Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Food and Family

I got a little tipsy on wine Saturday night and forgot to set out the ham and soak the black eyed peas for Sunday's dinner. Seeing as we were in desperate need for a run to the grocery store - and the ham and peas were pretty much the essence of the dinner I had planned (i.e. we weren't going to eat just cornbread) - I found myself at the stove Sunday evening slicing and frying up hotdogs. The hotdog sandwich. A food memory from my youth that my own children have only known the pleasure of a time or two.

You probably could care less about how to make a hotdog sandwich. Let's face it: we're a nation of hotdog snobs. Unless it comes from a baseball game, is battered, deep fried, and on a stick, or is grilled on the Fourth of July, those of us over the age of 10 are all "eww, do you know what is IN those?!?" But the hotdog sandwich -- two hotdogs sliced in half length-wise then fried and plopped between two slices of white bread with mustard, ketchup, and American cheese reminds me of my dad more than almost any other food out there. Whenever Dad was in charge of the meal you could bet you were going to get one of three things: the hotdog sandwich, pigs in a blanket and macaroni and cheese, or the thick, juicy burgers he was family-famous for.

I fixed the ham and peas and mashed potatoes and cornbread for dinner Monday night. When it came time to eat, no one cared how much time I'd spent peeling and slicing the potatoes. And no one mentioned that the peas were seasoned to perfection (finally!). Someone did point out that the cornbread was a little undercooked. And K1 had to be bribed to eat the peas and K2 pointed at the ham and proclaimed, "it's yuck. It's gwoss. It's nassy and I not eat it." The moral: all the slaving over a nice meal, a meal of "Sunday dinner" standards, and the hotdog sandwiches of the night before were a bigger hit.

It got me thinking of my own childhood and the food memories. And you know what? Most of my favorite memories are centered around those simpler meals, the hotdog sandwiches of my childhood.

My mom is - and always has been - an amazing cook. Her taco lasagna is the stuff legends are made of and her regular lasagna is out if this world. But my favorite meals as a child? Homemade pizza with a canned biscuit crust. Burritos -- "white people" burritos with ground beef and flour tortillas and ranch style beans -- dipped in cheese dip. And speaking of cheese dip! We loved the nights when my dad, who was diagnosed diabetic when I was a young teen, was working late or out of town and our meal didn't have to be diabetic friendly. Because that meant we were having nachos. And nachos, in those days, were made like this: chips, Wolf brand chili, cheese dip (Velveeta, Rotel, can of cheddar cheese soup, can of nacho cheese soup), Wolf brand chili, more cheese dip, and shredded cheddar cheese sprinkled on top. Maybe brownies and ice cream with dessert.

I remember Sunday afternoons picking up the makings for sandwiches on the way home from church then eating them while reading the paper. And, of course, a simplistic favorite in our house was chili mixed with beef stew. I can't remember which of my parents introduced the other to it but it was a staple in our house growing up and I've never met another family who's ever eaten it.

Even when it comes to my grandparents, my food memories are of the more simple variety. I can remember the absolute euphoria of being 10 years old, running to my Granny's house after school and realizing that "OHMYGAWWWW, y'all, she made sugar cookies!!" The absolute best thing my Granny made -- the one thing I would give anything, anything for my children to be able to taste just one time -- was her biscuits and those were always in her cabinets. I spent countless afternoons on her front porch with my cousins chowing down on biscuits and government cheese and drowning it down with a coke or Dr. Pepper or Sprite or whatever other canned drink she had in her cabinet. (What?  That wasn't a standard after school snack everywhere?!?)

I can't think of my Pawpaw without thinking of the "bologna burgers" he'd pick up from Bowman's store or his nightly bowl of Cornflakes. My Ma, my dad's mom, made the fluffiest, yummiest, yellowest eggs. She always made toast in the toaster oven and I loved the brown ends. I can remember being a very, very young child and requesting she let me eat my tomato soup from a thermos. Her husband, my Papa B, made the most amazing, never duplicated cheese dip. It was his contribution to every family Christmas ever. I haven't spent Christmas with him in more than a decade and sometimes it still doesn't feel right not to have that dip with Frito's.

My MawMaw will still make a dirt cake - and include the gummy worms! - from time to time.


When I was pregnant with J and being a brat and wanting both a brunch baby shower and my favorite potato casserole, even though it was not a brunch food in the least, MawMaw prepared some and brought it for me.  I lived with her and my PawPaw during my senior year of high school and she made me cheese toast for breakfast every morning.

Cheese toast and fluffy scrambled eggs, bologna burgers and dirt cake are not the things gourmet cookbooks - or probably any cookbooks - are made of.  But - cue the corny - they are the things memories are made of.  I can't help but wonder if the more simplistic foods, the times when Daddy is working and we eat pancakes for dinner, are what my kids will remember.  As it is, J will tell you his favorite food (outside of Buffalo Wild Wings, natch) is tatortot casserole.  That's probably the most country folk trash food that a kid can prefer.  (Hey, at least it's not Honey Boo Boo's 'sketti,' mmmkay).

I consider myself a foodie.  I love all kinds of food.  I wouldn't even be able to tell you my very favorite food.  Maybe if you ask me my favorite dessert or favorite Mexican dish or favorite flavor of wings (traditional or boneless?) I'd be able to give you an answer.  I do know this though: the hotdog sandwich and pigs in a blanket aren't even in the top 50 of any list.  Yet they're also the foods - and memories - I cherish from my childhood. 

Funny how that works.

P.S. I read through this after writing it and realized just how country it makes me and my family sound!  Hotdogs and biscuits and government cheese and bologna burgers!  But I love my family, I love the way I grew up, and I appreciate all these not-quite-culinary-masterpiece memories.