Hoarding Food

During the dark days of a serious chocolate craving, I am known to stash candy bars in odd places. The bathroom closet. My top dresser drawer. The First Aid cupboard. In the middle of a serious parenting moment, one of those moments where it is necessary to get away before violence ensues, I will run to my contraband, close the door behind me, and eat my chocolate with eyes rolling back in my head. That just sounds really sick when I look back at what I wrote. Anyway, I’m currently okay. No serious cravings occurring, and a good thing, because the only chocolate we have in the house is the little cups of pudding for the kids’ lunches. Oh, believe me, I’m not turning my nose up at them, but I’ll trade the momentary pleasure of their chocolatey goodness for having a treat to stuff in the lunch sacks.

But I will share with you my top five food weaknesses.

Coca Cola, especially straight from the fountain with a couple lemon wedges

Twinkies

Doctor Pepper

York Peppermint Patties

Entenmann’s Chocolate Covered Cake Donuts

I haven’t yet, but I would bet a stack of pudding cups against your Snickers that I could eat an entire box of them. Dreamy.

Fish, Dear Readers

Apparently, there are people reading this blog. Wonderful! Now I feel pressured to perform, and write funny and witty repartee every single time I post. Oh well. Thanks for coming anyway.

I have some fish stories.

About four years ago, I gave my oldest son permission to fish in a neighborhood pond as long as he had permission from some of the landlubbers over there. He came home with seven fish.

DH remembered that he loves to fish too, and became reacquainted with the pastime two years ago. Now the whole family is involved. DH and the boys love to go fishing, especially when the salmon are running, in hopes of catching The Big One. And I go fishing with DH now on our very romantic dates. I will tell you about one of the most beautiful days ever, then I will talk Fish Fry.

DH took me fishing for the first time about a month or so ago. The day had spit rain off and on, but it looked like it was going to dry up and allow us an afternoon of fishing. The boys were on board with babysitting; we pay them way too much.

We arrived at the park; DH taught me how to tie the hook on, where to put the bobber and so on. I already knew how to bait the hook, so we set up our lines about fifteen or twenty feet away from each other, and began to fish. Fishing is very well suited to the Introverted, and our dates are pretty quiet these days. The sun inched its way west, and it began to drizzle so lightly as to be a fine mist. Then the sun burst through, and the air sparkled with glitter. It was breathtakingly beautiful, and I didn’t care if I never caught anything. But I did catch some rinky-dink fish. That’s it. Nothing earth-shattering, but a day so glorious that I will never forget it.

Now, on to fish fries. My paternal grandmother loved to fish with her her husband as well. And Grandma F could COOK. She made homemade coleslaw and hushpuppies to die for. Our family often was invited to one of her famous fish fries. I’ll have to ask Dad what kind of fish they served, but it was probably locally caught in one of the many ponds or rivers of my hometown.

When my oldest son brought fish home big enough to eat, I realized I would have to gut it in order to teach him how. Thanks, Google! We gutted it and filleted it with a lot of commentary to each other and advice. When the deed was done, I dredged the fish chunks in a simple cornmeal and Old Bay seasoning mixture. That was some of the best fish EVER. It didn’t taste like fish at all, in fact. I think that was a small mouth bass.

I’m getting pretty good at preparing fish now, between the MackDaddies that DH and the boys bring home, and the frozen fish in Aldi’s freezer section.  Two of my favorite ways to prepare my water-breathing buddies are broiled and fried. I generally broil big fish steaks…salmon mostly. Anything else, Tilapia, catfish, trout, ocean perch and so on, gets dredged and fried. My preferred breading on fish has corn meal, but I don’t have any in the cupboard at the moment. Second to last time we had fish, I opened a cornmeal muffin mix, used a tablespoon or two of that, added flour and spices, and used that. It was great.

A simple fish batter goes something like this:

Fish fillets or fish chunks. (I am bone-phobic, so chunks it almost always is, because I’ve cut it to pieces in search of every last bone fragment.)

