Those of you who know me well, know how much I loved my Mom and how close we were. With that said, let’s talk about her cooking. Or lack thereof. Not to disrespect her but cooking was not one of her strengths. She followed a very regimented weekly schedule when it came to our nightly dinners, as well as cooking more bland then the wallpaper in my bedroom of the house we lived in. Maybe it was just that era when life was oh-so-simple and things were plain and sometimes boring. Or due to the fact that she grew up poor and you made do with what you had. Either way, she was no Julia Childs and as a result, neither am I.
We rarely ate out. We (at least Mom, myself and my sister) were Catholics so Friday nights were meatless delights. I am taking a bit of liberty on the particular order of Mom’s given menu which consisted of: lamb chops on Monday, Swiss Steak on Tuesday (breaded in white flour and impossible to chew), Wednesday was usually pork chops or perhaps chicken, Thursday was leftover whatevers. Then there was Friday. The dreaded Friday menu used to cause me such dread that I would break out in hives. Even now, as an adult, don’t mention the words warm and tuna in the same sentence unless you want to see me gag or shudder. Friday was always a celebration of either frozen fish sticks(tasted like hot cardboard), Tuna-Wiggle(tuna with egg noodles cooked in a white, creamy, disgusting sauce) In fact just writing the word Tuna-Wiggle in this blog is giving me the heebie-geebies. Sometimes in desperation to do something different, she would substitute in things like hard boiled eggs, pancakes or the infamous macaroni and cheese.
Once when I was around 6 or 7, she absentmindedly cooked us hot dogs with a side of macaroni and cheese and right in the middle of dinner she hollered out “OH MY GOD!!! IT’S FRIDAY !!!” I nearly choked to death on that piece of wiener, I swear. She quickly began to collect up our tainted plates but fortunately, Daddy (who wasn’t a Catholic) said sternly, “Oh what the Hell’s the difference Lee, let them eat their damn hot dogs.” Sometimes I loved that my Baptist-born Southern Daddy wasn’t a Catholic.
Christmas was always roasted turkey with dressing (her dressing was pretty tasty, actual), Thanksgiving was a ham, St. Patrick’s Day was corned beef and cabbage in honor of my Daddy’s Irish roots. The corned beef that was salty enough to pucker your whole mouth as if you had injested alum. To this day, I won’t touch cabbage nor anything that even looks like coleslaw. Once in a while we even had steak or Cornish game hens, if our budget allowed. Spaghetti and meatballs floated by once in a while and Chicken and Dumplings took their place right along side Tuna-wiggle in my book of repulsions. Those dumplings were like eating white paste that we used in elementary school. Mom’s doughy dumplings held their own against any thick peanut butter sandwich that might choke you to death.
If Sissy and I were sick, it was home-made chicken soup regardless of what ailed you. Now my Mom’s chicken soup had a life all it’s own. The whole chicken was cooked with the entire skin on it, boiled in water, for eternity. No real seasoning but maybe a pinch of salt. Mom rarely threw food away so any vegetables we bought were kept and used forever so that by soup time, they were usually soft and rubbery (she kept stuff forever cause she survived the Depression) so the carrots, celery and bits of onion were extremely old and had no taste whatsoever. Once in a while, there would be some plain white rice in that soup. That was it, plain and simple. I remember the film of fat floating on the top of my steaming bowl, watching the patterns it made. If we were sick, Mom would make up some of her infamous Chicken Soup. Interestingly, that soup always made me feel better somehow. A placebo maybe, or perhaps because it was made with a lot of love, I always seemed to get better after a bowlful.
Mom learned to cook from my Grandmother who grew up and lived in the Azore Islands until she came to America at around the age of 18. Mom learned to cook everything until it was just mush and seasoning was not necessary. Soup was a mainstay and with 15 hungry children, that is how they fed the entire family. Not sure if all Portuguese families cook is way but ours did.
Because my Daddy often brought home damaged canned vegetables and fruits as a truck driver, we had thousands of cans of carrots, peas, corn and slimy creamed corn (Dear God) coming out of our ears. These were all boiled in more water until they they were even mushier than when they first plopped out of those cans. When I was grown years later and discovered fresh vegetables and vegetable steamers, I thought I had died and gone to Heaven.
But the reality is, Mom never allowed or encouraged Sis or I to cook, maybe because she cooked for those 14 brothers and sisters all her life and cooking made her feel needed. Sure, she would let us hard-boil some eggs or boil some hot dogs, but most of the time she just shooed us out of her kitchen. The fact remains that when Sis and I both married years later, we walked out the doors with pretty much zero knowledge as to how to cook a damn thing. Hence, cooking is not only something I don’t like to do, it’s something I avoid doing like the plague. I’m know as I write this, that my brain is percolating “The (Un) Joy Of Cooking” blog coming down my blogging tunnel.
Bottom line is, my Mom’s did the best she could and we never went hungry. I knew she loved me and so I ate her plain, unseasoned food (except for when I fed it to Fluff our cat under the table) and grew up only being to be able to cook hard-boiled eggs and hot dogs. Love, even in the form of doughy dumplings, will always warm my heart and remind me how much my Mom loved me.
I love you and miss you, Mom. I’d give anything right now for a bowl of your chicken soup…