Cardboardy Things by ChildGrower Annita Woz

jellystonecousinsfeetI admit I associate good memories with butter. 

I was very small, visiting the farm with my family,  when Grandma Isabel would take from the refrigerator a quarter pound of butter, unwrap it, and each of my sisters and the one brother,  from age two right up to age six,  took turns biting a tiny triangle,  sometimes a tiny tooth-scraped curl of  butter, right off the squared end of the stick.  Grandma would then add the rest to the bowl of salted white potatoes, all peeled and quartered and waiting for the mashing.

Though the FDA was not talking much about the dangers of smoking at that time, it was speaking up about cholesterol and essentially in the 70’s  it was warning about butter and eggs and all the good stuff that home made treats and scratch recipes are made of.  But since my parents were two-pack a-dayers, they likely were not avoiding butter to keep us all healthy, instead I think it was just too darn expensive to keep butter on the grocery list and still feed a family with hungry growing kids.

I grew used to the taste of tubbed crocks of spread and waxy sticks of mazola corn oil  layered across my bread, my toast, my corn on the cob.  I ate too much of it as a girl, and now, I vow that  if I have to watch what I eat,  I’m only eating the very best, most fresh, most flavorful, most real foods that I can.  I have come to accept that I have no room on my plate for anything but real butter.

A friend of mine was reading a book about the importance of eating together, as a family, at the family dinner table – not in front of a tv, and not in a van ride to practice and not every night- but eating together regularly, and the need to teach families to associate eating with good conversation, to associate good food with slowing down, to connect with our kids over the dinner table, with the idea that good food makes for happy families. 

And this is why I find myself trying to recreate childhood food connections when I’m planning meals for my family.  Along the way I’ve learned that this is a bad approach at least in my house.  It sounds really good on paper but the flavor doesn’t really take hold like I had hoped.   

The furniture does not make the menu better.  Yes, I purchased a bench like the one that sat behind our yellow table, like the one that held the little bottoms of my siblings all in a row, but mine seems incapable of making the same peaceful scenes I remember.   Rather than pulling mine up to the dinner table,  with little legs dangling and kicking each other and sometimes, whoopsie, the dog, too,   my bench is put to use more often by pulling it next to the counter top and letting my toddlers stand on it so they can see and help me cook, so they can stir a little, so they can dip their finger into the batter, even if it has raw eggs and butter, just so they can make a mess with me. 

It’s the spirit of the moment that counts, right? The bench was supposed to get us to sit down together, to connect in conversation not in high volume shouting about germs, salmonella, and double dipping.

Serving the same menu as the holiday meal cannot make it feel like Christmas every day.  Yes, I’ve copied Grandma’s Sunday meals.  I admit that  I’ve made roast beef a time or two but will tell you that I have always been secretly disappointed when no one asks for the ketchup like Grandpa Lawrence used to do immediately following  the blessing. In good sport,  Grandma would say, every single time as she got up to pull it out of the fridge,  “Why do you insist on ruining a good roast beef with ketchup?” And he would look across the table and wink at me as he said, “What is wrong with ketchup? I just like it that way.”  And she would ignore him completely.

Unfortunately, in a house with three kids, no matter how hard I try and recreate the good vibes around the table by cooking the Grandma style  meals, I cannot ignore that mine just don’t want the roast beef at all.  There’s no winking or joking involved.   They squinch up their faces and tell it like it is.   No one likes gravy here, and I don’t even bother to make it.  There is no talk of making a crater in the volcano of  mashed potatoes. There’s no inspiration to add the corn on top and then spoon the gravy last.  Instead, I frequently hear rumblings like, these are “too mashed” and they “taste too much like potatoes” and I guess the cost of the well marbled cut is a waste as it  makes my oldest screw up her face and then make those gagging noises.

Kids aren’t impressed no matter how old the recipe is or how good the story associated with it.  I might as well stop trying to impress the modern kid palate.  Theirs is a palate accustomed to fast food, unable to recognize chicken as a meat,  and unwilling to eat much that doesn’t have a cartoon label on the back of the package to distract them while they spoon it in.

I have to accept that this family is accustomed to more cardboardy things, like, oh, say, a frozen pizza.   The cheaper the better, too.  If I invest in a stuffed pizza with cheese oozing from the inside and the top, stuffed with tiny peppers, spicy sausage and an awesome butter and garlic crust, they snarl and point at the green things and the cheese that has yellow in it, not just white.  They want the bargain cardboard flavor,  the simplicity of plain white cheese on a plain white crust.  That’s it.  That’s all.

Making old recipes only brings back good memories to me.  I admit, I make the good stuff I was served as girl,  and I keep hoping the time will come when my kids see the recipes like I do, will see Grandma’s silver wedding bad on her finger as she stirs the cocoa and the butter together, maybe they can picture in their mind like I do,  the apron she wore with the embroidered flowers or feel the heat from the black stove and the cast iron pot,  maybe they can see the dishtowel flung over her shoulder as she spoons out the hot chocolate pudding into shallow bowls,  and then sprinkles the white sugar into the center, and then pours the fresh creme pulled from the bulk tank that morning, slowly, gently, over the skin.

Or maybe they can’t.  

I was nearly persuaded to stop testing them with real food, real butter,  just the other day when someone said, after eating a bowl of chicken corn chowder that sat simmering on my stove,  “Wow, you are an amazing cook. I just love this.  It tastes so good. ” They stopped short of telling me it took them right back to their childhood,  I waited to learn if the taste made him think of his mother, or if he had eaten this while sitting on a bench in his boyhood kitchen.

I paused and laughed at myself, and firmly closed the lid on the recycling bin, hiding the three blue-labeled aluminum soup cans with their curled up pull-back lids shoved underneath and managed a smile and my standby response to cooking compliments, “I’m so glad you like it.”   In my head, I was six,  and I knew this was not the way my grandmother would have made it, but then she really liked to use only real butter in her recipes,  sometimes just a little less than a quarter of a stick.  

I caught myself and added,  “Would you care for another bowl?”

### by child grower Annita Woz

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2 Responses

  1. After reading this post all i am thinking now is the food i have had when i was a kid… it would be really wonderful to live those days just one more time and another and another…
    memories are the sweetest part of the life.

    Thanks a million i lived the memories one more time 🙂

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