Do we remember?
I woke up in the middle of the night, as I often do these days. I was thinking of Mom. For some unexplained reason I wondered what her favorite meal was. I realized with nostalgia that I didn’t really know. Oh, I have specific memories of her totally enjoying a specific thing…but not an entire meal. She was an amazing cook, but I don’t recall that she ever prepared a meal for her own enjoyment.
Mom knew our favorites. She knew Jan’s, Pat’s, Dad’s and mine and would always prepare them perfectly for our birthdays, special occasions, or when we would come home after a prolonged absence. We didn’t even need to ask. When we came home “our favorite” would be bubbling on the stove.
I LOVED her ham, beans, and dumplings with cornbread. She would make it on my birthdays. It might sound a little weird that this would be my favorite meal, but then you never had her version of this classic. Comfort food they call it these days. I called it gourmet! Believe me I have tried to recreate it over the years. The seasoning is never quite right, the beans don’ t soften, or the dumplings are doughy. Besides, part of the experience was knowing out of the corner of my eye, that she enjoyed my enjoyment. She received so much joy in serving us.
But what about Mom’s favorite? I asked the sisters…we all came up with her individual favorites…but not an entire meal.
I guess her individual favorites might say a lot about who she was.
For instance “soppy” bread. We grew up on meat and potatoes. At the end of the meal as dishes were cleared, my mom would take a piece of bread and mop up the bottom of the frying pan, picking up the meat bits and fat scrapings. (Deglazing for lack of a better current term.) She always said she loved it. I wonder now if her ravenous family ate all of the good stuff and she filled up on what remained. Funny how your mind works when you look back.
We sisters shared our memories of the foods she loved.
Fried corn meal mush
Licorice or JuJubes
Shrimp or crab cocktail
Rice Krispies (no milk)
Heel end burnt toast
Wendy’s frosties or Wilson’s thicks
“Flat” coke (you had to leave an opened can in the refrigerator)
Vanilla and Peppermint ice cream
Marrow from the center of the ham bone
Baked bean sandwich with grape jelly???
Chocolate (Note that chocolate is repetitive. That is because she loved it so much.)
After quite a bit of thought, I have come to realize that Mom’s favorite meal was the one she didn’t have to cook. She loved to go out to eat. It didn’t matter where or for what or for which meal. If you suggested going out, she would appear with freshly applied lipstick, purse in hand and her coat. She was ready to go.
I remember her eyes lighting up at Howard Johnson’s years ago and ordering without fail the fried clams. In later years it was sweet and sour Chinese. In fact there were times that I thought the only reason she would visit us in Chicago was to go to our neighborhood Chinese restaurant for the Orange Blossom Chicken. I think she might have enjoyed it as much as going to any 5 diamond restaurant.
In later years taking Mom out became a ritual. It was never a surprise to me what she would order. If at Wendys…single and a frosty, Bob Evans…mush, Olive Garden…soup and salad, the soup pasta e fagioli, Chinese…Sweet and Sour. I could go on and on.
In my mind’s eye, I think about looking at her across the table from me. Oh, how I miss those one on ones.
I realize now how much I enjoyed watching her enjoyment.
Funny how life comes full circle.