Friday, October 19, 2007

Home Cookin'

I love to talk about food, especially about food that people grew up with. The details of food items that our moms and grandmas prepared for us tell so much about the culture and upbringing each of us had. I love hearing about it.

For example, Miss Healthypants grew up in Wisconsin
(State motto: “Moo”)
in a rural setting with a pretty cold climate. Normally, cuisines that originate in colder climes (Scandinavia, Britian, Russia) tend to be less spicy that those in warmer locations such as India, Thailand and Ethiopia. Her mom’s lasagna is an excellent example of Wisconsin stick-to-your-ribs food. It consisted of your basic tomato sauce, noodles, ground beef and cheese. That’s it. No spices.

I love hearing about that.

I was raised by my mom and grandmother, “Budgie”, who were both very busy, full-time working women. Mom was a schoolteacher and Budgie owned and operated the local dry-cleaning establishment. They worked hard all day, would arrive home to face two hungry boys every night.

Subsequently, their dinners consisted of a set number of quick-but-hearty menu items. I’m sure if mom or my brother is reading this now, these entrees with bring a nostalgic smile to their faces:

Meat-n-Bean Dish
Weenie Stew
Tuna Casserole
Budgie’s Chicken Spaghetti
Baked Steak

Dessert: Cookie-Cake.

Oddly enough, Weenie Stew was my favorite. It consisted of sliced wieners, fried until charred, simmered in tomato sauce and served over Minute Rice.

If I wanted “comfort food” right now, it would be Weenie Stew.

Budgie’s Chicken Spaghetti was my least favorite. The idea was great: Diced chicken simmered in a cheesy tomato sauce then baked with spaghetti laced with black olives, mushrooms and celery.

I hated any type of fat or gristle in my food (still do). I would plead with Budgie to be extra careful in picking the meat off the chicken, and to include only the leanest of meat. Each time, she would swear that she really took her time and that there was “nothing but good lean meat” in the casserole. Instantly I’d come across a beak or chunk of cartilage and it would hit my gag reflex.

Budgie was an extrovert to the max. The woman had people to see and things to do!
Spending inordinate amounts of time picking over a chicken was just not in her make-up, nor should it have been.

My other grandmother, Granny, on the other hand, was quieter than Budgie, more reflective. Granny was also a musician and my first piano teacher. Subsequently, her vegetable-beef soup was incredible. It would literally take two days to make because she made the beef broth from scratch. Soup bones would simmer for at least 18 hours and I would eat bowl after bowl of that stuff as a kid. (I would still pick out any chunk of beef that remotely looked like it contained any gristle.)

She could also make an Italian Cream Cake that could bring tears of ecstacy. And her Thanksgiving dressing made with ground sausage and jalapenos is one that my dad and I still make to this day.

So, what were some menu items that you grew up with? I’d love to know.

I might just make Weenie Stew for supper tonight.


At 12:33 PM , Blogger Lorraine said...

Kenny named because it was my father's favorite: ground beef, macaroni elbows and onions all jumbled together, slathered with ketchup.

I have never made it, never craved it.

My mom's chicken and dumplings, mac & cheese, corn chowder and molasses crinkle cookies, however...those I think about all the time. I have her recipes but the only thing that has ever turned out like hers are the cookies. I make great chicken and dumplings, mind you. It just doesn't taste like Mom's.

At 6:08 PM , Blogger Kimberly Ann said...

I love your post. Wonderful memories there. Hmmm, let me see, what would I list as stuff that says "Comfort" to me: Mom's mac and cheese with polska keilbasa slices; my husband's spaghetti (lots of basil, garlic, and smooth sauce); pie - just about any kind; grandma's molasses cookies (mid-1800s recipe that no one has been able to duplicate yet, but I'm trying); salt rising bread; mom's christmas sugar cookies....

At 7:16 PM , Blogger Buck said...

Lorraine and Kimberly Ann: It seems we have a mac & cheese and molasses cookie common denominator going on here.

At 4:15 PM , Anonymous Bro said...

Good memories! I always wanted Budgie to leave the olives out of the chicken spaghetti, and what can you say about the tuna cas? Somehow I ended up with the baking pan she used for the baked steak and still use it for pretty much only that. Only one thing to add. Buttermilk Pie!

At 4:48 PM , Blogger Buck said...

Bro: How could I forgot about the buttermilk pies?? They were certainly your favorite.

At 12:14 AM , Blogger Iwanski said...

I grew up with eggs and bacon in the morning, peanut butter at lunch, and meat and potato suppers.

But we also ate lots of varied ethnic foods and fast food- Italian and Polish sausages, Italian beef sandwiches with hot peppers, hot dogs, burgers, gyros, fried shrimp and fish, spicy fried chicken, lots of different styles of pizza, Chinese food...etc.

So, my favorite childhood comfort foods were usually takeout foods. I guess that's life in Chicago.


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