Amazing how one sentence can bring someone back from the dead and slap you up’side the haid.
My mother’s been dead for 18 years, and yet when I found an old letter of hers this morning, boom! This letter’s at least 20 years old, maybe more. She’s talking about a much disliked sister-in-law’s back surgery and slow recovery and says that when she had hers (surgery), she “had to cope with a heavy child in a playpen.” That would have been me.
Almost no health problem of hers could not be blamed on me. I was born too fast because my father figured if I didn’t come on my due date, I wasn’t coming and then she sat, a week later, waiting for the doctor, with her legs crossed and my head in the birth canal, but that’s my fault. If only allergies went backwards through the genes, she could have blamed me for those as well.
Experience might tell most children to go ahead and misbehave. It wouldn’t make any difference. Her bad back and unhappy marriage (that was another one) were already my fault.
But I went the direction in which you stuff down all your feelings with food and more food. And more. Until you’re so numb you don’t feel all the tension and blame. You almost don’t feel all the dislike at school either when your grades are very, very good.
“For my own good” I’m supposed to be over all this, put it behind me. But it’s part of the family story that makes it so difficult — still — for me to eat moderately, as though I had a right to look and feel good. When bad things are your fault, you feel guilty. Food makes guilt go away, doesn’t it? I grew up decades before Taylor Swift sang “Shake It Off,” remember.
So when these things float through the zeitgeist, I try to focus on the good things she passed along. Stick-to-it-ive-ness. Another word for the kind of persistence that drives people nuts. She could be funny when there were no men around at which time she would switch her brain to their remote control. She believed in books and swimming lessons and theater and symphony concerts and Girl Scouts for girls — none of which was readily available in the wilds of central PA.
She was a great cook and taught me to cook. And even though she was always in tears at some point during holiday meal preparations, I still go that elaborate, Henry VIII-type banquet route. Well, not as much as I used to.
At home in the wilds of Pennsylvania we had lamb at least once a month, usually a roasted haunch for Sunday dinner and then leftovers with onions, tomatoes, Italian seasoning and stale bread baked until the edges were crispy. I love lamb. Stoic the Vast is still learning because any sheep in the South when he was a boy were for sweaters only.
This Steve Raichlen recipe from Food & Wine magazine moved Stoic along the road to lamb love. It’s quite tasty and lean, and the yogurt-cucumber sauce is also good on grilled salmon, salmon patties, even green beans.
Greek-style lamb burgers with yogurt-cucumber sauce
1-1/2 pounds ground lamb (I bought pasture-raised to make sure we weren’t getting mutton)
1 small onion minced
1 garlic clove minced (2 in recipe)
3 tablespoons finely chopped mint (4 in recipe)
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley (no stems)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil, for brushing
4 pocketless pita breads or naan, about 8 inches in diameter
4 romaine lettuce leaves
4 thin tomato slices
4 paper-thin red onion slices
Yogurt-cucumber sauce: 1/2 hothouse cucumber, peeled, seeds removed and halved lengthwise
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped mint
Freshly ground pepper
In medium bowl, lightly knead meat with onion, garlic, mint, parsley and 1 scant teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Shape the meat into 4 long oval patties about 1/2 inch thick, and transfer them to a plate lined with plastic wrap. Light brush the burgers with olive oil.
Light grill. When fire is medium hot, brush grate with oil. Grill lamb burgers for about 12 minutes, turning once for medium meat. Move burgers away from heat and grill pita until lightly toasted on both sides, about 1 minute.
Set burgers on pita breads and top with lettuce, tomato, onion and a spoonful of sauce. Fold pitas over burgers and serve immediately, passing remaining yogurt sauce.
To make sauce: Grate peeled and seeded cucumber. With paper towel, squeeze excess moisture from cucumber. In small bowl, put minced garlic and salt, stirring into a paste. Add yogurt, olive oil, mint and cucumber. Season with pepper to taste.
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