When I was a kid, the 1958 Steve McQueen movie, “The Blob,” was terrifying. At some point, you get older and realize the horror of the big, gooey monster is just fiction, confined to the big screen. But then, you get even older and realize the blob does exist, and it’s called cedar apple rust. As diseases go, it’s pretty spectacular looking, sort of spider chrysanthemum meets orange Jell-o, all activated by the spring rain.
However its fungal glory is short-lived. A week later, the stars were dried and droopy.
Finding foods from the homeland, or food that tastes like the stuff you grew up with but can’t duplicate in your own kitchen, is an endless quest. For our family, that culinary holy grail is finding a pie that tastes like it came from the ovens of the Star Tavern in Orange, N.J., or the Starlite in West Orange, N.J. Pizza, cheese only, was a meatless Friday tradition in our house.
Among Jerseyans and New Yorkers, there is always discussion about whose neighborhood joint makes the best tomato pie. When Jerseyans and New Yorkers are separated from their home soil, wherever they congregate, the discussion inevitably evolves into what place comes closest to making the perfect pie of their memories. For us, it’s that mysterious combination of sauce, cheese and crust with burnt spots, all imbued with that taste that only a half-century or older oven can make. (One final test is whether or not there is “pizza juice” that runs out over the crust and anoints the paper plate as the pointed end of the slice is lifted to the lips.)
In San Diego, Bronx Pizza [Motto: “Just like back home.”] is one of those places whose name is whispered in hallowed tones among former New Jerseyans and New Yorkers. At lunchtime, the kitchen moved fast, and the line of customers did too.
My late mother brought many Thai traditions with her when she came to live in the U.S. Among them was the spirit house that stands atop a pillar in the backyard. Brightly painted when it arrived here years ago, it has since faded, but its beauty has only grown with each raindrop and gust of wind. [A discussion of spirit houses can be found here.]
As is typical of our family, the spirit house shares part of the garden with a statue of St. Francis of Assisi [out of the frame].
My father’s Pacific Time backyard is overflowing with color. Blue irises, pale coral moon flowers, brilliant bougainvillea and all sorts of other treats for the eye. The neighbors’ yards are equally filled with color — trees dripping with exotic tropical flowers, ripening lemons and oranges, and brilliant scarlet pomegranate flowers.
Yellows dominate the Central Time Suburban Ferndale mini-gardens.
Have to confess that I’d never been a great fan of snails. They leave slimy trails, reproduce at alarming rates and can reduce garden plants to Swiss cheese or matchsticks in no time flat. However, I gained a new appreciation for Helix aspersa after spending a couple of days watching these gelatinous creatures with their long eye stalks and crazy quilt helices sliding around my father’s backyard in California.