Sunday, August 8, 2010

Comfort Food

The food debauchery must end. All this week I have indulged myself by cooking, and more importantly consuming, some of my favorite childhood foods. We're talking good ole southern comfort food folks.

I feel myself freaking out because the summer vacation is almost over. My return to the world of work comes in a precious few weeks. I am in an official panic. I was doing fine until I had a meeting last week with my new administrator. It's official, change is on the horizon, and there is NOTHING I can do to stop the train. It is full speed ahead from here on out. Tomorrow, I have to go into the old school site and finish the packing of books. I had hoped I did not have to complete this chore because I had wanted a new teaching position this year.

I searched diligently over the summer, but there were no jobs out there. Well, there were a few, but I am not jumping ship until I get a position that will be better for me in the long run. I prize my time on this earth, and certainly don't want to spend any precious moment of it doing something that makes me miserable.

I have been very fortunate to have found teaching. I am a late bloomer. Didn't even start college until I was 35. I woke up one morning, declared I wanted to become a teacher, and off to college I went. I spent seven years of my life, finally ending that career with a Masters degree in Teaching. I can honestly say I have loved my jobs teaching high school students, all the way up until now.

For some reason I feel like the whole world has changed over the summer. I don't know when this idea blossomed, but I most definitely feel it. My summer has been like most all others in the past 21 years. Yes, I have been on the nine-months-on-and-three-months-off schedule for that long. Hard for me to imagine, but true nonetheless.

My son was 7, my daughter 14 when I began my quest. Now they are all grown up. My son is on a cruise with his lovely wife as we speak. My daughter home with her two little ones on this fine Sunday.

I am home cooking for the unknown number of days in a row this week. I think I came home from my meeting, and immediately started cooking like a maniac. I haven't stopped since.

Apparently, this is how I have learned to deal with stress.

A few weeks ago, when my father called with the news "Your mother has shingles. I could use some help," I jumped in the car and headed over to see them. A trip of about four hours, I got down to about three.

As the eldest child, I have taken on lots of duties of being an adult number one. There are siblings to keep track of, four to be exact. Three brothers, and one sister. When mother became ill, I was the touchstone for all but one of them. The calls came in fast and furious. "What should we do? Should we come over too? What's going ON?????"

On my three hour drive, lots got sorted.  We sibs had a game plan. I would go over, check out the lay of the land, then report back as to what would need to happen next.

When I arrived, I saw my mother in a condition I had never seen before. She was so weak, it made my heart bleed. After I reconned the situation on her condition, what was my first response?

Get in and get cookin!!!!!

For days I cooked. Well, mostly cooked.  Between trips to the store for provisions, my morning cuppa, and  making sure my mother had taken her prescriptions correctly, I got busy. My mother has been a homemaker her entire life. The household froze when she became ill. My father has had numerous illnesses and surgeries throughout their 57 years together, but mother? Never down for more than a few hours with a cold, or something mundane such as that.

The best thing I could contribute, besides keeping a watchful eye on the recuperative process, was get food laid up in the freezer because when I went home, dad would be on his own. He has trouble boiling water. He is a fantastic breadwinner, but cook, ahh not so much.

I started my cooking with zeal. But before I could actually cook, I had to clean out the freezer. I love my mother dearly, but I could not FIND anything in that refrigerator. This is nothing new. I have, for years, visited my parents only to find myself cleaning out, and organizing the refrigerator. My mother has her own filing system, and it suits her just fine, but for this kitchen take-over I needed to be able to reach in and find whatever ingredient I was looking for. The perpetual hunt for the, say mustard for the potato salad, could take precious time when I was in a symphonic frenzy. No, this would not do. I went to work.

I informed my mother there would be a kitchen take-over, and at the end of my stay I would give her back the keys to the kitchen, but in the meantime, don't worry about any noises you hear coming out of said kitchen. None of the other siblings would DARE even attempt a  coup such as this.

My father was sweating bullets over the whole issue. My brother warned, "not to get Mom upset."  Okay, but they fail to understand our relationship. My mother and I are only 18 years apart. We have always been more like sisters than mother and daughter. Once I explained my plan to my mom, she was absolutely fine to let me have control of HER kitchen. It's kinda like how a woman can call another woman a bitch, with no repercussions, but let a man try it, and he gets his balls in his hands muy pronto.

The men never understood how the kitchen take-over would actually allow my mother her solace. They kept fretting each would be on the receiving end of mother's temper should she not be a happy camper in the future.

No worries, I have it covered. Mom handed over the keys very willingly. All she wanted to do was sleep. All she NEEDED to do was sleep.

I was there for an entire week. I alphabetized spice cupboards, cleansed freezers, ordered refrigerators, and lovingly cooked my mother her favorite foods. All the while creating a circle of warmth and comfort around her in order to speed her recuperation. Each day, I would ask her what she felt like eating then I would quickly make it for her. It was very satisfying as I watched her slowly consume her favorite foods cooked especially in her honor. After the meal, I would gently lead her back to her nest, and administer the latest round of pharmaceuticals.

There were moments of sitting with my mother where she needed to express what was going on with her. She did not know, any more than the rest of us did, how to deal with her illness. When she was wakeful, I just sat with her. Sometimes dad would enter the otherwise quiet bedroom, and we both would be crying. This was of great concern to him because he knew mother getting upset would be bad for her condition. He did not know the healing effect of a woman's release of tears.

Mother became very sentimental. She told me of rememberances she had of me as a 'little white headed girl' who was now cooking for her. Caring for her.

"I will always be her for you, mother. I promise."

