I’m not a foodie. If someone wants to cook for me, I’m going to like it even if I don’t because they’ve gone to the trouble (unless they’re cannibals; I’d have to draw the line there. Hopefully they would have a dog under the table I could slip it to). Somehow my diet became healthier over the years, more so after I was away from home. My parents ate some pretty damning stuff — Mom dredged bread in bacon drippings and ate it and Dad had burgers & fries daily under the golden arches during his letter-carrier career. They were simple, wonderful people and did an awesome job parenting three kids, each of whom has at least a dozen separate personalities, but they’re not on terra firma anymore. Their diet was a significant contributing factor in their premature heavenly recall.
Nuking rice today (that sounds healthy, doesn’t it, — and I’m doing it in cancer-leaching plastic) brought back some food memories. My Dad and I ate Rice-a-Roni brand Spanish rice (“Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco treat!”), made on the stove (that was in pre-nuke days) by my mother, who would say every time, “I don’t know where you learned to like spicy food.” That rice would not pass her lips. We’re Hungarian on my Dad’s side, and I hear we can trace back to Attila the Hun, so maybe that’s it. (You’re not surprised about the Attila thing, are you? Me either. It’s probably better than tracing back to Vlad the Impaler.)
We ate cake for breakfast. My Mom made frosting basically from butter, sugar and evaporated milk. I’ve never been able to duplicate it. I’m guessing there was a secret “mom ingredient” that’s the equivalent of the magical-sounding “grains of paradise” used in beer brewing, that only Mom knew how to add for the perfect, creamy spreading consistency over that two-layer chocolate treasure.
I’ve struggled for years to find a decent meatloaf recipe. Mom pretty much put hamburg in a loaf pan and drizzled ketchup on the top, which nearly sent me to cooking therapy in adulthood. (“Tell me about your earliest meatloaf memories.”) She’d eat chicken fingers, always a safe choice, every time we went to a restaurant. She mailed me a ham bone once so I could make soup with it. I think it took about a week to cross country, unfrozen, in the mail. She meant well.
My Dad sprang from the womb already working. He had no idea how to not work. He’d deliver mail through rain, snow, sleet and dark of Pennsvylvania, then head to job #2, making milk boxes. Go ahead, ask me. In the summer he’d come home from work and mow the lawn in his postal uniform, then throw back a well-earned beer. He’d get a fire going in a hole somewhere in the nether part of the backyard, let it get to coals, and put corn on the cob wrapped in wet burlap in the hole. I’m not sure where he got that idea, but I remember clouds of smoke foaming up the slope and into the neighbors’ windows. The corn would take hours to roast. He could turn a steak into cowhide on the grill. But he was a man who loved to eat, and made no excuses for it. He had some sort of connection with the military reserve, and we’d go on these reconnaisance missions with those guys to a frozen food place where we’d get enough frozen pies to feed 50 people for a year. Each one had at least a can of whipped cream on top. We ended up giving them away to neighbors.
But this isn’t about the food. It’s about the folks. It’s always about the folks, and the fam, and the friends. It’s about the memories you’re making as you’re making them. Who cares if the pizza’s smoky? (You know who you are.) Does it matter if the cheese isn’t made by dwarf nuns in the darkest Bulgarian forests? Does it really matter if the coffee is half-calf or full moo? No. It really doesn’t. It matters who’s across the table from you, and what’s being said between you, and what’s not being said between you. It’s about the stories being told, and the memories being made, how the light looks in their eyes, and how goofy some of us sound laughing. That’s what matters, because when everything else is gone, including those people in your life you can never replace, or get a second chance to tell how much they matter to you, or just spend more time with, you’re not going to be thinking the spaghetti sauce needed more basil.