Thursday, September 18, 2014

This has not been a good week of meals for my family.

Out of the blue, I have found myself preparing casseroles. 

One pan mishmashed, mixed ups of grain, protein, vegetable, bound together with a sauce.

I have no idea where this is coming from. 

I am a good, creative and skilled cook, who typically takes pride in preparing, if not lavish, at least well coordinated and executed meals.

It has been as if I hopped into a time machine and returned to the culinary horrors of my own childhood, a place fueled  by French sliced frozen green beans and  Rice-a-Roni.

I know what drives a loving mother and wife to dump a number of things into a skillet and turn the knob. 


That is what.

I started  helping with cooking family meals in 5th grade, encouraged by Millie Delker, our German babysitter, who lived in a little falling down house in the little falling down town we lived in until I was 10, Millie drank wine out of a tea cup in the middle of the day and let me stay home from school and help her with her sewing business. 

I liked cooking, I liked to help my mother with housework, they were things I was good at. 

I only really like to do things I am good at. 

That much has remained the same.

By Jr. High I was an insufferable quiche and moussaka baking twit. 

Obsessed with French cooking and ethnic food. 

I made my first baked Alaska in 7th grade.  It was chocolate, and my mother bought me a pastry bag, to pipe the meringue on, so it would look fancy.

I wasn't close to my mother, as a child, and I judged her harshly, for the crock-pot soup, the Hamburger Helper and other boxes and long cooked meals favored by working mothers of the time.

I adored and was adored by my grandmother, who wore an apron, and darned socks, fried chicken, baked biscuits and cobblers, and had tea parties.

My mother was thin, smoked Tareytons seated on the sofa, with her legs tucked under her, a novel in her hand- a picky, uninterested eater.  She would eat a Twinkie,or a Heath Bar, over the course of several days, slicing off a bite at a time with a knife, once in a blue moon, otherwise I never saw her eat sweets.

I would chastise her and my brother for eating dinner on the sofa, in front of the tv, and she would say
"you are outnumbered sister!" 


I longed for a housewife mother, a real mother, not the youthful, exuberant, theatrical, loud mother that I had.

My mother cooked at a level that I approved of as a child, once a year, on Thanksgiving

She made the best stuffing in the whole world, (which we called dressing), milk gravy, rolls, Waldorf salad,she got up at 6:00am to bake a giant turkey that would barely fit in the oven, with all the racks removed. 

She made her hideous macaroni salad, which only she liked, and her baked beans, which are still the best I have ever had, and corn bread.

She made tiny pickled beets and arranged a cut-glass relish tray with radishes and black olives. 

She minced celery into perfect and uniform U shapes.

She stuffed celery with cream cheese.

She boiled, then sauteed in butter, yellow sweet potatoes (because my grandfather said that "yams are hog feed")

She peeled a whole bag of potatoes, and mashed them, cigarette dangling, Gilbert and Sullivan egging her on. 

She would pour heavy cream into a pint jar and my brother and I would shake it until it turned to a round, glistening, glob of fresh butter. 

My father cooked. 

He also made economical food, but his fare was less revolting to me than my mother's soups (to this day, if you don't watch her like a hawk, she will try to sneak old lettuce into the pot!).

I remember eating tacos with my father, with Resers Guacamole, which in the mid 70's seems very exotic. 

In Jr High, we moved into a  beautiful, ramshackle house in a fancy neighborhood, with a man that cooked.  I learned a great deal of technique, from him.

When I was 16 I began dating a boy that came from a new agey, vegetarian family.  I expanded both my technique and my horizons exponentially in the two years we dated. I ate cilantro and felafel and brown rice. I ate beans that were not brown and not baked for the first time. 

Tonight I put rice, egg, frozen green beans and soy sauce in a pan and served it to my family, like it was the most ordinary thing in the world. 

I may call my mother later.

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