A Complicated Word

Mom. Mother.

Mom and Dad circa 1966 at a church photo event or maybe a high school reunion?

As Glen would say…it’s complicated. We are both at that age where our parents are in the last years, maybe months of their lives. And both of us only have our moms still “with” us.

I read Dorie Greenspan’s blog today. She’s a “culinary guru” according to the NYT and a James Beard award-winning cookbook author. She shared her memories of her mom related to food and cooking. It got me to thinking about my mom in those terms.

My sisters and I have long disparaged my mom’s cooking. Our memories are of meals that included a plate with beef, a vegetable, a potato and a green salad. The meat was always overcooked, the vegetables were frozen and boiled beyond recognition, the potato was baked and the salad might have had a few tomato pieces with the iceburg lettuce and ranch dressing. Now truth be told, this was as much a result of what my dad liked to eat as it was of what my mom liked to cook. It was a different era.

I remember that we NEVER had rice because my dad had eaten it with catsup three meals a day for weeks on end when he was at sea in the Pacific during WWII. “Ethnic” food meant spaghetti and ground beef and that was a treat! We might have had “pepper steak” which was sliced and sauteed round steak with green peppers and served on noodles. This would have been a meal for a Sunday dinner. We had a HUGE treat on Friday nights when my dad worked till 10:00 pm. There was a new McDonald’s around the corner and Mom would buy us each a 25 cent hamburger and fries for the four of us to share. (Thus for $1.25 she fed a family of four.) My sister Chris, says that we watched Rawhide while eating. That was living! (Chris may correct my memory of these much loved Fridays.) Since my dad worked late and we’d had our treat, my mom made my dad his favorite meal when he got home. It was white bread (think Weber’s) slathered with margarine and peanut butter served with a cup of hot cocoa made with Nestle’s powder. He ate this meal every Friday promptly at 10:30 pm. How he didn’t end up with horrible cholesterol, I’ll never know!

Dorie wrote about all the years that she tried to think of even ONE recipe that she got from her mom and she couldn’t think of a single one. She said her mom didn’t cook. She remembered that she served tv dinners like “she was serving us caviar”. (I have a similar recollection. I LOVED the salisbury steak tv dinner or a 10 cent Swanson’s chicken pot pie.) And then poof, one day she remembered…baked apples! Her mom made baked apples for her dad. Her story got me to thinking about my mom. What do I make that I learned from her?

My kids will tell you that a fried hamburger patty, mashed potatoes and a green vegetable is comfort food. I just try not to burn them all. Did I mention that my mom would open the bag of frozen green beans and put them in the pot on the stove with water? She’d turn on the stove and then become distracted until she smelled the burnt beans. We couldn’t afford to throw good food away so she’d pull out the sugar jar and sprinkle sugar on the beans and serve them with a shrug. I can’t eat green beans to this day.

But I digress…I have Mom’s recipe box. It’s full of clipped recipes that I don’t think she ever made. Or recipes carefully written with “Rose” or another friend’s name in the corner. I don’t think she made many of these recipes either. I do make Mom’s Hello Dolly cookies and I have that recipe that she got from the church youth group. They were perfect for her because she just had to open and layer the ingredients. I also make a version of her “tamale pie”. Again, her recipe involves buying frozen 10 cent tamales and layering them with corn and cheese and tomato sauce. I still don’t make beans. I do make rice, but I detest catsup. (Ask Niels about the time he got me a hot dog at an A’s game and put catsup on it. Poor kid is permanently scarred from that experience. It’s a bad-mom-moment story.) And as I am a daddy’s girl…I love peanut butter everything.

And finally, Glen’s mom was a great home cook so I’ll nudge him to write about his memories of his mom’s recipes. While my mom always wondered why her three daughters ended up being decent cooks, Glen absolutely gets his interest and skills from his mom… instead of in spite of her! I can’t wait to hear what my kids say about my cooking…or maybe not!

Mom. Mother. It’s so complicated!

Niels with Grandma Peach – her name is another food story. In this picture, she’s teaching Niels how to make her bread ‘n butter pickles.

Published by gat2jdt2

60 something retirees (or semi-retirees) learning to live differently

3 thoughts on “A Complicated Word

  1. Most of those memories are spot on. I also dislike katshup and greenbeans. With the exception of meatloaf and patty melts I don’t put katshup on anything.

    I do however remember a pork roast meal at the condo in Glendale that would be more than 40 years ago. It was an occasion of some sort. Not sure what. But she served a wonderful pork roast with all the trimmings and not overcooked. It also included the chunky apple sause you mentioned.

    In addition your comment about Friday dinner. It was $.25 hamburgers and $.22 french fries. The hamburgers were plain and we added the lettus, cheese, etc. when we got home. So total dinner was under $2.00 for 4.

    And…Dad’s peanut butter sandwich was 2 1/2 open faced sandwiches and 2 cups of hot cocoa…winter and summer no matter what.

    As to Mom’s comment about how did she raise such competent cooks…Sister Karen always responded “Self defense Mom, self defense!”

    Memories…they arr interesting aren’t they?


    1. It is late (for me) on this Mothers’ Day evening. I hope it is ok to tag onto JDT’s post like this. It is an interesting Mother’s Day for me. JDT alluded to our moms declining health. I have written about my complicated love of my dad. Not so much Mom. I always loved (and always will) and except for one very specific instance really liked and admired Mom.

      Mom grew up as the youngest child (and only daughter) of immigrant farmer parents. As such, she was both presented the challenge and the joy of real food ingredients and very little pre-packaged. Her mother passed when Mom was in her early teens. So, as you can imagine she was thrown into the fire of cooking for Papa (her dad, my grandfather and the source of Niels name) and her older brother. We didn’t often talk about this, but when we did, I sensed a fierce pride.

      I get whatever adventurousness that is within me from Mom. I remember times, as a child, we would be in the kitchen together. She instilled in me a curiosity, adventurousness and joy whenever I am in the kitchen. One of my favorite things is to take some combination of leftovers in the fridge and create a tasty meal. Shit, I did it today. A southern fried chicken thigh leftover from lunch last week, some southern greens mixed with some newly prepared mashed potatoes and voila’ – a delicious lunch. AND you know what, this is at the core of any other adventurousness within me.

      The picture JDT included in her post of my wonderful little (5’3″) mom and Niels is a treasure to me. I made arrangements to and took Niels up to Grandma Peaches to make one of his favorites – her bread ‘n butter pickles. I simply got out of the way as the two of them “set up” pickles. You see, as a female in a farmer family, you “set up” (canned) everything. I mean any fruit or vegetable. As a child I remember a separate closet with nothing in it but canned items. We also had a section in our full stand-up freezer full of freezer jams. Hmmm’mmm.

      JDT, thanks so much for triggering these memories and the wave of emotions!

      Mom, I LOVE YOU!!


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