I have a really good memory — ask anyone, it’s true — which is why I was surprised when I didn’t remember a scene from My So-Called Life, a show I have been unabashedly watching the past week, since my friend James (love that guy) got the complete series (ie the first season) boxed set for Christmas. Now (years ago) I’ve seen every episode of this show at least once, many of them twice (ok, the one with Angela and Jordan making out in the boiler room, Self-Esteem, maybe three times) so, given this excellent (noteworthy for its accuracy but excellent for its serious endurance) memory thing, there shouldn’t be, like, entire scenes I don’t remember.
Well, in fairness, it’s not that I didn’t remember the scene, it’s that I didn’t remember the super explicit cilantro-reference in the scene (recap from mscl.com):
As Patty regales Graham with her encounter with Amber, Graham offers Patty a taste of the food he’s cooking, and while she thinks its wonderful, Graham must tell her what she is tasting. Angela enters, Graham offers her a taste and she knows immediately what she is tasting.
Graham then proceeds to explain to Angela why he has added the cilantro. (To balance the acidity of the tomatoes.) Graham’s “food” education of Angela is ongoing, as we have seen since the Pilot epidsode:
“Con carne, ‘with meat.”
The business of tasting Graham’s cooking is minor; its foremost purpose is to add verisimilitude and dynamics to an otherwise static scene. But the difference in Patty’s and Angela’s reactions to Graham’s cooking relates to the difference in upbringing they received from their respective fathers. Patty’s upbringing has been one of chili fries and diner pie, of enormous turkeys and oregano in the curry sauce. Angela’s upbringing has been one of balanced meals, spaghetti reheated by father, cilantro, pasta and lemon hazelnut torts.
I mean, this scene is huge. (that’s not me mocking Liberty High-speak). Anyone who ever watched the show, and certainly anyone who watched it not so much through a culinary lens as much as happened to be interested in food or had a father who liked to cook (I did/I do) remembers the frequent kitchen/cooking scenes shared not only between father and daughter, but also, of course, between the food-savvy father and the rest of the family.
What I did not remember (and this is probably because I don’t remember the first time I had cilantro or when I knew I hated it — other than I’m pretty sure it had something to do with Chipotle (the chain restaurant, not the delicious smoked peppers) — more on this later) was that the very symbol of Angela’s dad’s foodiness was cilantro. In 1994 if you were cooking with cilantro and could identify its flavor (nice one Angela) you were absolutely in the culinary know.
One piece of evidence is the fact that I remember the scene but don’t remember the reference: at 12 I didn’t know what cilantro was, at least by name, and certainly didn’t hate it, lest I would have, like, you know, commented or something. But then, I wonder if some version of that show (I don’t think the ubiquitous plaid, flannel would work today, although Jordan Catalano’s work shirts are truly timeless) existed now, would the ingredient be different? Have I just gotten older, food savvier, more full of hate, and that’s the difference?; that in fact the ingredient is still slightly esoteric, slightly special, it’s very use proof positive of food smarts? I kind of don’t think so. I mean, it is everywhere right? Right? Like, by name, it’s everywhere. I think the ingredient might have still been cilantro in today’s show (The Emperor’s Children, the show (GOD HELP ME!)) but it would have a different meaning. Angela’s dad wouldn’t seem so food savvy to me now; would he to the general population? I wonder. I think, in today’s show, the herb would be shiso. Yeah. That’s right, I went with shiso. Although he is making some sort of sauce (cilantro to balance the acidity of the tomatoes — unbelievable), maybe marjoram? I just don’t think it would be cilantro, because, most of the population, I would venture to say, has taken it for granted as part of the current food lexicon.
Will I sound like a frightening conservative when I suggest we should go back to a simpler time, years ago, when, oh wait, Clinton was president and the economy was good and cilantro wasn’t everywhere? No, I think that would, like, be ok or whatever.