I'm an only child, born into a small, dysfunctional family on the south shore of Massachusetts, with skeletons you had to mind not to trip over in the closets. My mother’s greatest aspiration in life was to become a stay-at-home mom to a little girl with the name Samantha, making the Samantha dolls of her childhood a reality. On February 8th, 1993, the day after her own birthday, that dream came true, sort of.
“Sort of” because I actually spent most of my childhood with my mom’s mum, known as Mimi, while my mother was in survival mode, trying to make ends meet. She married a man, my dad, who believes with conviction that a woman’s place is in the kitchen, and in the laundry room, and in the child’s room, in addition to the work room. Growing up, I never fully understood my mother’s eye rolls, the sighs loud enough to shake the house. She was tired, overworked, and overlooked.
(Mom, Mimi, and me)
Every day at three o’clock sharp, I would stand behind Mimi’s white picket fence at the end of the driveway, awaiting my mom’s Jeep Cherokee crossing the railroad tracks. Our dinner usually consisted of microwavable vegetables, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, the occasional Weight Watchers meal, and take-out. My father often bragged about his expertise in the kitchen but his meals never seemed to materialize. The one thing I could count on was dinner together every night—Mom, Dad, and me, around the table as a family. If not for that custom, I’m certain that our family would have fallen apart a long time ago. It was the one time every day that I could rely on the three of us to share space and be present.
With little money, we only shopped once a week, after payday. I was a plain Jane eater from day one—plain white rice, plain chicken—but I liked playing diner on Sunday mornings as my parents watched television in bed. I would mix a few eggs with water in a Tupperware container and toss it in the microwave, with a side of burnt toast. Mostly cooking seemed like a daunting, undesirable task that nobody wanted to do, so why would I be interested?
Despite my mom’s exhaustion, there were a few times that I could see her happy in the kitchen, if she was cooking from her heart, without pressure, without expectation, and without judgment. This happened when she was recreating any of Mimi’s recipes, especially glop. Glop is a comfort food that we had as a treat only a few times a year, typically around the holidays. It was cheap and loaded with calories. Think cheesy, crunchy, hearty, stick-to-your-bones mac and cheese. Whether served hot or cold, fresh or leftover, it is just as good. But what made it special for me was the knowledge that Mimi had made it for my mom when she was a little girl. Mom even uses the same deep ceramic bowl that Mimi once used (big enough to feed an army). Seeing my mother whip up something with confidence, frugality, and approval—that memory has stuck with me, with gratitude.
As an adult, I’ve come to love cooking and baking. I’m passionate about providing nourishment for others and grateful that I can do so free of pressure, expectation, or judgment. I often find myself reversing our roles and wanting to cook nourishing meals for my parents.
Regardless of who is in the kitchen or what is being made, when it comes from the heart, it sticks. In our case, glop seemed to be part of the glue.
Samantha Carney is a writer, teacher, and transformative energy healer, whose website is www.doorwayoflight.com.
1 lb. ground beef
1 lb. elbow macaroni, cooked and rinsed
1 jar Cheez Whiz, at room temperature
28-oz. can of whole tomatoes
1/2 lb. American cheese
2 T. butter
Preheat oven to 350 F.
In a large frying pan, brown the ground beef until there is no pink.
Remove from pan with a slotted spoon, discarding the rendered fat.
Place mixture in a large, deep bowl with macaroni and Cheez Whiz.
Chop tomatoes into small pieces and add to mixture with any juice.
Press 3 or 4 slices of American cheese into mixture.
Top with remaining cheese and crumbled crackers.
Dot with butter.
Place in a medium-sized baking pan and cook for 30 minutes or until cheese has melted and browned along the edges.