Enough flour or cornmeal (or both together) to coat the amount of fish you have. Maybe 1 cup?

If you have it, Old Bay seasoning, one Tablespoon.

That’s all you need, just coat the fish in a milk or egg wash, then dredge in the grain and fry in the oil of your choice. However, I ran out of Old Bay, so here is a seasoning mix for you. It doesn’t compare to Old Bay, BTW, it’s just using what I have in the cupboards.

1 Cup flour

2 Tablespoons corn meal or corn muffin mix

1 Teaspoon chili powder

1 Teaspoon salt

1 Teaspoon black pepper

1 pinch cayenne pepper

1 Teaspoon garlic powder

Combine in storage size zip-top bag. If desired, coat fish in milk or egg wash, then shake in bag. Fry in appx one inch of canola oil. You can cook it in olive oil; I use less than an inch high in the skillet, but you have to be careful because it smokes at a lower temp. Maybe if you don’t have a lot of fish to fry. Cook until meat is opaque. Fish cooks very quickly. Serve with cornbread or hush puppies. (I don’t know how to make those yet. Stay tuned.) Coleslaw is also a nice touch.

Gone fishin’.

Green Beans and Cornbread

When I was pregnant with child #2, Dale and I would eat cornbread and green beans for lunch. Sound boring?

The green beans were home canned…my MIL gave me the beans, and I canned them one hot steamy summer day. I loved the ritual of wiping the jar rims, sterilizing the lids, getting air bubbles out with a butter knife, and best of all…the smell of simmering green beans filling up the apartment. I bottled several batches, and that was what ‘Dale’ and I ate after we moved to our new hometown.

Still not convinced? The cost of the beans was negligible, since MIL gave me most of the materials. I think I bought jar lids. Jiffy makes a lovely little cornbread mix and sells it for 33 cents. So our meal was what, 20 cents a person? I love eating cheaply. And finally…

The piece de resistance? Real Butter. Not Imperial Spread or Blue Bonnet. No, real butter from real milk from cows. I would pull my little cake round out of the oven, barely wait for it to cool, and slather thick layers of butter on top. Then I would serve heaping piles of cooked green beans on each of our plates, and douse the hot beans with butter as well. A liberal dash of salt on the beans, and we would eat until bursting. I got a real kick out of my two year old boy enjoying green beans as much as I do. The best thing was we ate the same meal almost every day for a couple of weeks, and never got tired of it. It was inexpensive, arguably healthy, and a lovely little tradition that my first boy and I shared in our new apartment. I kind of felt like I had invented something, but then about a year ago, I was watching Bear in the Big Blue House with child number 4, and Bear announced that he was going to cook up a mess of buttered string beans…wow. It must have been my Southern roots shining through. We have beans in our garden right now, but not enough to warrant pressure canning them. I saw a roadside stand selling bags of green beans for a dollar. I couldnt’ decide if that was a good enough deal or not, so I drove on by. I’m probably not going to be able to find another 20 cent meal, huh.

Three of the Best Cooks in the Country

A few years ago I had the wonderful opportunity to spend a few days with all of my sisters-in-law in Kentucky. Before my trip, I looked up the distance from my getaway to the city where three of my aunts lived at the time. I hadn’t seen them in many years, and decided to take a day from the sister gathering to drive to Tennessee and visit. It was a four-hour drive through the Smoky Mountains, and oh, what a beautiful drive it was. When I arrived, I was greeted warmly by two of my maiden aunts. A little later, the third aunt walked over from across the street. We hugged and kissed and caught up. I brought photo albums to show them of my kids and life in the corn belt. And then it was lunch time, and Aunt Bee (I’ll call her) asked did I want her to fix something. I’ve never been one to turn down food.

She fried up eggs and sausage, and then just ‘whipped up’ some biscuits and gravy. A true southern breakfast. It was good grub, and one of my aunts, who was battling cancer at the time, even ate some biscuits and gravy. (She lost her battle a few years ago.)

