Thursday, September 9, 2010

Home

by Cassondra Murray

Tonight I roasted a chicken for dinner.

I do this fairly often, first because it's an easy meal to fix. I crank the oven to 500 degrees, shove the chicken in, drumsticks first, and shut the door. Timer set on an hour and fifteen minutes. Off to do whatever else I need to do. Forty minutes later I dive for the potatoes and start peeling, realizing if I don't get a move on, we'll have ONLY roast chicken for dinner.

Tonight it was roast chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy, and my mom's home-canned green beans and pickled beets.

The second, and real reason I fix this meal is...this meal makes my house a home.

I don't usually have my house in any kind of shape for company. There are piles of stuff everywhere. It comes from having no closets and no time. Stuff comes in, but it does not go out nearly as quickly, and it just piles up. But when I do manage to make a little space and can invite people over, what I most love to do is cook for friends.

It's not that I'm a brilliant cook. I'm not.

I mean, I do okay, but I don't do fancy anything.

It's not that I love the actual work of cooking. I don't, particularly.

And yet, when friends come over, the thing I love most to do is have them sit around my table and eat. Maybe play games later. Maybe go outside and sit around the fire pit. On rare occasions, maybe watch a movie. I love it when they walk in the door and inhale and say, "OH, that smells goooooood!" That smell says welcome.

Whatever the purpose, for me, no gathering at my house is complete without a meal.

Because a meal says home.

At least, it says home to me.

When I was a little girl, I went everywhere with my dad. It started when I was first able to walk without furniture for support. People who remember say that even at that age, I began toddling after him across the yard, down the driveway to the barn. Milking the cows. Picking corn. Hoeing the garden or throwing out hay or walking the fence rows, I followed him.



I remember freezing cold mornings when I was no more than six years old, and he carried bales of hay through the knee-deep snow to the cows in the back field. I had to jump a little to land in each of his footsteps, since the snow was more than waist-high for me. But jump I did, into each one.

The cattle had spent the night lying on the early-December ground, and when they stood, breath blowing out great puffs into the freezing air, steam would begin to rise from the spots on the ground where they'd lain throughout the night. I remember the heat from their big bodies as we walked around and through them to spread the hay.

I followed my dad everywhere. And he let me. And when I was too little to follow, he carried me. I spent my childhood this way, in the gardens and in the tobacco field. And at the end of each day, my mom would have supper ready. It could be anything from her homemade chili or spaghetti, to fried chicken or pinto beans and cornbread.

Sometimes it was game. Okay y'all, don't get grossed out here.....My dad was a hunter, and I grew up eating fried squirrel or quail or sometimes rabbit, complete with mashed potatoes and gravy and green beans or peas, and biscuits. My mom made great biscuits.

Whatever it was, the point is that it was always there. It wasn't necessarily a big meal. It was never a fancy meal. But there was consistently a meal on the table. A meal made by the hands of someone who loved me.

That table, and that meal, more than anything else, made the place I grew up a home.

My grandparents' house was different, and yet it was the same. My grandfather was always, always standing at the stove, cooking breakfast, every morning when my mom dropped me off on her way to work. I ate there, then waited for the bus to take me to school. I got off the bus after school, and what was waiting for me?

Yup. Something my grandmother had cooked.

Those tables, with food on them, said security. We were not a wealthy family. In fact, many would have called us poor. But I never felt poor. That's the thing about a farm. Even if you have little money, you have plenty to eat, usually, because you grow it and can it or freeze it.

Too often now, I end up grabbing a quick something on the way to or from wherever I was last. When I was a kid, we almost never went out to eat. Maybe once every couple of months we'd go as a family to the next town over, to eat fish at Long John Silver's. Beyond that, it was weekly trips to Dairy Queen with my dad. But that wasn't a meal. We'd already eaten supper before he dropped mom off at prayer meetin' on Wednesday night, and he and I would cruise by the pool room or the Dairy Queen.

Now, life moves faster. I'm not certain why that is, exactly, but it does. And a lot of people exist on mostly fast food.

