Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Personal touchstones of taste. On Tania, our own little nutritionist.

I’m drinking hot water with a splash of milk and thinking of my grandmother, who used to drink this every evening, after dinner. When I would offer coffee and tea, she would insist on just boiled water with a splash of milk. I’d think, how silly, how could that possibly taste good?

I now understand that she drank this because there was no decaffeinated tea back then. It was something hot, digestive and comforting after the evening meal. Even though I have decaf teabags in the house, I’m still sipping boiled water with a splash of milk. I feel a connection to her when I sip this drink.

And it is only now I realize that my grandmother Tatiana was our little nutritionist. Only back then, we thought she was quaint. She was ahead of her time, before people had chic nutritionists or the food pages of the New York Times to dictate the latest health trends.

Now that I’m battling my weight in middle age, I have a new appreciation of her discipline and her nutritional habits. She always ate lightly at night and kept her gorgeous figure her entire life.
I used to giggle that she would eat prunes for breakfast, followed by toast spread with cottage cheese and a drizzle of honey. But now, because I’ve read that prunes are one of nature’s perfect foods, high in antioxidants, iron and fiber, I make sure to eat a few each day too. One of my favorite breakfasts is cottage cheese on toast, drizzled with honey.

My father was an aficionado of oatmeal. My Mother loved the classic grilled cheese sandwich. Nette’s Merema taught me about the cool hot bite of crystallized ginger on the tongue and gingersnaps with tea. Now, I eat oatmeal, grilled cheese sandwiches and ginger whenever I can find it.

This is about the comfort of family tastes. You never know what your personal touchstones will be until later in life. And it is a grace and gift when one day they reappear. Tastes are a palpable way of feeling close to these departed people who at one time, loved you with all their heart, and whose love warms you still.

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