Thursday, August 28, 2008

Food Memories

Last week I sold a cake. Nothing extravagant, really, but the mother of one of my piano students saw the birthday cake I'd made for Lyndsay and asked if sometime I could make her family a homemade cake, just to eat for dessert, as a treat. They decided on chocolate, so I used my sister's recipe (that I am now in love with) and baked a double layer chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. She was thrilled to get it. This week when she came for lessons she told me how much her family loved it.

She said that when she was a little girl, living in Mexico, her family was very poor and often did not have enough to eat. There was a woman that lived close by, named Marina, and she always seemed to have chocolate cake at her house. My friend and her sister, as little children, would go and do odd jobs around Marina's house, in hopes of being offered a slice of that chocolate cake, which they would share. She said many times since then, even since moving to this country, she has tried to find a chocolate cake that would satisfy that memory of what that chocolate cake tasted like. She was teary and giddy as she said that this one did! She tasted it and recounted the childhood memory to her children. Several days later her sister came to visit her and there was still some cake remaining, so she offered her a slice. The very first thing her sister said was how that cake tasted just like Marina's cake from so many years ago when they were children! The sisters revelled in the cake and the memory it evoked. What a compliment!

Food is powerful. Tastes and smells seem to live in our subconscious mind eternally. There are dinners that bring back powerful memories for me of my mother's cooking when I was a child (and before we became vegetarian as a family).

Swiss Steak. I remember her pressure cooker, with it's little thing-a-ma-jig wiggling to and fro on top and the steam hissing forth. She always served it over mashed potatoes. One of my favorites.

Shepherd's Pie. Still one of my favorite meals, comfort food at its finest. My children love this dish too. I remember frequently asking for it on my birthday.

Creamed Chipped Beef. I can so vividly remember my place at the dinner table, with my dad to my right, and Amanda at my left. I remember the pile of toasted white bread stacked on a plate that the beef was served over. I will probably never make this meal, but I remember it with fondness from my youth.

Deviled Ham sandwiches. A Sunday afternoon, after-church quick-meal. Again, I will never make these, but even thinking about them, I can taste them, and remember making them on the counter in the New Kitchen (the room that was supposed to become the new kitchen after remodeling, but never quite got finished.)

Oh, there are so many! And of course, the treats. I still make the giant chocolate Easter Eggs for my children that my mother made for us. I still use the same Sugar Cookie recipe, the dinner roll recipe, and many others. One of my favorite Christmas gifts ever from my mom (and she is a terrific gift giver) was a recipe box stuffed with recipes from her collection, my grandmother's collection, and even great and great-great grandmother's favorites. All handwritten on recipe cards for us. She made a set for each of her daughters. I love that recipe box, and refer to it often.

When Adam and I got married, he had a small issue with my insistence on family meals. He didn't grow up that way, and the regularity of it stifled him a bit. He was used to dinner left on the stove for people to help themselves to, whenever, or even worse, people fending for themselves completely. I am a big fan of family meals. I cook breakfast every morning, and dinner most every night. When we're all home, like on a Sunday, we may even eat all three meals together as a family. I know it makes a difference to kids, even though it is, admittedly, a lot more work for mom. I consider it an investment, not just in their health, but in their well-being. If you ask my stepchildren what they love about me as their stepmom, they both will say 'family dinner'. I believe it makes children feel safe and secure. It provides a stability that they can count on.

It warms my heart when my kids request a meal. It means that those food memories are forged nice and deep in their minds. It means they'll probably call me one day, when they have families of their own, and ask for that recipe, because they've just got to make it. Share it. Pass it on.



Misty said...

i want to be the mom who makes breakfast. I too believe in family dinner. it is important... Sometimes it's not possible, but those are rare things...

Make me a breakfast mom, Jenna!

Wonder Woman said...

How wonderful that your cake was so powerful for those sisters. It looks heavenly.

I am now reminded of all many meals my mom and grandma made that I just loved. My mom was really great about us all sitting down and eating dinner as a family. And we usually had a hot breakfast Dad cooked when we came home from seminary and only had 15 minutes till the bus arrived. I LOVED that.

And I've heard more than one place that eating dinner as a family is a strong predictor for teenage delinquency. I believe it. And so we will try to always eat meals together at the table. And with the TV off.

Lesley said...

Oh the chocolate there any chance you'd share the recipe? I have many of my mom's recipes and love to fix them. I can finally make my lasagna taste just like hers! We always eat dinner together too, and it's probably one of those things I take for granted. I am not a breakfast cooker though...sigh.

Holly (2 Kids and Tired) said...

Family dinner is one area that I don't like to compromise. My husband works late a couple of nights a week and he keeps saying I should feed the boys earlier and not wait for him, but I'd rather eat later than not eat together.

He reminds me that my way of showing love is to cook, and he's right. Unfortunately, along with all that cooking and baking comes weight gain so we're trying to find a balance!

Saint Holiday said...

Yes, your angel mother was divinely inspired in her meal-making for us, UNTIL those blasted vegetarians deviled their way into our lives and wrecked our home and ruined dinner for everyone. Drat them! Now all we do is graze like common sheep. And we fear the wurst.
That cake looks delicious. Do you think one would hold up in the US Mail?
Monsieur de les Avions

Crayl said...

Family meals are such a wonderful thing, and even statistics prove it healthier for all involved, not just physically, but emotionally. Good post.

YogaNana said...

I love the chocolate cake story!

And I got teary reading this post. It's good to know our family dinners made a good and lasting impression -- I always wanted home to feel *cozy* to you kids, in spite of everything.

I miss those same meals, Jen. Especially the Swiss steak, which was just like *my* mom made it. I miss roast with potatoes and carrots, and meatloaf, too (also her recipe), but even though I'm no longer a veggie, we don't really eat beef anymore, or very rarely. And not much pork, either.

Micah asked for shepherd's pie for his birthday this year -- Kaiti called me for the recipe. :o)

Sarah said...

This is so so true! My kids have suffered many years of not eating together as a family. Up until we moved into this house we're in now, we rarely ate together as a family. The kids would request it, and of course I always felt guilty. Josiah and I would usually head off to the den and eat while at our computers. It makes me so sad in my heart that I put my kids through that.

Since we've been living here we've made alot of changes. The most important being that we sit together as a family several times a week. Mostly for dinner, but a couple times for breakfast. I don't fix breakfast daily. I'm usually too busy fixing lunches and have the kids fix themselves a bowl of cerealto eat. Family meals are truly a priceless treasure though!

Sarah said...

Oh, AND....I'd LOVE a box of all those recipe's! I think Josiah would love for me to have them too! I've gotten a couple recipes from your mom....shepherd's pie, meatloaf...maybe 1 or 2 more...but to have them all?? That would be awesome! (hint, anyone out there who may be in need of something special to give us...)

Scribbit said...

Wow. I would probably be all teary after she told me that. But it sure is a great story.

Jewel Allen said...

Most of my memories as a child revolve around the food that my mother cooked. Your post made me hungry :-)!

Luisa Perkins said...

Congratulations! Both for creating such a lovely memory for that family and for creating so many for your own through the medium of delicious food.