Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Home Cooking

One of my partners walked by my office the other day carrying a pie plate. He looked at me and said, “I made some blueberry pie, would you like a piece?” I replied, “That is like me walking past your office with a bag of cash and asking, ‘Would you like a wad of hundred dollar bills?’”

My sister tagged me to write about this:
"Dancing Deer’s Sweet Home Initiative raises money for scholarships to help educate homeless women and end family homelessness. As a part of this initiative, (their) CEO, Trish Karter, will be riding her bike 1,500 miles from Atlanta to Boston, visiting family shelters in each city to raise awareness about this issue. She’ll also be recording stories from the women she meets along the way, asking them about their experiences. One question she’ll ask them are what foods remind them of home." (See more: click here.)
The food that first and foremost makes me think of home is pie. My mother was not a domestic goddess or even a Paula Dean homespun deity. She worked, sometimes 2nd or 3rd shift, and did not have the luxury of slaving away at home all day in service of my sister and me. When she had the opportunity, she baked pies. She also made some great meals: the steaming richness of creamy, homemade chicken and dumplings being dished out of her pressure cooker is my ultimate comfort food association.

Mom’s life was a pressure cooker of work and maintaining a house as best she could while making sure her two kids survived. She had to make do with what she had and “slumgullion” (a word I only ever heard spoken, so the spelling is pure guesswork), meaning a hodgepodge of whatever is in the fridge and cupboards, was often the main meal.

Accordingly, foods that remind me of home include instant mashed potatoes topped with Campbell's cream of mushroom soup, peas and tuna fish. Tuna is a versatile dish if you are willing to eat it, for example, atop Franco American spaghetti (pre-Spaghetti-O’s), as we often did (and loved it). Our tuna of choice, by the way, was Chicken of the Sea, which Jessica Simpson restored to prominence 30 years after my Mom ceased providing the bulk of their market share. Mom also introduced us to peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwiches, Ritz Crackers dipped in blue cheese dressing and other delights; I’m thinking Sue and I ought to put together a cookbook.

I am also reminded of home by coffee shop meals like those we had at Stacks. Mom left us money and we walked to the coffee shop to buy our grilled cheese or hamburger dinners. We were the original latch key kids and I also fondly remember the meals we made for ourselves - Swanson TV dinners in the oven or Kraft Dinner on the stove with real fire, because microwaves (“radar ranges”) existed only in Disney’s House of the Future”. I also loved to make myself Jell-o instant chocolate pudding … at least until “the mixer incident”.

One day, home alone, I put the milk and pudding mix in the bowl and applied the hand mixer, only to discover that the it was not plugged in. Carefully resting the mixer on the bowl, with the beaters in the unmixed pudding, I stuck the plug in the socket. The chocolate pudding stains never came out of the t-shirt I was wearing that day and I don’t recall if Mom ever got them completely off the ceiling, walls, floor or appliances in the entire kitchen.

I can’t watch Bill Cosby’s Jell-o commercials and, when I think back on the trauma induced by that hand mixer hurricane of pudding, I am in need of comfort food. I close my eyes and go to my happy place, surrounded by Mom’s cherry pie, pumpkin pie and mince meat pie. And sometimes I crave the Swanson’s chicken pot pies she whipped up for us or that I cooked for myself. Even though we were sometimes home alone, Mom made sure we had a home and plenty of food. It’s not as easy as pie, but let’s try to make that a reality for everyone.

(PS I'm supposed to tag some people to also get out this message, but I won't - so Cali, Andy, Scarletviralgo, Skye, Unfinishedrambler and other Humorbloggers - you are all on your own.)


scarletvirago said...

Hmm, I did a post last year along this vein, so I think I'll tweak it a bit. Something about microwave chicken... with a warning to read with a barf bag.

Anonymous said...

When i first got married, I wanted to impress my new mother in law and made her a beautiful apple pie, with a crust that was just golden perfect topped with sparkly sugar baked in.

I mis-read my new canisters that said "salt" instead of "sugar" and, well, you can only guess...

JohnnyB said...

:-O oh no!
How long did it take to overcome that one with your mother in law?

Anonymous said...

That was a lovely tribute to your mom. I think we should print it out on nice paper and put it in the scrapbook.


mystery blogger said...

My mom used to make the franco American Spagetti and tuna. She would mix it in her big iron pan and throw it in the oven. When it started to bubble she would crumble up potato chips (usually a stale bag of chips) and throw them on top and put it back in for a minute or two. My husband won't let me purchase tuna and spagettios in the same shopping trip any more - he thinks it is incredibly disgusting.

JohnnyB said...

My mom just scooped out the tuna on the spaghetti - no oven baking, no toppings. I may have to try your mom's version.

Susan said...

Wow! And I thought that was a Bunyan exclusive.