We all have food memories that conjure up a moment in time or a person from our past … the smell of grandma’s pot roast or mama’s spaghetti sauce, the sight of dad making pancakes on a Sunday morning or tending his tomatoes in the garden … Our minds are full of these tucked-away associations, only to have them pop up unexpectedly when a particular sight or smell hits the senses. Today that happened for me. Maybe it’s because yesterday my Uncle Stanley turned 86. When we spoke on the phone last night he sounded so great, still sharp and funny, the same guy who spent so many Saturdays with me at the library when I was a young girl, trying against all odds to get me to read Jack London’s Call of the Wild, when all I wanted to do was read romance novels; the guy who took me downtown to see the movie Gigi when it first opened, and bought me my first makeup case to encourage me to “grow up” a little when I was stalling at age 13 and seemingly not interested in typical “girl” things. On one of our Saturday jaunts, Stanley introduced me to roasted cashew nuts, hot out of the oven, piled high in the window of the deli in the Bronx where we lived; the nuts were displayed alongside trays of smoked salmon pieces that were left over from the cuttings so they were sold as “lox wings” or “fligles” in Yiddish.
Stanley was the first in our family to go to college, the first person I knew who learned to ski; he subscribed to the New Yorker and had a collection of paperback books from authors as serious as Salinger and as funny as Max Shulman. Because he married somewhat late (in his thirties — at that time considered so late! Ahem, my children, are you listening?) he spent a lot of time with me when I was young, and I loved him beyond measure. He was sophisticated and tender, kind and funny, and made it a sort of project to teach me about the wide world outside my small one. Long after I grew up, married, and moved away, the sight or aroma of roasted cashews still conjures up those special field trips we took and reminds me of how he still has bowls of cashews on his coffee table. But today at the Santa Barbara Fish Market, I was amused to see a tray of lox cuttings labeled “smoked salmon collars” that were the “fligles” of my youth; I bought a pound and immediately had one for lunch, a bite, a snack really, but one that brought me back to the deli in the Bronx and to all those wonderful times. Happy birthday, Uncle Stanley.