The thing that was amazing was how we all ended up talking about food. I was there about four hours, and a good part of that time was spent talking about different recipes and cooking techniques. I felt surrounded by unconditional love, and memories of many family reunions which always featured delicious food. It was life-affirming. Food will always and has always, brought people together. It was only fitting that my little reunion with my aunts and a fortuitous drop-in by an uncle that same day, involved passionate conversation about the culinary arts. (I lost my uncle to cancer not a full year after my aunt.)

Later, I discussed my visit with my mother. She said unapologetically, “Well, you were in the same room with probably three of the best cooks in the country.” Something about that statement just made me so happy. I felt a wonderful connection to these women who served meals to their children and extended families for years and years. In spite of the time spent doing that, they were still passionate about cooking and food. The meals they made were truly an act of love. When Aunt Bee cooked for me, it was a direct way for her to feed my soul with her love. I will forever cherish the memory of sitting at my aunts’ feet and listening to them swap recipes and cooking tips. I like to think that their talent with food is genetic, and maybe I inherited that same gift of preparing food not only for nutrition, but also for love and joy. It was the last time I saw my Aunt ‘Sharon’ and my Uncle ‘David’. I consider our visit one of the highlights of my adult life.

Breakfast for the Girls

DH gets up EARLY and takes Dale to early morning seminary and Kevin to school. I get to sleep an extra ten minutes, then I get the girls up for school. Breakfast is always a challenge. The usual choices are prepared cereal and milk, bagels with or without cream cheese, depending on the time of the week, toast or hot cereal. But, the girls usually say no to almost all of the above. Fun. So then we play a game called, ‘Mom gives me food ideas and I shoot them down one by one’.

Here is a list of some of my common breakfast ideas: PB and banana bread or toast, jelly toast, jelly bagel, hard-boiled eggs, American cheese slice, brownies, leftover birthday cake, chocolate chip cookies, whoa. Looks like my list degenerated into a dessert list. It just occurred to me that I often spout off about nutrition by the week. With a list like that, I’ll have to forcefeed the kids fruit and vegetables all on one day. Anyway, I really am pretty relaxed about breakfast. If there is a tray of brownies on the counter come breakfast, (it does happen, believe it or not), then everybody gets a brownie for breakfast. A milk chaser, and we’re done. I think I must be the epitome of laziness. But only at breakfast time.

I actually feel really good about the breakfast I gave the girls this morning. Aldi sells these packages of pre-cooked frozen sausage patties. Each patty takes one minute in the microwave. The girls loved them! I would say’ Hallelujah’, except I don’t know if I’m spelling it right. I also stirred up OJ. All in all, it was a good morning. I’m trying to decide if I should save the remaining patties for tomorrow’s breakfast, or scarf them up myself. They are really yummy. If I had brownies, then there wouldn’t be any question.

Eating Out with Friends

On Friday, I had the opportunity to have lunch with a good friend.

Food is the great gatherer. We laughed and almost cried and talked and talked and ate delicious food.

I love how eating together brings people closer. Food is truly the one thing that all people have in common. She ordered the shrimp ravioli, which I should have ordered. I realized that as soon as they put her bowl in front of her. I was careful to hide my longing gaze. My Steak Sizzlini was also good; I love steak, and this steak was incredibly tender and tantalizing. I also love the peppers, which must have been marinated in a vinaigrette. It was a delicious meal.

I caved in and had Coke with lemon; my absolute favorite drink of all time.

So, we discussed favorite books, and religion, and our children with Special Needs, and how we met our husbands. She occasionally checked her watch, because we both had appointments to keep after lunch. We had so much fun talking that we went from “Oh, we’re fine with time.” to , “Oh my gosh, we have to leave!”

We boxed up our respective leftovers, slurped the last of the Coke from straws and hugged goodbye.

Thank you, Friend, for a lovely lunch. I can hardly wait to do it again. Next time I’m getting the shrimp ravioli.