I realize there are still families who sit down to eat together, but I don't know many. For the first few years I was married, Steve and I fell right into that grab-something-quick, eat-out mode. Between work, social activities, and errands, the place we lived became mostly a place to sleep and store our stuff.

But even then, I shopped for groceries. It was odd, I suppose, to have a fully-stocked kitchen, but hardly ever use it. But that's what I did. If the fridge or the pantry wasn't full, I'd go grocery shopping. Members of my family would visit from out of town and say, "Why do you keep all this food? You never cook it."

"I dunno," I'd answer. "Growing up with depression-era parents, I guess. I like to have plenty on hand."

A few years ago I lost my dad.

After that, a lot of things changed. Things which had always said "security" to me, were gone.

I don't have kids of my own, so there's just Steve and me, along with the motley assortment of animals we tend to collect and bring into our lives as we go along.

At first I clung to things I brought home which had been my dad's. But we have a small house. You can't keep everything. No place to put it. After a while, having all those things around felt like a burden rather than a warm memory. So I gradually began to let go of that stuff, except for a few items which hold special memories. And as the years have gone by, I've come to realize something.

I keep my pantry stocked because it is food--and all that surrounds it-- which makes a house a home for me. I realize that some folks might read that and think, "that's some kind of sick relationship with food." But it's not. It's not eating which makes me feel at home. It's the presence of food. And not just any food. Home-cooked food.

It's the smell of turkey in the oven at Thanksgiving. Or the sound of the mixer on the counter, whipping potatoes into creamy goodness. It's cooked apples in the fall. It's a pitcher of homemade lemonade or sweet tea in the summer when you come in from working in the yard. It's salmon patties and fried potatoes on a weeknight when you're in a hurry. It's pancakes on Saturday morning.

I cook the things my mom cooked.

Yes, I make a lot of things she didn't. I cook differently. I grill thick steaks medium rare, which she would never do, and make thick, spicy chili which she wouldn't like at all. I'll never be able to make biscuits just like her, or my grandmother's cornbread just that way. Believe me, I've tried.

But I've spent a lot of Saturdays the past couple of years, frying chicken with my mom, so I could learn how she does it. She's having some heart problems now, and I hope I have many more years of Saturdays frying chicken with her, but I know that some day I won't have her here. The love she put into fixing food to feed her family, even when she didn't feel like doing it--that can't be gotten if I don't create it for myself.

So even though, at some point, there will be just Steve and me and our kids with fur and feathers, it's important to me to feel that thing I used to feel...to have the place I live filled with the sights and smells and tastes that, for me, make a place home. If I'm going to have people I love around me, and a life filled with that wonderful sense of home, I have to create that for myself. One day at a time, one meal at a time.

No matter how hard I look, when I bring home a pizza or grab fast food, I never find quite the same sort of love in that sack.

Now, when people look at my pantry and my fridge and say, "Oh, my gosh, there's only two of you. Why do you have all this food here?" I still say, "I dunno." But it's not true. I do know.

That's what makes it home.

I was listening to Pandora earlier as I took the roast chicken out of the oven, and this song came on. It's from How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days. In a way, I think that film is about just this--creating something important where there once was nothing, and doing so with a little help from the divine, perhaps, but mostly by the effort you put into it.







Did your family cook when you were a kid? Did you have a favorite meal growing up?

Do you ever make that meal now?

If you have kids, does your family have certain special meals for occasions? For birthdays or anniversaries, family picnics or potlucks?

What food is traditional for you at the holidays? Did that come from a family tradition? Or is that one you've created for yourself?

Do you have a favorite meal you fix just because it brings back good memories?

Is there something from childhood which still works as comfort food for you?

What makes a place feel like home to you?

55 comments:

Daz said...

Ah hah!

Daz said...

What a lovely post and so timely as I have spent the last 2 days preparing food for tonight's dinner party with some friends over.

I grew up with the meal of the day was dinner. That was the meal where the whole family came together, sat down and ate, and no one left the table until everyone was done. We talked, we argued, we laughed, we fought and made up, it all happened at the dinner table.

