The Baby in the Lunch Basket
Updated: Mar 1
(by Rebecca Singelenberg)
I’m seeing my mom this weekend. Boxed rice and dry chicken are on the menu. But it’s made with lots and lots of love. My mother and her mother were both career women. Grandma Rosie ran a meat packing plant in Harrisburg, a real pioneer for her time. She was a four-foot-eleven dynamo, who handled all the workers with profound respect and was not afraid to get her hands dirty. During the Second World War, the plant got a government contract to provide the army with hides for leather boots. She worked alongside the men and skinned hides to meet the deadline.
She didn’t marry until she was in her 40s, and then turned the business operations over to my grandfather, but sent lunch to him every day. (Once when my mom Ida was a baby, she was the surprise in the lunch basket.) Family dinners were basic meat-and-potatoes with a sprinkling of green, and Grandma's go-to midnight snack was a bowl of Special K, but she had a few specialties. A friend who sold produce used to knock on the side door of the house and yell, “Rose, I’ve got a crate of peaches for you,” which were then sliced and spiced and canned with vanilla extract. At the farmers market, she had “her” person for pickles and pears.
As a child, my mom worked in the plant every summer, packing frankfurters in the cooler. By the time she was a wife and mother herself, she was an executive in the tourism industry with an international travel schedule that didn’t allow much time for cooking—she was the mistress of the 20-minute meal—but she made extra effort for Passover and the traditional Jewish holiday recipes, like the fruit and vegetable stew called tzimmes. It wasn’t until I studied hotel administration in college that I learned how to cook as part of my education. It changed my view of culinary tasks as something that tied women to the home. For me, it was part of my professional path.
And in one of life’s funny little full circles, I’ve recently taught my mom all sorts of quick, healthy recipes, like roasted vegetables and soups. I admit I’m a little bossy, but she puts up with it as part of our kitchen connection. We’ve ventured into spaghetti squash and kale pesto, but it will take a long time to live down the disaster that was a “paleo” apple cake—completely dreadful even after we kept throwing honey and nuts on it. It remained untouched at our family get-together. Lesson learned: Paleo cakes don’t take the cake.
Rebecca Singelenberg is an account executive at Geoffrey Weill Associates.
5 large yams, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-in. chunks 1 lb. baby carrots 8 oz. pitted prunes 10 oz. dried apricots 8 oz. pitted dates 1/2 c. light brown sugar 1/2 c. dark brown sugar 12 oz. raisins 4 T. vanilla extract
1 c. orange juice Combine all ingredients in a large pot.
Cook over medium-high heat for 20 minutes, then turn flame down to medium-low and cook for 3 hours.