Saturday, June 17, 2006

Favorite food. pâté. (Part 3).

There are many childhood food memories I associate with New York City. During the 80's my grandfather spent most of his time in New York and we consequently spent many of our holidays visiting him there. My early memories of that time are of an apartment in mid-town Manhattan with big windows overlooking nearby office buildings; at nighttime you felt that you were suspended in darkness, in space, amidst all those lights. It was a million miles away from our house in suburban St. Louis. The living room had a wall of mirrors that reflected my five-year-old self dancing across the room; I remember a huge marble coffee-table (later it would be cracked in transit across the country) and a long, low, black leather sofa. There was a narrow galley kitchen, bright, tiny, and rarely used. Perched on the counter of that kitchen was where I had my first taste of pâté.

A friend of my grandfather's (I can't remember who) had a tin of goose (or perhaps it was duck; I can never tell) liver pâté and a box of melba toasts. (Years later I would learn that those toasts were named for the opera singer Nellie Melba, but I was never sure exactly why). She would spread dabs of this grayish-pink mousse on the little squares of toast and hand them to me. They crunched in my mouth, those bits of toast, and then the flavor of the pâté, that faintly metallic sweetness of liver, that creamy texture of it, would come through. I am not sure I liked it then (I was five, after all), but pâté has long been one of my favorite foods. (Actually, I'm eating some now as I write this).

Later, as I was growing up, pâté was something special that we had at parties, spread on slices of baguette or crackers. We would buy it at the Italian deli in the market, a cool, pale slab of duck liver mousse speckled with bits of black truffle, spiked with cognac, and topped with an amber slice of aspic. If I was lucky, there would be enough pâté left over for breakfast the next day, or an after-school snack. Sometimes we tried other kinds, a plain goose-liver pâté wrapped in a thin white layer of fat that melted on the tongue, and a heartier chicken liver one that was just as delicious, if not nearly as light and smooth as the truffle mousse. Much later, having a car and buying my own groceries meant that I could have pâté whenever I wanted. Like right now. But it is, like all other good-tasting (but bad-for-you) things, best as a rare treat, giving you just enough to sate your desire without falling into gluttony. (Not to mention high cholesterol).

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