A few years ago, I hosted a weekend party where several friends stayed over. One of my guests, a mother of young children back then, got up earlier than I. She managed to get the coffee done, but when I got up she explained she’d been unable to find anything to eat.
“You don’t have snacks. I looked through all of your cabinets, and you have lots of food, but it’s all ingredients to be made into something.”
Things seem to have changed very little over the years. Once again, I’m miles from a grocery store that stocks anything really interesting. We keep plenty of basic ingredients and a few items that add unusual flavors, and until we begin the chicken enterprise, we get enough eggs at one time to meet our immediate needs. In spite of a lingering cool spring, the garden produced enough squash and cucumbers to make jars of relish to get us through next summer. For the person living in fear of an apocalypse, or someone who puts jam on every single thing, we have plenty of food. The catch is that most of it qualifies as an ingredient requiring time and energy to transform it into something satisfying.
My parents grew up in The Great Depression, which meant food preservation in the form of canning and freezing. Never a fan of pickled okra, and impatient about thawing times when I wanted something to eat right then, I was always complaining, “There’s nothing to eat around here,” which prompted trips to town for groceries. Gary does the same thing now. What can you do with a jar of pickles or peach jam that doesn’t require some effort?
“We need to go to the store,” he informs me.
“There’s nothing in this house to eat.”
“Sure there is. What do you want?”
“I can do peach.”
“They’re not in the freezer.”
“No, but there’s a package of puff pastry in there, and we have jars of strawberry, peach, pineapple and blueberry jams. Pick one and I’ll make turnovers.”
My answers are frustrating to anyone requiring instant gratification. I’m very little help in the “heat-it-up” culture, and if I have to “run to the store” it has to be worth my stopping what I’m doing to make the trip. And when you consider all the processing in the commercial product, what can be done at home is more satisfying.
Perhaps the end result doesn’t look exactly right or taste the same, but you’ll have a difficult time convincing me that store-bought is better. My stubborn attitude can be traced to my grandmother who was the first person I can recall telling me “You don’t need to buy that. I can make it.” The problem was that she couldn’t always get it exactly right in spite of her willingness.
My urban-dwelling cousin occasionally stayed with her for a few days, always complaining of those breakfasts I loved. Pancakes with homemade syrup or runny fried eggs with sausage. Bored with country fare, my cousin asked if they couldn’t have an Egg McMuffin just once.
“What’s that?” asked my grandmother.
“They have them at McDonald’s.”
“That’s over thirty miles from here. We’re not going to McDonald’s for—what did you call it?”
“An Egg McMuffin.”
“What’s in it? I’ll make you one.”
“It’s an English muffin sandwich with a poached egg, a slice of cheese, and a slice of Canadian bacon.”
“No, Canadian bacon. More like ham.”
“I can make that.”
I don’t know how long she waited, but my cousin said she learned never to make breakfast suggestions again. It seems that she was presented with a dry biscuit split apart and layered with a runny fried egg, and a thick slice of ham too cold to melt the waxy orange cheese provided to senior citizens back in the 1970s.
I’ve always loved that family story, which has provided a good laugh while prodding me to strive for a good result if attempting a home version of something I’ve seen done by professionals. This attitude has sustained me when I’ve found myself living miles from a quality food purveyor.
Having lived in cities, small towns and now the wilderness, I’ve experienced different levels of accessibility, and I’m once again stockpiling ingredients and getting more practice time in the kitchen. I feel that I’ve grown, and I’m braver about accepting culinary challenges. In many cases I think I can turn out a decent version of a request, and occasionally I can improve upon it. Can I make an Egg McMuffin? No, but isn’t Eggs Benedict tastier?
© 2016 by Patrick Brown
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