It's always a special time when family and friends can come together and share a meal. It's not about the food (though that's always great) but the relationship that comes with sharing food and time together.

Thank you for sharing.

Daz said...

And now I'm taking the GR into the kitchen with me to help me get that lamb roast out of the oven. :-)

Cassondra said...

Hi Daz!

Congrats on the rooster! Whatcha gonna do with the wily bird?

Cassondra said...

Daz said:

It's always a special time when family and friends can come together and share a meal. It's not about the food (though that's always great) but the relationship that comes with sharing food and time together.

Exactly! There is something about breaking bread together which creates a bond. I admit that I don't understand it. But I know it's there.

And wow, that's a lot of work for a dinner. Two days! I hope it went well and you had a great time!

Cassondra said...

Daz said:

And now I'm taking the GR into the kitchen with me to help me get that lamb roast out of the oven.

OHHHH....the dinner hasn't happened yet! I thought you meant this past night.

Lamb roast sounds fantastic. I've actually never done one of those.

Cassondra said...

Okay I'm going to bed to get a few hours sleep. See y'all tomorrow. I think Sven might have a meal planned.....

hrdwrkdmom aka Dianna said...

I know exactly what you mean Cassondra, over the years I had basically quit cooking. I kept my son fed but with quick meals that could be put in the oven with canned or frozen veggies. Then I started cooking again, mostly on weekends because I work 10 hour days and if we want to eat before 7 or 8 in the evening it has to be something fast. But on weekends, I cook. It kind of gives me a feeling of empowerment. I go to work, I make the money to buy the groceries to prepare the meal for my loved ones. I am woman hear me roar! My son is not a verbal kind of guy but one day not long ago my bf was eating and he said this is so good, what did you do? My son piped up and said she cooked love in it. I cried, what can I say? Just call me emo.

Helen said...

Well done Daz enjoy your day with him and that lamb roast yummo

Cassondra

Your posts are always awesome when I was a child Sunday lunch was always a big day a roast dinner either lamb or chicken sometimes beef and lots of home made deserts my Mum was very big on deserts she would spend all day cooking biscuits cakes and apple pie all sorts of yummy things that would keep us going all week because my Mum worked during the week. I have tried so many time to make the wonderful shortcrust pastry Mum made but it never works out.

When it is someones birthday they get to choose what they would like me to cook for dinner and everyone comes around and we always have a cake these days often a bought one because I just don't have the time to make one but I do make the grandkids one and they get to choose from my kids birthday cake book.

Great memories Cassondra

Have Fun
Helen

barb said...

well done Daz enjoy GR

Hi Cassandra.... We always sat down together for dinner when I was a kid and we did the same when we had our kids. I always cooked and it was always a roast dinner on Sundays with roast vegies and if we had beef we had yorkshire pudding with it (English tradition)
Now the kids have left home and got their own families we usually go to there place as there is more room for us all and have a BBQ. I still cook even though there is only me and my husband... I even cook dinner for myself if he is away

MsHellion said...

Cassondra, I just want to hug you. I swear this blog is...me. The farm, the cows, the growing up poor but plenty to eat, supper always ready on the table when Dad came in...this is my Home. (And I love squirrel, which I'm sure puts me in a minority, but there you go.)

I've always loved cooking and I believe it's for reasons very similar to yours: it means home, security, love.

Growing up we had all the same meals you described (though not so much the spaghetti because my dad hates long noodles--he hates the extra work of twirling them on his fork); however, we'd cook it outside of regular meals and eat it on our own. *LOL* Dad eats it if he has to, but he complains. *LOL*

My favorite meals as a kid were the Thanksgiving meals (which I got to help with) and oyster stew and fried chicken on Sundays. My least favorite was the pinto beans and cornbread which we ate a lot.

When I cook, I branch out considerably--I love stir fries (which Dad enjoys); various Italian dishes; and the odd ethnic dish (something Indian or Middle Eastern). But I always have the home-standbys too.

