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Hungry for Connection

(by Julie Cole)



A few years ago, my elderly parents traveled from Ohio to my home in Wisconsin. We sat in our sun-filled dining room for breakfast. Mom dipped her Earl Grey tea bag up and down in a mug to achieve the right strength. As Dad spooned soft mounds of scrambled eggs (mixed with shallots, cheddar, and applewood bacon) onto his plate, he inquired about lunch. 


My husband smiled and shook his head. “I’ve never known another group of people who sit down to breakfast and start planning their next meal,” he said.


I often forget that not everyone’s life revolves around food. My maternal grandmother, Grandma B, was the head cook at the local high school cafeteria, where she’d feed an army of hungry teenagers, and then come home to feed her own family, often making multiple dishes to please everyone’s palate. I learned quickly to come hungry and praise often. Her self-worth was always measured in second helpings.


And her daughter married into a restaurant family. My paternal grandparents created Hall’s Brown Cow in Zanesville, Ohio. (Hall was the family surname, and the brown cow was one of the signature menu items—a frosty root beer float.) Mom worked part-time at the restaurant as a hostess and bookkeeper. My dad was there constantly, especially on evenings and weekends, so we'd often go to Hall's for dinner just to be with him. Ironically, we could never celebrate Mother's Day on Mother's Day because everyone in my family was working at the restaurant. 


My parents were high school sweethearts, and Mom did not go to college so she could start earning money while my dad went to culinary school. They got married at 20 and had me at 22. Her water broke at the restaurant when they were closing late one night, and I was born the next day. Instead of announcing the daily special, the restaurant sign announced my birth that day.


Every mother interprets her role in feeding her family (literally and emotionally) in a different way. Grandma B. had lived through the Great Depression and experienced days where there was no food in the house. I imagine she felt her greatest value was to provide a good meal and still have enough food to send everybody home with leftovers. My own mother didn’t experience an empty stomach but was hungry for more emotional connection.


Because Grandma B was perfectionistic and spent the day making more food than we could ever eat, we really didn't get to spend time with her. My mother prefers holidays with plenty of time to talk and play games. And while she appreciates good food, she is not a fan of all-day kitchen duty. 


For one of our recent Christmas dinners, my dad decided to make oysters Rockefeller and lobster thermidor—both laborious preparations. I was his sous-chef, and an hour after we were supposed to eat, we were still nowhere near ready. Everyone was hungry, and my mother was visibly frustrated. Later when we were alone, I asked her about having both a mother and husband obsessed with food. “Family time is most important to me,” she said. “I just don’t see the value of spending hours trying some complicated new recipe when we could have something simpler and enjoy the time together.” 


I began to realize that my mother's priorities were evident all through my childhood. Our small kitchen with its avocado Formica island and matching appliances wasn't hers but ours. My brother and I were encouraged to sit at the kitchen table and talk while she prepared traditional 1970s meals like Shake-n-Bake chicken or chipped beef on toast. There was a small TV on the counter. We’d watch “Name that Tune” and try to guess the songs (Mom always won) or watch the evening news and discuss what was happening, in our own small world and the world at large. It’s now clear to me that she always applied a cost/benefit equation to the cooking process—she chose meals that would be satisfying but not time-consuming because she didn’t want cooking to take away from connecting and conversation. 


When fondue became popular, my mom was an early adopter. All four of us had color-coded silver forks for dipping chunks of tenderloin in the hot oil and then dipping them in a variety of sauces. Even dessert was fondue (chocolate). This departure from typical fare was a win-win. We liked the food, and Mom liked the leisurely story-filled dinnertime.

If preparing food is both an art and a science, my mother sees it as science, and the rest of the family believes it is art, rarely even using recipes. My mom wanted to capture these favorites for me and compiled a book of family recipes—no easy feat, since her mother never measured anything and would get irritated if you asked how much salt she added to a dish.


I now know that when I want to experiment with a new or complex dish, I ask my dad, but when I want comfort and convenience, I call my mom. And one of my favorites is her

Crabbies appetizers. They are simple yet delicious and are usually the most popular

item on the appetizer table.


To accommodate more fun and less fuss, two years ago, we changed our extended family holiday dinner to a pizzapalooza: Everybody picked up a favorite pizza, and we spent the evening playing games and reconnecting. I don’t know what will be served this year, but Mom has already purchased some new board games.

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Julie Cole is a storyteller who lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, and is still pondering what she'd like to be when she grows up. She can be found at www.juliehallcole.com.


Crabbies


6 oz. canned crabmeat, drained

1/4 lb. butter, at room temperature

5 oz. jar Old English Cheese Spread

2 t. mayonnaise

1/2 t. garlic powder

1/2 t. seasoned salt

6 English muffins, split

 

Combine crabmeat with butter, cheese, mayonnaise, and seasonings.

Spread on muffin halves, and freeze. 

Once frozen, cut each half into 4 or 6 wedges, and refreeze in a plastic bag. 

When ready to serve, heat oven to broil. 

Place frozen wedges on cookie sheet and broil until browned and bubbly.

Optional: Add finely chopped roasted asparagus and/or sautéed mushrooms to the crab mixture.

Σχόλια


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