I knew she would be unhappy with me cooking so much because in her latter years she has pretty much given up the whole cook-your-heart-out scenario. Can't blame her after 50 plus years. A buffet would look pretty good to me too.

But it would never do for me. No, she needed home cooked food, not eating someonelse's energy. No siree bobby. Not MY mommy.

I cooked her talapia with rice (mother loves things that swim in the water). I made her homemade guacamole, chili (yes, she LOVES spicy), fruits and veggies. I made my dad his favorite, biscuits and gravy. I made a pot roast replete with veggies. I had my brother light up the barbecue in 100 degree plus heat. BTW he loved the sweet Italian sausages cooked on the grill. Just plain yummy. The tri-tip sandwiches were a great hit (dad's a real red meat eater). The peach cobbler turned out lovely, a favorite of the 4 a.m. breakfast duo. I even got my thirteen year old niece into the action. She got lots of chopping, "I LOVE chopping," and she learned how to make a chocolate bundt cake complete with chocolate frosting.

All was well in the culinary world. I froze the left overs from each day, carefully labeling each package, and then placing them on a specific shelf in the freezer. All ready to just pop in the micro when the need arose.

Mom told me a little later, "There hadn't been that much activity in the kitchen for a long time. I worry though, you spent too much time in there."

"Never" was my reply.

My filing system came in handy when I was telling mother, over the phone, where to find a particular meal to warm up for dad's lunch one day. "Isn't having a filing system handy?"

"My filing system works just fine, thank you very much!" I feared the phone call was almost over.

"Wait, WAIT, I told you the kitchen is yours, and I fully expect for you to go back to your old habits of opening the door and slinging something in. No worries. I was just glad I could tell you where to find something over the phone, that's all." Whew, I dodged a bullet there. Bro and Dad were right, she is a bit prickly these days. Point taken.

And so, I cook.

It wasn't always like this. When my children had flown the nest, I went on strike. For years.

It has only been in the last couple of years that I have gotten my mojo back. I think the FoodNetwork has had something to do with it. I was initially drawn to Paula Deen because, well, she is Southern.....did I tell you I did not know steak came any other way besides chicken fried until I was 17? True story.

On date with a man who became hubby number one, "Want a fillet mignon?"

"What's that?" she says eyes wide open.

"A steak, duh." His eyes roll. We are at a premiere steakhouse.

"No thanks. I want something, hmmmm, not as greasy. I think I will take a salad."

I have come a long way baaby....

Yesterday, I wanted a lemon meringue pie. Phyllie took me to Marie Callendar's. They had a lemon meringue pie sign on the door, "$6.99" it advertised. "Did you know that?" she asked.


We bought the whole pie. I ate half of it.

Today, Sunday, I find myself cooking again.

We, my partner Phyllie and I, went grocery shopping today. I love company when I shop. She keeps me moving on because I tend to get lost in the, "what am I going to make this week?" thinking whilst roaming the aisles.

"Get away from the broccoli, we don't need any of that. I want some fudge. Where's the chocolate aisle?"

She is a great accomplice.

We were together for years before I revealed that I knew how to cook. Now, she mourns the start of the school year too. Phyllie loves having a 'wife' in the summer. I have spoiled her terribly.

This week I made her the super duper fried chicken my grannie taught me to make, mashed potatoes, and of course cream gravy made with the other words, a heart attack on a plate. We have eaten it for three meals now. Came out fantastic. With each bite, I reminisced about the times I ate this dinner at my grandmother's house as a child. I could easily see her busy hands stirring and stirring, instructing me on how to do it 'just right'.

This year has been a rough one. Grannie died in January at the age of 92. Until last year, she could have been spotted climbing fences in order to get into the front door because she had somehow locked herself out of the house in the backyard.

Love you grannie.

And so, on another Sunday, I cook.

This past week I made a pot roast in the crock pot too. This time the recipe came from, hmmmmm I don't really know. I tend not to follow recipes, even on the first attempt. Somewhere in my brain I can 'taste' what it will be like, and I tend to make adjustments to the ingredients as I put the dish together. Every time I make something, it is a little bit different. The dish always maintains its core, but the axillary components tend to wander, or I prefer the term, vary.

I like little surprises.

This drives my daughter crazy. She wants exact measurements, and exact 'how to's.' I admit being a frustration to her. Air mommy, Fire daughter. Despite my inexactness, she has managed to become a great cook in spite of my lackadaisical approach to the art.

I tried to get her in the kitchen to teach her how to cook when she was growing up. She had other things to do with her time.

That is until she moved clear across the country from mama, and called one Thanksgiving morn desperately wanting me to teach her how to make gravy.

Try that one on.

And so another digression.

It is Sunday, and I cook.

Today's fare? Pinto beans with ham hocks. I will also fry some potatoes, and chop an onion into the mixture. Peasant food. Delicious.

Phyllie, to be sure, does not share my taste for the legumes, but on occasion, like today, she does not complain when the aroma of beans fills the household.

It is this aroma that transports me. Back to the years of my childhood, and just as suddenly, then a flash forward.

Here I am again. Another Sunday. Cooking.

Wait, Phyllie has just awakened from a deep sleep of a nap. The poodles as well as the yorkie, accompany all trips to napland.

They are all awake. Silence is broken. The feeding frenzy must begin.

Poodles this concoction.

Yorkie that.

Phyllie brings out the pot roast. Warms nicely in the micro.

An afternoon monsoon has begun. The air is filled with anticipation.

And I blog.


  1. You are a wonderful daughter, besides being a wonderful wife, mother and grandmother. My thoughts are with you all this weekend. May it be a blessed, peaceful one.

  2. It was indeed. Thanks for the good thoughts.