My fridge is always full...and it's even more ridiculous because I live ALONE. It probably would be cheaper if I ate out all the time, but I don't. I'd usually rather cook and have leftovers.

Joan said...

Wow, Cassondra. I can smell that chicken up here in Louisville yummo.

Oh yes. Chicken baking or boiling on the stove says instand "everything is right with the world" for me. Add sage bread dressing or dumplings and I'm a little girl again.

That is one thing I learned most when I lost my Mom....trying to remember HOW she made certain dishes. I've remembered Swiss steak, Chix/dumplings, macaroni salad, chili...not so clear on her potato salad and even then....nobody can ever make it JUST like their Mom!

Man, I'm feeling the urge for biscuits.....

Louisa Cornell said...

Good job, Daz! Just don't talk about Cassondra's scrumptious chicken in front of the GR ! Makes him nervous.

What a fabulous post, Cassondra! Now I am STARVING and I really want to drive to my Mom's 80 miles away for some "real" food. That is what my niece and nephews call food at my Mom's. Their parents all work and my sixteen year old niece, 14 year old nephew and my nineteen year old nephew all end up at my Mom's house at mealtimes A LOT! The reason? She cooks huge meals for them. She uses fresh vegetables she cans all year and everything is made from scratch.

We grew up "financially challenged" too. Politically correct terms can be so ridiculous. My Dad was in the Air Force, never an officer, and money was not plentiful. My Mom made great meals from cheap ingredients, but then she was an old hand at it. She grew up on a share croppers farm with her Mom and eight siblings. Growing up we always ate meals together. That was the rule. And some of my fondest memories are sitting around the table laughing and joking and sharing our day with each other.

My favorite comfort food from home is chicken and dumplings. My Mom's made from scratch are DIVINE!

I don't cook much because it doesn't seem practical for just me. I do keep food in plentiful supply. Old habits die hard.

My Mom came down to visit me last week and brought an entire basket of homemade jams and jellies! YUM !!

Home for me is any time I go to my Mom's and see her rose garden and the HUMUNGOUS camellia bush at the corner of her house. Walk inside and smell cornbread cooking and I am SO HOME!

Janga said...

What a beautiful post, Cassondra!

My sister and I were talking earlier this week about how often we think of changing our menu for the family holiday gatherings, but we always revert to the foods that our mother, our grandmothers, our aunts, and our great-aunts cooked on those occasions. We not only love the food, but there is something warming and comforting about using the recipes that those beloved women used, knowing that some of the recipes go back further than our memories and relishing the connection with the generations before us. Even the grands, who were born after my mother's death, refer to dishes as "Nana's cake," "Mama's dressing" or "Aunt Tula's potato salad."

Nancy said...

Daz, congrats on the rooster!

Cassondra, my family did cook when I was growing up. My dad made wonderful spaghetti sauce, and my mom's specialty (aside from marshmallow cream fudge at Christmas, which I cannot make because I do not understand the Evil Soft Ball Stage) was vegetable beef soup.

I do not cook, as our regulars know. I tried it for while. I don't like it, have no knack for it, and am married to someone who worked as a cook during college and still enjoys it. So no cooking by me.

I do wish I could make my mom's soup, my dad's spaghetti sauce and his slaw, and my aunt's ambrosia. Too late, now, to learn.

My favorite food the dh makes is mediterranean eggplant--eggplant, chickpeas, tomatoes, and black olives with feta cheese and couscous. The boy's favorite is artichoke chicken.

Comfort foods from childhood--does a float with Canada Dry Ginger Ale (no other brand will do) and chocolate ice cream count? Also tomato sandwiches, which must be made with vine-ripened tomatoes, not the impostors available in grocery stores in the winter.

TerriOsburn said...

I love this blog. First off, that song is going on all of my MS/WIP soundtracks. Different lines fit all of my heroines. Thank you for that.

I grew up in my grandmother's house and she cooked dinner every night. Like you, we didn't have much, but we always had a good, home-cooked meal. There was no adventure in my grandmother's menu, but it definitely made the house a home.

