of Parmesan cheese or butter to top things off