Food, Glorious Food

“I love food. If I couldn’t eat food, I’d just die.” Jim Davis’ Garfield

My virus-imposed fast is over. Yeah! I can hardly wait to eat. BRAT is probably the safest way to start, you know, bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. But my leftovers from Papa Vino’s are calling me from the fridge. And the yogurt, and the sausage patties, and the English muffins, and the string cheese, and the hot dogs, and…

But I must take a deep breath and be calm. Watered down juice and English muffins is probably a safe place to start. I’d write more, but I’m starving.

The Involuntary Weight Loss Plan

I won’t go into any more detail than that, but I have been thinking about food.  Lay’s potato chips, for example. I LOVE their ingredient list. Potatoes, oil, salt. Sigh. Also, peaches. I was trying to decide if I want to go somewhere and buy a bushel of peaches to bottle. Once you have home-canned peaches, you will cringe at the thought of those slimy yellow wedges that pass for fruit. Granted, store-bought canned peaches are very symmetrical, clean-edged even. Home-bottled peaches are often fringy around the edges, sometimes may fall apart when you try to fish them out of the bottle with your fork. But the taste…heavenly. Sublime in all the ways that the image of heaven evokes…floating, sweet, bright, happy, loving…

My daughter, E, made breakfast for the family this morning. Buttered toast and sausage patties with syrup. I love the smell of sausage and syrup. This is one of E’s comfort foods, no doubt. She especially likes the ‘pancake on a stick’ you can get in the frozen foods section. A sausage link wrapped in pancake. You gotta dip it in syrup.

I recalled one of the worst cases of stomach flu I had in my youth. Eighth grade…I don’t remember the being sick as much as the meal I got to eat when I was better. Fried eggs, sunny side up with toast and fresh sliced garden tomatoes. One of the best meals ever.

Something funny about food is the craving versus being full. Once you’re full, you don’t really care how you got there. In some cases, you regret exactly that which made you full. But when you’re craving, it seems that nothing else will do. I tell myself this when I am feeling especially lazy and don’t feel like cooking. I know that if I wait long enough, DH will suggest ordering pizza. In the interest of saving money and eating healthily, I try to tell myself that once we’re stuffed, we won’t care what we ate to get there. PB&J will do the job just as effectively. So then I will try to come up with something quick but filling. Eggs del Monaco is one of the family favorites. This is a recipe I cooked from Betty Crocker’s little paperback, Cooking for Two, that my mom bought for DH and I when we got married. Loved that little cookbook. I’ve been able to extrapolate many of those recipes into feeding my family of seven now.

Eggs del Monaco

4 or 5 hard-cooked eggs

1 or 2 cans of ‘cream of’ soup, UNDILUTED

1/2 cup to 1 cup shredded cheese, your choice

paprika

“toast points”

This version will feed five or so.

Heat the creamy soup in  a soup pan, simmer gently, then add sliced eggs and shredded cheese.  Serve over toast, cut diagonally to make ‘points’ and sprinkle with paprika. In my opinion, the more paprika the better.

Filling, hearty, and depending on the soup, meatless too. I’m not a vegetarian by any stretch, but it so happens that many of our favorite dishes have little or no meat.

Back to thinking about food. It’s different when you’re fasting because you want to. You think about the person or the cause for which you are volunteering to go without food. You feel that you are part of something special, and that your needs are not as important as the person or cause you are thinking of. You imagine that if that hungry family was right there, you would happily give them your meal, because you know you can get more later. But when you are involuntarily fasting, because of an ailment that you would rather not mention to the world’s population, it’s agonizing.

Everything sounds good. Strawberry “fig” bars, last night’s leftovers (oatmeal), slightly burnt grilled food, Taco Bell, sausage patties with syrup, yogurt, buttered toast, Eggs del Monaco et cetera ad infinitum. So I will wait, and drink my Tropical Mango Gatorade, and bemoan my sad existence. I might lose three or four pounds, but I guarantee I will gain it back in one fell supper.

