During the summer I turned four, my mother was still doing the housewife thing. Dad came home for lunch, and she always had a substantial meal waiting for him. She also made breakfast for the entire family, and we ate at the table every night. Fast food was a Saturday treat from Dunn’s on 10th Street. We might swing by in the evenings for a Coca Cola, but we didn’t eat there during the week.
My mother will be remembered for a lot of things, but a love of cooking will never be one of them. After her stroke, the occupational therapist chimed, “Mrs. Brown, we’re going to have you back in that kitchen preparing food for your family in no time!” Without saying a word, she sighed deeply and rolled her eyes so we could only see the whites. Such assurances would never inspire her to recover the way she did.
She would never proclaim herself a foodie. Food simply doesn’t interest her. It’s for nourishment, and while she likes eating good things, her advice to save my money and avoid expensive restaurants reverberates in my head every time I eat out. That’s probably why I learned to do a few things well so I could enjoy and not go broke in the process. Another thing that puzzles her, and so many people, is being stuck in a kitchen all day. I love to have things simmering on every burner and roasting in the oven, but there was too much to do when I was growing up to go to a lot of culinary trouble. We certainly didn’t learn new techniques and experiment with flavors.
We had lasagna from the Chef Boyardee kit in a box. We had chocolate pudding once they came out with instant. We had a lot of “instant” things as well as vegetables from cans and frozen dinners. Occasionally she’d discover a recipe from somewhere and try it. I’m thankful the Internet didn’t come along until I was grown since I’ve seen several “quick-n-easy” crock-pot casseroles posted by friends.
A good portion of every meal was spent with three taller people trying to convince me to eat something I knew I’d hate. I was usually right, as was proven on the day I remember as the Pea Salad Debacle. If I ever find out who concocted this atrocity, I’ll bring them to court for I’m quite sure the day’s events were the straw that broke the camel’s back, convincing Mother to re-enter the work force and send me to daycare.
It was a weekday lunch when my sister was in school. Mother had decided to get creative by cubing a portion of the American cheese slab, which they kept on hand. I don’t know if they still make it, but it was a long block of orange-colored wax sealed in post-war plastic. Mother tossed her cubes of cheese into a green mixing bowl, which I recently saw in an “antique” store for $60. On top of the cheese, she added a can of drained peas and bound it with Miracle Whip. It might have had other ingredients, but with such a triumvirate, you’d never taste anything else. A serving was placed before me, and I ate around it.
“Try some pea salad,” said my mother. I refused it. Aside from containing food I didn’t like, the pale orange and dull green colors looked as bad as you can imagine. I suppressed a gag.
“Mind your mother and eat it,” commanded my father.
I was adamant. An exchange like this tended to go back and forth for a while, but they usually gave up. Things were different that day, and I ended up sitting on my father’s lap with a fork positioned at my tightly closed lips. I’d worked myself up sufficiently to know I’d vomit if I ate a bite, so I did. Not only did the pea salad go all over him, so did my breakfast.
While they never stopped trying to convince me I’d like things, which looked and sounded unappetizing, I was never backed into a corner like that ever again. Kids have individual peculiarities about many things, and wherever they come from, they absolutely frustrate the parents. I had food issues, and gravy was another of mine.
Gravy didn’t appeal to me, but my genius parents quickly figured out that sauces did. Perhaps there was a throwback gene in my DNA or I was a French aristocrat in a past life (probably beheaded by an exasperated peasant during the revolution), but if there were a drop of gravy on my plate, I’d not touch it. When someone at the table explained, “It’s not gravy. It’s white sauce,” I’d gobble it up as if Escoffier had prepared it especially for me. Thinking back, Mother had used the same technique for her “gravy” as for making a French béchamel, and what’s not to like about that?
I was such a bad eater, and it may be the reason I never had an overnight alone at my grandparents until I was four. I can recall Mother’s words of instruction as she was packing my suitcase. I was to eat whatever was put before me, and I wasn’t to complain. I was told how there would be fresh vegetables from the garden, but she didn’t tell they would be cooked to death. She explained that the big meal of the day would be at noon, and I would probably want to fill up because there was no snacking, and the evening meal would be nothing more than cookies and ice cream.
Cookies and ice cream? Get cracking on that bag! I want to get down there tonight! Actually, I loved most every meal. There was a chilled glass of milk at breakfast, which had come from the cow outside with no pasteurization or homogenization. I doubt that this flavorful beverage had even been skimmed of its cream. While I was slurping down my half-n-half, the pancakes arrived. To stretch the batter, Granny had added extra milk, which made more of a crêpe. It was served with homemade butter and homemade syrup, and I was in heaven.
I wasn’t crazy about the dry biscuits and the burnt bacon, which she served on the second morning, but that egg with the runny yolk was a new and tasty experience for me. The pancakes returned on the third morning, and I figured out that breakfast alternated. I loved the homemade bread, the fried potatoes and the ham for lunch, but sitting down to ice cream, cookies and cake at 5:00 was the best. I ended the week with the reputation of a good eater, and I was invited back frequently.
© 2015 by Patrick Brown
Visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1 to learn about my books “Moral Ambiguity” and “Tossed Off the Edge.”