Friday, March 6, 2009

Active Culture, Tiger's Milk

In addition to advocating emotional well-being through catharsis (any Greek can tell you about catharsis; we invented it!), my mother encouraged a healthy respect for the body and its nourishment from a young age. Lest you jump to conclusions, she had neither the mouth of a sailor (see earlier post on four-letter vocal projections), nor was she ever a gorp-munching, clog-wearing, "crunchy," free love type—not in the least, despite the 1970s headscarves (OK, and pantsuits; the original tree huggers didn't wear pantsuits, did they?). But our food was mostly healthy when "health" was not yet on America's radar. Again, call in the Greeks. My mother would tell you: she ate yogurt growing up, and it was a neighborhood oddity. It was a Greek thing. Nobody in the States was eating yogurt, not to speak of, not then, not in any form. When I was growing up, it was more of a commodity. You found it in the supermarket, and you generally had one brand only: the somewhat gelatinous/watery Dannon with overly sweet fruit-on-the-bottom (introduced to the market in 1947, according to the Dannon Web site). Then came Yoplait in the late 1970s (Remember those ads? Unlikely celebrities would take a bite and begin speaking fluent French, back when French anything guaranteed the impression of sophistication and boosted the desirability of a product). Frozen yogurt took longer to catch on. Forget about finding it in the refrigerated grocery aisles. I remember, though, that my mom quickly discovered a soft-serve frozen yogurt shop called The Cultured Cow, when we moved to Los Angeles. The Cultured Cow was on Santa Monica Boulevard, I think. What I remember about their yogurt (did they spell it "yoghurt"?) was that it was soft, very smooth, tangy but not overly so . . . and that my favorite flavor was boysenberry. It was a lovely purple-pink and had a deeper flavor than the more ordinary strawberry. Sadly, I'm sure the shop closed—why else would we have stopped going there?—or else by now it's become one of those BerryWild or PinkBerry shops that charge extortionist prices because they can get away with it, now that yogurt has made it into the limelight, becoming a trendy, gourmet treat. (I have to laugh about that, knowing its peasant food origins.) But The Cultured Cow was wonderful. The other treat I remember from that same time period: Tiger's Milk bars. They were big, thick bars when they first appeared in health food stores (the only place you could find them; again, where my mother found them early on). Now they are easy to find, along with literally hundreds of other health and "energy" bars, in supermarkets and in the drug store chains. The bars have shrunk miserably in their wrappers, and of course the price has kept pace with inflation, but they are still good. A peanut-and-honey bar robed in carob. I ask you: did you eat carob when you were a kid? For most people the answer is a definite no. Carob and yogurt, though, I remember them well—plus the absolute lack of forbidden soda or "sugar cereal" in the house. (OK, there was that single time in Chicago I got to go grocery shopping with my dad and we came home with both Boo Berry and Count Chocula cereals; boy, was mom ticked off!) Did I wish my mom was more like "everybody else's"? Maybe sometimes, but very rarely. And never when the car was pointed in the direction of a certain frozen yogurt shop.

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