: Kristen Homan
: 45.13 MB
My mother was the cooker in our house while growing up. She was a stay at home Mom for almost all of my youth and my Dad was a traveling salesman who was gone typically monday through thursday. Running the house was my mother's responsibility and as my sister and I got older we assumed more domestic tasks. I recall my mother usually in one of three places as a kid - at the stove, the clothesline and at the head of the table. It's always nice to have company in the kitchen. Anyone who's ever hosted a party knows that everyone is in the cook's way, but the every day drudgery of cooking doesn't afford one the lively conversation with family members. These days the draw of TV and internet pulls your family away from you as you're again relegated to peeling half a bag of potatoes with only the scraper to break the silence. As kids, we had to help with the work...I'm not suggesting that every day in the kitchen was quality time spent with my mother, and I'm not being nostalgic or sentimental. I hated being pulled away from Buggs Bunny and, a little later in my years, Oprah. But I did chat it up with my mother as I chopped or did some kind of prep work with her. It was a slow saturation over the years which is how I learned so many basics in home cooking" that many kids (mine included) need a GPS to navigate the kitchen and its accoutrements. I watched and learned-whether it was a conscious effort or just the repetition I became kitchen savvy early on and my epicurean roots go back to my single digit years.I come from a long line of serious eaters and fabulous cooks. Like eating Olympics. Mostly everything Mom made was from scratch. We did have convenience foods - we weren't snobs about food - we ate condensed soup, ellio's pizza and an occasional pop tart. My mother preferred to feed us the way she did because that was how she was taught and its just cheaper to cook that way. I lived in a small town in a rural area whose culinary delights were a taste freeze, pappy's pizza, and a tiny diner that to this day still does not take credit cards. We rarely went out to dinner. The closest McDonalds then was 15 miles away. There were times that my mother, for as a good a cook that she was and still is, did not delight my palette. Leftover roast beef was ground up/pureed and mixed with leftover mashed potatoes and sprinkled with breadcrumbs and baked. Roast beef hash. Ick. you can assemble and bake at your own risk. It looked like dog food. That is the only mention of hash in this book. Ill never forget the smell of liver and onions. Mom and Dad bought half of a cow - mysterious meats wrapped in white butcher paper with bluish ink stamped indentifying what part was what. As the packed freezer dwindled we knew there was a chance at some point - liver was for dinner.I had thoughts of taking the liver to school and putting in my third grade teachers filing cabinet over a long weekend. I hated her. I hated liver. Holidays and family gatherings were always a good time and you made sure that you wore buffet pants to accommodate the "food baby" that resulted from over eating. Its weird to look 5 months pregnant at 12 years old. Of course, familial paparazzi has memorialized most of my youth at the "kids table" with all the cousins. It was good times and pretty much every holiday or gathering offered the same dishes with some variations here and there depending on what magazine publication flaunted a new recipe (remember the first time you ever had spinach dip?) we all ate in good spirit. Full stomach. Happy heart. My maternal grandmother was 100% Irish and my maternal grandfather 100% Polish. My grandmother's best friend married an Italian and owned a pizzeria. You can imagine how well we ate considering that most of Europe's food cultures were represented. When my aunt married a man from Thailand we incorporated some Asian flair to our buffet repertoire and life just got even better. Some people eat to live. We lived to eat. Eating and gathering, experimenting, celebrating is what we did and we did it well. Time has separated all of us with either death or distance but I have fond memories of those years. I have incorporated some old traditions and tried to introduce new ones with my family. Given today's extended and separated families, work demands and even the lack of finances, or the new normal I guess you could call it, its challenging to keep the kitchen as the center of the home but its worth the effort. Growing up in a rural farming area there was nothing to do. We weren't close to a mall or a movie theater. Cable hadn't been invented. There weren't any athletic clubs or organizations unless you were a boy. True story. My athleticism extended to hoping I didn't get picked last for kickball and avoid dodge-ball. One year my mother enrolled my sister and I in 4-H. We didn't grow up on a farm. I could smell them wafting into my room at night, but I never had to get up early and feed anything but my face. I had friends who had livestock or horses and my mother's very good friend had a farm. To this day I can identify a soy bean field from a potato field. I know the olfactory difference between chicken shit and pig shit. Since we had no livestock to show, my sister and I took cooking classes, painted ceramics and learned to sew. We would show our wares at the state fair. Essentially we entered future suzy-homemaker competitions. I learned how to sew a zipper into a skirt, attach sleeves to a blouse, the art of canning, how yeast makes bread rise glazed pottery, and how to set a table that compliments the dish you're serving. My parents had a huge garden. I would have to help pick some of the fruits of this dirt chamber. Let me tell you, if I ever pick another bush bean it will be too soon. I hated how cucumber plants have little prickly things on the back of the leaves that scratched my skin. I hated swatting bees away from me while I picked near blossoms and dirtied my tube socks. Lima beans, pole beans, tomatoes of all varieties, squash, zucchini; I had to pick them all a few times a week, wash them, slice them and help my mother can them. It was a long hot process that took most of the day. How many quarts of endless vegetables did I have to help prepare for winter? I couldn't even fathom a guess. I am convinced I would have made a terrible pioneer and I am quite thankful that I am spoiled by so many conveniences. What was a moderate high light to this country lifestyle is that fellow farming /gardening friends would help out when the garden exploded and it seemed like I would snap beans forever but at least we had friends to help us do it. Camaraderie helps in the survival of menial tasks. "