I'm in the process of trying to buy my own place and though I'm not much of a cook, I'm longing for a real kitchen. Not the galley kitchens I've had for years, but a real kitchen. I think I've found the right place, fingers crossed I'll get to cook many "homey" meals there in the future. :)

Thanks for making me thing about this, Cassondra.

Donna MacMeans said...

Oh Cassondra - Do I ever have memories of family and food (grin).

I grew up in a large family - five kids - and all of us would take our chairs round the table and plot our strategy of attack with heads bowed in prayer. As soon as Amen was sounded - forks would fly. I remember dueling with my brothers with forks over some luscious strawberries. Second helpings were a myth, and sometimes first helpings could be skimpy. So now, when I lay a meal on the table, it's enough to feed a legion even if I'm only feeding a few.

My mother came for Thanksgiving some years ago, and when a managed to squeeze one more platter of something on the table, she said "Did I not feed you when you were little?"

Favorite meal - crab cakes. Not question.

We made our usual HUGE feast for Labor Day (We celebrate every holiday with a HUGE feast). My son's girlfriend said -"Can you tell me how you make potato salad? David won't eat my potato salad. He says yours is the best."

Can I just say - how sweet is that?

Cassondra said...

Hi everyone!

I'm up, but having trouble answering/posting. Trying again.

Cassondra said...

aka Dianna said:

It kind of gives me a feeling of empowerment. I go to work, I make the money to buy the groceries to prepare the meal for my loved ones. I am woman hear me roar!

Dianna, what a cool thing to recognize! And such a different place than where so many women were half a century ago--such a different view than "I'm stuck and I have to." Because we don't really have to anymore--not like we did. There are so many other choices for many people. "I get to" is a much better place to be and it changes things inside of me.

To tell you the truth, even the frozen veggie quickies you make in your own oven has more good to it, from my heart's perspective, than just grabbing fast food, because you're taking the time to even put it together to care for yourself and your family. It's just so hard to find time to do it.

My son is not a verbal kind of guy but one day not long ago my bf was eating and he said this is so good, what did you do? My son piped up and said she cooked love in it. I cried, what can I say?

I would have cried too. That's awesome that he recognizes exactly what's happening. Smart kid there who knows he's got a good mom, and knows what she does for him. ;0)

Cassondra said...

Helen said:

I have tried so many time to make the wonderful shortcrust pastry Mum made but it never works out.

Frustrating, isn't it? I can't make stuff just like either my mom or my grandmother. I have come up with a cornbread that I like ALMOST as much as my grandmother's. I must have watched her make that bread a million times across my childhood. But replicate it? Nope. Can't do it.

What's shortcrust pastry, btw? Just the name of it sounds phenomenal.

When it is someones birthday they get to choose what they would like me to cook for dinner and everyone comes around and we always have a cake these days often a bought one because I just don't have the time to make one but I do make the grandkids one and they get to choose from my kids birthday cake book.

Cool way to do it. I know they love the tradition of picking their dinner--and it's neat that you celebrate with everyone. Each of them gets a special day all his/her own once a year. And I have no time at all to bake. I owe somebody chocolate chip cookies(I don't make cookies) and I can't even find time to make the ones from a pre-made dough. :0(

Forget about my grandmother's german chocolate cake. I've been wanting one of those. Missing those times around her table, I guess. I'd get off the school bus and Poof. She'd have one .made, for no reason except that she knew I loved it. The darn thing takes all day.

Cassondra said...

barb said:

We always sat down together for dinner when I was a kid and we did the same when we had our kids. I always cooked and it was always a roast dinner on Sundays with roast vegies and if we had beef we had yorkshire pudding with it (English tradition)

Barb, I tried for weeks and weeks last winter to get Yorkshire pudding right. I could get rise. One side would always be much taller than the other, though, and I could never, NEVER get a complete bowl out of it. I tried everything--all kinds of variations in temperature of ingredients, etc....nada. It was edible (hard to make yorkshire pudding inedible) but it wasn't pretty. I just don't have the knack I guess...:0/

Now the kids have left home and got their own families we usually go to there place as there is more room for us all and have a BBQ. I still cook even though there is only me and my husband... I even cook dinner for myself if he is away

That's so cool! I haven't gotten the will to cook for myself alone. I'll make chicken salad or tuna salad (both meats from a can) or something...but I never cook when he's gone. I think because I don't have anyone to share it with. That's interesting. Hmmm..maybe I need to consider why I don't do that.

