Eating At Mom's Diner, No Really, Let's Not
by Nicole Freire
So, I'm still thinking about DNA and family ties. But there's one common denominator that I can't really blame DNA for. My great great grandmother, my great grandmother, my grandmother, my mother, my sister and me - we all share one thing.
We hate to cook. Actually, we loathe cooking. That's why on any given evening I beg my husband to cook me a fried egg sandwich.
You may be saying to yourself, "Oh come on Nicole! You don't really hate to cook!"
And while I have shared many recipes with my readers (spaghetti sauce, granola, shortbread cookies, gingersnap cookies) none of them really seem to fall under the category of ‘cooking' (the spaghetti sauce recipe is not really cooking -- to me -- because making it entails only rudimentary skills - and you'll notice that I only suggest putting it over pasta or freezing it).
My great great grandmother grew up with a housekeeper, which is why she never learned to cook. And so my great grandmother never learned to cook, because her mother didn't know how.
My grandmother (on my mom's side - all of these grandmothers I'm writing about are maternal) didn't like to cook either - because her mother didn't like to cook and had never been taught how.
My grandmother and her sister were mostly fed by another relative; presumably one who liked to cook. And I suspect it wasn't just that my grandmother didn't know how to cook, she also just didn't care about it. There were other things to do like reading books and banging away on her IBM Selectric typewriter.
There were two recipes she did use. One was for lemon bread (which is really good, maybe someday I'll share it with you) that she usually made for company. Another one was tomato aspic. Sometimes she'd get a little inventive and add chopped celery to the aspic, which is just as gross as you're guessing it was.
My mother did cook for about 15 years - from 1966, the year my parents were married - to 1981, when she went to work full-time.
My mom was a decent cook in those days, cooking with what she had, what we could afford. But she didn't like it. She could read recipes though, and that's how she did it - by reading, not by fond memories of tomato aspic.
Powdered milk and zucchini seem to figure prominently in my childhood memories, as do endless bowls of Cheerios. My sister and I always had a bowl of Cheerios after our baths and before we went to bed. I used to think that this was a sweet part of the day, sitting at the kitchen table in our nightgowns and wet hair. That was how I remembered it until I asked my mom one day about it. Apparently the nightly bowl of Cheerios was because my sister and I weren't great dinner eaters and our mom was desperate to get something into our stomachs. I'm sure it was because of the zucchini.
Luckily for us, when my mother went to work full-time, my dad stepped up to the plate and became the cook. Now my dad really can cook. But that's partly because his mother could cook. I don't mean, oh she could cook, I mean, OH MY GOD COULD SHE COOK. Sunday dinners at her house were legendary. Pot roasts, hams, turkeys, mashed potatoes, gravy and more gravy, dinner rolls, waffles and bacon and eggs and I haven't even begun to get to the brownies, the chocolate chip cookies and the pies.
The pies. Oh do I remember the pies. Apple and banana cream, lemon meringue and more apple.
I never learned to cook because my mother didn't like it and my dad did and he fed us like kings, so why bother to learn something I had no interest in?
My darling husband is a great cook and he makes the best pancakes in the world.
My sister also got lucky and married a man who likes to cook.
My sister is the queen of pies. To be more accurate, I'd have to say she is the "Goddess Of Pies". She cooks pies the way my paternal grandmother did. People beg her for her pies. I make fantastic baked goods, if I do say so myself. And my mom is totally capable of baking a mean chocolate cake.
The other day, I was lying in bed and amusing myself with silly thoughts, as I am wont to do. What if we had two restaurants? One staffed by my father, my husband, and my brother-in-law.
Their menus would look something like this:
Grilled tri-tip served with beans and garlic bread
Pork loin with warm applesauce and rice with pork gravy
Ham with potatoes and gravy
Penne pasta with pesto and pine nuts
Green beans with almonds
Any kind of pasta with your choice of three sauces; Bolognese, Ragu, and Alfredo.
Extensive wine list and dessert menu the size of a small phone book upon request.
But if my mom, my sister and I had a restaurant, well, our menus would look a bit different.
Kraft Dinner (also known as Macaroni and Cheese, Blue Box Only)
Kraft Dinner with sliced hot dogs
Tuna sandwich, mayo only
Bowl of cereal (your choice, we have dozens)
Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
Salad (the kind that comes in a bag)
Bananas and clementines
Beverages include your choice of sparking water or still.
Dessert choices are limited to plain M&M's, separated by color and doled out carefully so that everyone gets the same amount.
Oh, screw it, let's all get out of here and have Mexican food somewhere. You can sit in the back of the car.
I will share one recipe of my paternal grandmother's that was my favorite, one I always asked for.
Combine the following ingredients: sliced bananas, maraschino cherries, strawberries and defrost any bag of frozen fruit.
In another bowl, pour heavy whipping cream and sugar and beat until soft peaks form. Toss the whipped cream into the fruit bowl and mix.
Put as much as you can fit into a cereal bowl and eat using a spoon.
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Nicole Freire is a freelance writer who lives in Santa Barbara.