Appreciating Food…

As a child we didn’t have a lot of money, so we ate a lot of soups and stews. One big stew-pot full of chicken and dumplings lasted the family three days with extra veggies added daily.

We picked greens, fruits, and mushrooms that grew wild in the country-side; feasted on peaches and tomatoes when they were ripe and canned some for the winter. My dad cured olives. Mom cooked up jellies and jams.

My mother was not one of those 1950s/1960s moms who loved spending time in the kitchen. Initially she took time to prepare meals, most often from a cookbook or a recipe provided by a family member, scribbled on a 3″ by 5″ card and kept in a little metal recipe box. However, as my parents’ income increased and my dad’s business grew (and my mom took over bookkeeping), their time devoted to the home shifted slowly.

By my teens, my parents were better off financially. They were also stressed and tired. At that point, they swapped the homemade meals and reminders of the importance of drinking water for bags or buckets of fast food that disappeared in a few minutes and bottled soft drinks purchased in bargain-rate case lots.

I suspect we weren’t that unusual.

As a single mom working full-time, I cooked every night, but preferred things that were quick to fix, like meatloaf or prepared meals from a box.

About the time my career advanced, the kids had moved away. My days were normally 10 to 12 hours long, often bleeding into the weekends, so my time for cooking felt limited. I often made a pot of something (pasta, beans, rice) to last the week (same meal every weekday, sometimes for both lunch and dinner, if I took time for lunch).

Although on the rare sick day I spent a lot of time streaming cooking-related shows, I didn’t spend much time actually cooking.

It took me a while to realize I have been richly blessed, growing up before so many electronic distractions became necessities and while food was still simple. We considered ourselves an all-American family with a leaning toward Portuguese, Mediterranean, and Mexican food back in the early days.

This year I resurrected an old fruitcake recipe (not like the purchased versions). Yum! Until recently I didn’t know that the tramaços we enjoyed as snacks with Portuguese family (my Italian friend called them “lupini”) were not just healthy, but the beans are one of the highest plant sources of protein. Not available locally, I found some dried beans online and plan to make my own. After taste-tasting tamales sold locally, I’m convinced our old family recipe tasted far better, so there’s another future project.

Long story short, I’ve been enjoying a culinary trip into the past. Back to lentil soup, our style of Portuguese soup (not nearly as loaded with meat as some restaurant versions I’ve tried), chicken stew, tortillas, scratch biscuits (not difficult at all), posole, chicken salad, quiche, apple pie, and many delicious plant-based entrees. A quick blog search helped me find more foods to try.

As the year wraps up, rather than make resolutions, my self-care plan is to take some time each week to prepare one new dish and bring back one of my childhood favorites. Who knows? Maybe I’ll find a new favorite that one day my grandkids will share with their grandchildren.

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