Christie Kelley said...

I really hate when blogger eats my post, even if we are discussing food.

Great post, Cassondra. I don't think this one will be as long as my first post (the one blogger ate).

I love roasting chickens or turkeys. There is nothing like the aroma wafting through the house. But I don't cook them unless it's cool enough. Thankfully, October will be here soon and I can roast some chicken again!

Cassondra said...

Ms Hellion said:

I just want to hug you. I swear this blog is...me. The farm, the cows, the growing up poor but plenty to eat, supper always ready on the table when Dad came in...this is my Home. (And I love squirrel, which I'm sure puts me in a minority, but there you go.)


Aww...*sniffle*....thanks for saying that. And *high five* on the squirrel. I haven't had squirrel in many years, but I still remember loving it. Not enough to be able to hunt them though. Just can't do it. :0/

When I cook, I branch out considerably--I love stir fries (which Dad enjoys); various Italian dishes; and the odd ethnic dish (something Indian or Middle Eastern). Oh...do you have a wok? I really want a wok. I don't have one. Dianna Love's husband, Karl, is a great wok cook. I'm trying to learn some from him.

My fridge is always full...and it's even more ridiculous because I live ALONE. It probably would be cheaper if I ate out all the time, but I don't. I'd usually rather cook and have leftovers.

You know...it's not cheaper....at least not for me. We tried that for a while and spent an unbelievable amount of money--and I don't mean at fancy places either. Micky D's adds up.

It's true that we toss out a lot of food (Steve does not do well with leftovers) and some ingredients that go bad before I get them used. But even so, we spend less than we would eating out. Part of why I actually cook sometimes when I don't feel like it. I could stop and get something, but my internal voice says, "go home and fix something. You'll like it better and it'll save money."

Cassondra said...

Joanie said:

I can smell that chicken up here in Louisville

C'mon down! I'll throw another one in the oven for this evening! *grin* You'll have to ignore the house though. I mean, it's really BAD.

Oh yes. Chicken baking or boiling on the stove says instand "everything is right with the world" for me. Add sage bread dressing or dumplings and I'm a little girl again.

Ah...sage stuffing at thanksgiving. Yummm....that's a whole nuther layer of "home" for me.

I have to wonder if this "everything is right with the world" sense is why people, in the south at least, cook for others when there's a family disaster--illness or death in the family? It is, in one sense, all that neighbors and friends can do to set the world back on it's correct path again. If you can't stop the hurt, the one thing you can do is feed them, yaknow? Make sure their bodies are taken care of, and leave it to God and time to heal the soul. And I somehow think that having the body fed might actually go a ways toward beginning the healing of the soul.

That is one thing I learned most when I lost my Mom....trying to remember HOW she made certain dishes. I've remembered Swiss steak, Chix/dumplings, macaroni salad, chili...not so clear on her potato salad and even then....nobody can ever make it JUST like their Mom!

Exactly! I'm trying--at least for a couple of dishes. Don't know that I'll ever get it right because I don't get to do it often enough. :0/

Man, I'm feeling the urge for biscuits.....

Come on down! YOu bring the biscuits. I'll roast the chicken.;0)

Cassondra said...

Louisa said:

..."real" food. That is what my niece and nephews call food at my Mom's.

That's what I call it too! "No, let's go home and eat real food," I'll say. Mine's not as "real" as my mom's though. Just sayin.

Their parents all work and my sixteen year old niece, 14 year old nephew and my nineteen year old nephew all end up at my Mom's house at mealtimes A LOT! The reason? She cooks huge meals for them. She uses fresh vegetables she cans all year and everything is made from scratch.

