Monday, February 28, 2011

Food Glorious Food

I love food!  Lucky for me, I do not over love it, though my waistline might beg to differ.  Food equates love in my world.  When I think back to childhood, some of my fondest memories involve watching the women of my family cook.  Any time the family got together, cooking, grilling, even hand churned ice cream, was involved.  Recently, my aunt came in from Kentucky and I was able to cook for her and my cousin.  Having a new audience reminded me just how much I love providing nourishment for people I care about.  It's not "slaving" in the kitchen to me, it's pure joy.

Growing up, we ate at the dinner table almost every night.  My mother cooked every night, and I was expected to eat what was in front of me.  Even the liver.  I only remember liver once, if I had it more than once I have blocked that memory out as it must have been too traumatic having to do it a second time.  There are not a lot of things I remember disliking, and several that when recalled I think "I should make that sometime"!!  Salmon patties were my favorite, hands down.  I have yet to make them as good as my mother did (I would say does, but it's been ages since she has made them...hint, hint).  When I have made them, the raves from the boys are underwhelming.  There was an odd little salad she made as well, I have not even tried to put that in front of the boys.  Even some of the adults I have mentioned it to look at me funny.  (It was a lettuce leaf, or maybe shredded??, a pineapple ring, a plop of mayonnaise topped with shredded cheddar.  I loved it, I should make it sometime!!).

Grandmother and Granddaddy's house always had food!  To this day, there is always a pie or some cookies on the counter at Grandmother's, and she's 90something!  She makes pies for the neighbors, cookies for everyone that will take them at Christmas, it would surprise me if she still had some homemade jelly up in the pantry.  If there is one thing I wish I had learned from her, it would be how to can stuff.  I have dabbled with freezer jam, and one of these days will move on to the "real deal".  Her peach cobbler was The Best!  I watched her make it enough that I almost know how to by heart.  It is sinfully easy, it really should be harder.  One night, I got the craving, so I just popped in the kitchen, whipped one up, and MJ and I were having cobbler ala mode as a midnight snack!  I try not to keep all the ingredients in the house for that very reason.

In the Harrell family, it was a long standing tradition to have waffles, sausage and tamales on Christmas Eve.  I think the story was that Granddaddy gave Grandmother a waffle iron for Christmas one year.  The following year, when she was wondering what to make for Christmas Eve Dinner, she pulled out the waffle iron that she hadn't used yet and made waffles.  From that day, well Eve, the Harrell's ate waffles on Christmas Eve.  One year, after Granddaddy had passed away, Grandmother decided to be a little creative.  We all arrived, prepared for waffles of course, only to find a casserole sitting in the middle of the table.  Just think what it is like when you take a drink of what you think is coke and it turns out to be tea.  I think I can speak for all of us when I say that is exactly how we felt!  Grandmother didn't make casserole again for Christmas Eve Dinner.

There are two things I remember my Nana making, French Toast and Jambalaya.  When I spent the night with her, French Toast was what she made for breakfast.  I would sit on a little needlepoint stool at the end of the coffee table, and she would bring me two slices of French Toast slathered in butter and covered in cinnamon sugar!!  I didn't realize until I was an adult that not everyone put cinnamon sugar on their French Toast, bunch of weirdos. 

Another tradition, but from the Johnston side of my family, was Nana's New Year's Day Jambalaya, collard greens and black eyed peas.  Oh, and don't forget the cornbread!!  My mouth waters just thinking about it and I am not remotely hungry.  At some point in my adulthood, I picked up the tradition, though for years I made my own version because I did not have Nana's recipe.  My versions were good, but when you have a specific memory of a recipe/dish close does not count!  So one can imagine my joy when my mother found the original recipe and I was able to replicate the look and taste I remember!!  One of these years, I am going to get back into the tradition so mark your calendar for January 1, The Johnston House for New Year's Day Dinner!  It will totally be worth it!

My father deserves an honorable mention here as well.  He became quite the cook over the years, all self taught by watching the likes of Emeril and endless hours of The Food Network.  He could make anything, from lemon meringue pie to chicken fried steak to bread.  All of it good.  We often exchanged telephone calls that started off with "Guess what I ate last night"?  Today, in fact, I am making a big ole pot of beans and have thought of him.  Beans were a staple for him, the perk of living alone...I hope my beans turn out as good as his were.

Eat to live, not live to eat.  That is all fine and good as long as I can keep cooking and feeding people.  It's one of the few compliments I actually like to receive "MmmMMM, this is good food"!  I will start having people over for dinner.  That is something that isn't exactly easy with three boys running around!  They are getting older though, to fast for my liking (but that is another story), and having dinner guests should be withing the realm of possibility soon!  For now, I will just keep trying to wow my 10, 6 and 4 year old.  My 42 year old is pretty easy and eats almost everything without complaint.  The 10 year old however, is the one I try to impress.  Last week he even told me "Hey, this isn't as bad as I thought it'd be"!  I will take what I can get.

Now, what's for dinner??