We have a dog — a pretty big dog, maybe 80 pounds. My husband said recently, “I think Jordie is getting fat.” I looked at the dog and he looked at me. He had that “I won’t tell if you don’t” look. In our house the rule is: “The dog gets the last bite.” But lately, Jordie’s under–the–table begging has been doing a land office business and he’s been getting more than just a bite. I think I have become bored with food. So, the dog is getting fat.
I’m not bored with cooking. Everybody in my family knows I always cook like I’m feeding an army that’s been on the road for a week. Never a meal that doesn’t wind up with leftovers. Our kids know when they come for dinner, they’ll be taking home many little packages and plastic containers.
I grew up eating pretty plain fare. My family background is Welsh. Welsh people generally have beautiful voices and can sing their hearts out, but they are not known for their haute cuisine. Teacakes made with lard, baked on the griddle. Cheese. Lots of cheese. Liverballs. Eeewww. However, if you set foot inside a Welsh home, you will immediately be offered food. That’s the rule
In spite of being Welsh, my mother’s mother, known as “Toots,” was a pretty good cook, but she also had a reputation of creating a disaster scene in her kitchen, using every pan in the whole place. My mother, being a “tidy” soul, only cooked “tidy” things that didn’t require a lot of cleaning up. Except, that is, on special occasions when she made homemade ravioli from a recipe my dad had brought home from work. Then the place was festooned with flour.
There were lots of Italian families in the area where I grew up and lots of tasty Italian food. Some of the first pizza offered in the US was on Oak Hill Avenue in Endicott, NY My dad kept bringing home the recipes and my mom learned to make the best spaghetti and meatballs, pasta fazool, spiedini and lasagna. One of the first things I learned to cook was spaghetti sauce. So, you could have knocked me over with a bag of zitti, when my husband casually mentioned never having “spaghetti from scratch.” He was convinced that spaghetti only came out of a red can marked “Franco American.” So, I made him “spaghetti from scratch.” And he gradually became a big fan, so that when we were about to have our very first dinner guests, he suggested I make one of my pasta dishes.
Our guests were a husband and wife that Tom had known forever. They had fed him on a regular basis when he was a poor medical student, so I wanted to make sure they had an enjoyable dinner. Problem was, I’d been cooking for two people. Us. Two small people. These guests were large people, tall, hefty. I knew how much spaghetti to make for two small people, but my mind boggled at how much for people twice our size. So, just to be sure, I cooked 3 boxes of spaghetti, which I heaped up on our huge turkey platter and presented to our two guests. Their eyes got even bigger when I brought out the gigantic family-size ironstone soup tureen filled with sauce and meatballs. One peek into the kitchen showed that I was, indeed, Toots’ girl. Yup, every pan I owned was dirty.
Our children grew up eating fish sticks, SpaghettiOs with cut up hot dogs, hamburger gravy and chicken made with cream of mushroom soup, because in the 1960s and 70s, almost everything we made had at least one can of mushroom soup in it. Tuna macaroni salad and barbecued beans were staples, along with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and bologna. You know – kid food. In more recent years, when babysitting our three grandsons, we would take them to the Chinese buffet, because, ”Gramma, we LOVE Chinese food.” They would enthusiastically gobble up the fried chicken nuggets with no sweet and sour sauce, the green Jell-O and the fried mini dough balls. That was their “Chinese food.”
When Tom interned in Duluth in 1962, there was the famous Joe Huie’s open–all–day–all–night cafe. Pretty good Chinese food and great egg rolls. But I didn’t know anybody who cooked Chinese food at home. Hadn’t a clue where to even start. Then I noticed these strange tall cans in the grocery store. They were actually two cans taped together — vegetables and sauce in the bottom can, bean sprouts and water chestnuts in the top. Tiny bits of chicken hiding in the sauce. I found that if you added a can of chicken, heated it all up and poured it over those crunchy noodles, you had an OK imitation chicken chow mein. Thank you to Chun King and Jeno Paulucci, I was now an international cook. Then came the Old El Paso tacos—Mexican! Plus, the Japanese wife of a fellow medical resident at Mayo Clinic taught me to make fried rice and another from Quebec introduced me to beef bourguignon. All of a sudden, food was new and exciting.
I want that to happen again. I know the “new food” is plant-based pork chops and sauteed bugs, but don’t even think about it. I’m not eating bugs. No way, no how. I’d rather eat liver balls. Eeewww.
Next time — Hanging Around the Old Queen Anne