Thursday, February 03, 2005

Food Recollections


Here's Dad and other doctors from the base in England at the first pig roast

I read this post this morning on Homer's World. Homer is "A queer archaeologist living in Tucson, Arizona," and I thank him for the inspiration this morning! Here's what I wrote (with a little more thrown in):

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I'm reading Toast, too! I have a search set up for any blog related to "Nigel-Slater and Toast," which is how I found your blog.

I'm a big foodie, and growing up, I had an interesting experience of food. My father was raised by a Southern mom and an Italian dad in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He grew up eating Krystal hamburgers, white bread, and meat and three's, as best I can tell. But there was definitely Italian influence... or else he educated himself. My mom was raised in Alabama and Tennessee, where the food influences were the Great Depression and Southern cooking.

My dad was the parent who really loved to cook, but he worked a lot, so my mother probably did *more* of the cooking. She used recipes and really stuck to them. If it said 1/2 cup of onion, by god, that's how much she put in... and then there were times she went off recipe. Not in the normal way, but as a way to use up leftovers.

Leftover soup was big at my house. It wasn't that *we* were dirt poor. It was that she was raised by parents who had experienced the Depression, so any leftovers went into a large Tupperware in the freezer, and every now and again, the whole block of frozen "stuff" would get heated up, and that was dinner. Nothing was ever wasted. Leftover soup... Blech!

The other frightening use of leftovers was sneaking them into meatloaf. "Mom, are there old bananas in here?" She would smile and try not to look guilty.

She didn't repeat dishes very often, so it was hard to develop favorites, but I do recall a couple that I loved the most: Cauliflower with cheese sauce, Stuffed cabbage (or grape leaves or bell peppers) filled with rice and meat. Yum! She was really big into casseroles. My dad would always roll his eyes, but I always liked them.

Dad made amazing tomato-paste and meat-heavy Italian dishes. I think he might have learned them from his Aunt Ad. He was very big on meat, and he and his friends would actually cook a whole hog every year at the neighborhood picnic.

The other theme was what I called "interesting" food as a child. I specifically remember my parents taking cooking classes together. The dishes I remember best were mainly Indian, which is maybe why I love Indian food so much now.

I always had full run of the kitchen, which is probably why I've always had a fearlessness about cooking. I recall one time when my friend Renee and I mixed a little bit of every spice on the spice rack (there were probably 70 in all!) with water, freezing it into popsicle sticks, and telling my dad it was chocolate. I think it was the same day that we made Angel Food cake with green food coloring! Fun times!

I had a birthday party when I turned about 7 or 8 where we made pasta from scratch. We made the dough then rolled it in the pasta machine with one person cranking and the other person catching. Coat hangers hung all over the kitchen. That was a great party.

After-school snacks were of my own choosing for the most part, and I recall a strong preference for cheese toast (made with white bread or Roman Meal and those processed slices that would inflate on top of the bread in the toaster oven) and Breyer's Chocolate ice cream.

Halloween was always a little embarrassing. The worst was the year my mother gave out sugar cane. What?!

I remember space food, but not space sticks. And I remember the dinners in a box. But the only time I ever made that was in a cooking class at this Saturday School for the Gifted I used to attend. I did think it was yummy. We never had a lot of the processed stuff around at my house, so to me, that was a huge treat! I was always very jealous of my friend Renee's house. Her mother always kept the pantry filled with chips and cookies and lots of fun, colorful stuff you could just eat without much preparation. I thought that's how it should be. Now, I've come to appreciate what I had a little more.

Now that my Dad is retired, I think my parents are actually cooking together more, which I love. Cooking with someone is a hard thing to do, but one of the most worthwhile ways to spend time with someone you love. Aaron and I are newbies, but we'll get the hang of it!

Food is big with me, as you can see. I remember almost everything I've ever eaten. It brings me great joy.