Naming Your Food

Speaking of “toast points”, my sisters often tease me about naming my food. Again, I must credit that Cooking for Two cookbook. It’s a fantastic idea. When the kids are clamoring, “What’s for dinner?” a detailed menu often stuns them into helping set the table. Okay, maybe not the helping out part. “Eggs del Monaco with Toast Points and Steamed Green Beans with a Butter Glaze”. No more whines of what’s for dinner. Maybe a question or two like, what’s a toast point?, but all of a sudden, dinner is an official event. Should we get out the china? My daughter asks. Who’s coming over? My oldest son demands. Is it someone’s birthday? I don’t answer them, just direct the traffic. Get out the forks. Put the glasses around. Here, put the salad on the table. (I LOVE BAGGED SALAD.)

Here are some pointers so that you too, can name your food and impress yourself or your family. What’s a common meal? Macaroni and Cheese? Try this: Italian Pasta with Creamy Cheese Sauce. Oh yeah. Now you get the idea, don’t you? Here’s another: Hamburger Helper, stroganoff flavor. Try, Slavic Beef with Sour Cream and Mushroom Glaze over Egg Noodles. Maybe you like to bring home those boxed meals that all you have to do is bake: Home-Baked Chicken Casserole and French Green Beans. (Just get the French cut cans.) See, you can do it too. Enjoy.

Sweepings

As you may have surmised by reading most, if not all, my posts, I am obsessed with the food that goes into my family members’ mouths. Not that I have any dietary restrictions or obsessive leanings toward organic…I just think about it all the time, and spend most of my day in the actual kitchen. I wouldn’t consider myself a truly gourmet cook either. Although I can whip up recipes out of thin air. Not that there’s anything wrong with those who spend a lot of time, money and effort into providing really healthy food for their families. Really, I aspire to that. But back to the sweepings.

I subscribe to the philosophy that I can feed my kids a balanced diet over the course of a week, as opposed to all in one day. This gives me a little more leeway. I have at least one picky eater on a given day. If he refuses the tortilla soup one day, there’s a good chance he’ll eat the beef stroganoff on the next.

I am a spontaneous cook. I have a huge repertoire of dishes, both meaty and meatless, and I cook for variety as much as for my own appetite as for anyone else’s. I like the idea of preparing something that sounds good to me, so I may have a couple different menu choices each day. I also try to balance this with what is thawed in the fridge and how long it will take me to prepare it. For example, yesterday was Chorizo y Papas with re-fried beans. Night before that was Sloppy Joes and onion rings. Night before that was breakfast sandwiches: English muffins with egg and sausage patties and cheese. As you can see, there is no rhyme or reason. It has everything to do with what is in the freezer, fridge and of course, what I’m in the mood for. Tonight is fried catfish with cornbread and fresh green beans from the garden, and maybe I’ll make up some picante out of the garden as well.

So, bringing this all together, I sneak the vegetables in wherever I can. I figure by the end of the week, my kids will have eaten plenty of carbs, plenty of dairy, and certainly an adequate amount of vegetables. Harvest season is easier because they’re more likely to sample garden produce that they helped plant and water.

What, you ask, does all of this have to do with sweepings? Well, I was pondering dietary variety, sufficient vitamins and minerals and general food consumption as I was shooing Farley (the one-year old) away from the pile of yuck that I swept up in the hallway. He crawled toward it like it was the Last Supper, a smorgasbord of culinary delight in a convenient one-stop shopping pile. Gross! Why will little kids put really horrible stuff in their mouths, like pillow stuffings and dryer lint or worse (see my post about Ingesting Foreign Bodies) but won’t eat things like pureed bananas or Cream of Wheat? It’s a mystery. Brings to mind my aforementioned picky eater, ‘Kevin’, who will dine quite happily on frog legs and miniature squids, but won’t touch my tortilla soup. Maybe if I disinfect my floors to pristine clean, I can throw a day’s worth of veggies on it and pretend to sweep it up. I know at least one of my kids will eat it.