Son #2 was unexpectedly in town last weekend. Just long enough to eat dinner and spend the night. As I scurried about scrounging up some of his favorite things to eat, I started thinking about food and family and how the two intersect. I decided to select, for each cooking family member, one recipe that I associate with them. The result:
Mom – I’ve long been tormented by her scalloped potatoes. She makes them with such ease: peel and slice potatoes, throw in some milk and flour, don’t measure or mix anything. And it’s just perfect when it comes out of the oven. After years of trying to imitate her, I gave up and went in search of an actual recipe. To come close to matching the goodness, I partially pre-boil the potatoes, measure, stir, and simmer the sauce separately, and then combine it all and bake. For her, the dish is an afterthought. For me, it’s an all afternoon affair.
Dad – Typical of fathers of that generation, he was not a big cook. But in his own way he was a forerunner to today’s grill masters. Instead of an over-sized, shiny Weber he had a tiny, rusty hibachi. And instead of steaks or ribs he had hotdogs. We’d make them in the back yard or, occasionally, haul the setup to the park for a picnic. While it seems mundane now, for us it was a special treat.
Sister – She brought back a sweet tidbit that I had forgotten about: haystacks. Chinese chow mein noodles and melted butterscotch chips. Mix and arrange in little piles (resembling–you guessed it–haystacks). Let cool. Yum. Thanks for reminding me of these delightful indulgences!
Mother-in-law – She was a short-order cook: fast and efficient. The recipe I most often use from her is a snack my kids grew up loving. (Or was it actually me who liked them the best?) Take saltine crackers, top with a slice of cheddar cheese and four mini-marshmallows. Put in warm oven till the marshmallows soften. No matter how many you make, you’ll wish you’d made more. Interestingly, when we fixed it for her recently, she didn’t remember ever having prepared it.
Father-in-law – Like my Dad, he was not a whiz in the kitchen. When I consider his culinary talents, I think of the time he was in charge of the grandchildren while everyone else was on an outing. He served them baked beans that he’d heated on the stove in the can which he had opened with a screwdriver. (I hope he took the beans out of the can to serve them.) It was generally better to just let him handle the dirty dishes.
Sister-in-law #1 – It’s been years since I tasted her chicken cordon bleu recipe, but my mouth still waters when I think of it. (I should also mention her husband, a hunter, who does wonderful things with his smoker. Thanksgiving at their house can involve an assortment of fowl prepared much like the Pilgrims would have done.)
Sister-in-law #2 – Though she’s a good cook, the meal I most cherished at her house was when, in the midst of company, she pulled out the Stouffer’s lasagna. It was great. And a great reminder that the important thing about breaking bread together isn’t the amount of time and expense that goes into the preparation, but the camaraderie that is shared between the partakers.