Oh, that's cool that they gravitate toward it. The thing I don't understand is the kids who, faced with that kind of bounty, won't touch it and demand chicken nuggets and fries. And I further don't understand the parents who indulge these fettishes. I would not give up that sense of "home" which home-cooked food brings, for anything.

We grew up "financially challenged" too. Politically correct terms can be so ridiculous. My Dad was in the Air Force, never an officer, and money was not plentiful. My Mom made great meals from cheap ingredients, but then she was an old hand at it. She grew up on a share croppers farm with her Mom and eight siblings. Growing up we always ate meals together. That was the rule. And some of my fondest memories are sitting around the table laughing and joking and sharing our day with each other.

Kinda puts the lid on the argument that a certain income level is necessary to make a healthy, happy, well-adjusted child, doesn't it? I mean, yes, you have to have enough to provide a place to sleep and food to eat, but X-boxes do not have the same effect as your mom and dad's "rule" about meals together. Smart parents you had there, and look what the world got out of it? Our fabulous Louisa!

My favorite comfort food from home is chicken and dumplings. My Mom's made from scratch are DIVINE! I've never made chicken and dumplins. I want to try it.

... Walk inside and smell cornbread cooking and I am SO HOME!

Oh, yeah.

PJ said...

Congrats, Daz!

What a beautiful, heartwarming blog, Cassondra. You've brought back so many wonderful, warm memories today.

Much of my early years were spent on my grandparents' farm and memories of those years often revolve around food. My grandmother made everything from scratch and there were always wonderful smells wafting through the house. I'd awaken to the aroma of freshly baked biscuits, sizzling bacon, frying chicken, freshly churned butter and hot homemade maple syrup over fluffy pancakes. One whiff of any of those today and I'm immediately back in the security of my grandmother's kitchen, surrounded by warmth and love.

My mom's signature dishes were swiss steak, chicken and dumplings, pot roast and potato salad. I'm the only one in the family who has mastered her potato salad and I think I do a pretty good job on the swiss steak and pot roast but I've never been able to duplicate her chicken and dumplings. Those were hers and hers alone.

Cassondra said...

Janga said:

My sister and I were talking earlier this week about how often we think of changing our menu for the family holiday gatherings, but we always revert to the foods that our mother, our grandmothers, our aunts, and our great-aunts cooked on those occasions. We not only love the food, but there is something warming and comforting about using the recipes that those beloved women used, knowing that some of the recipes go back further than our memories and relishing the connection with the generations before us. Even the grands, who were born after my mother's death, refer to dishes as "Nana's cake," "Mama's dressing" or "Aunt Tula's potato salad."

Now that right there, is actually a very cool way to live on, in my view. Those women are nourishing children they've never seen, in this realm, by what they did and what they taught their families to do.

I'm always torn about this "new" menu stuff. I want to try new stuff, but I don't want to do without my traditional stuff which brings a sense of "home" to me. I've settled on a compromise. On Christmas Eve or the day before Thanksgiving, if I have time, I fix a "new" meal. Then on the actual day, I fix the regular meal. This way I get to try new recipes and see if we like them, but we still get to share the traditions from my childhood.

Cassondra said...

Nancy said:

Comfort foods from childhood--does a float with Canada Dry Ginger Ale (no other brand will do) and chocolate ice cream count?


Abso-freakin'-lutely it counts! I have not had that combination, but might have to try it. Was that one you made at home, or was that one you got an an ice cream place?

Also tomato sandwiches, which must be made with vine-ripened tomatoes, not the impostors available in grocery stores in the winter.
Yummm...Slurp....Those in the grocery stores I call "fake tomoates." Blech.

On a sad note, I got nary a tomato from my garden this year. Not a one. :0(

Cassondra said...

TerriOsburn said:

I love this blog. First off, that song is going on all of my MS/WIP soundtracks. Different lines fit all of my heroines. Thank you for that.

Oh, I'm glad you like it. It's a Randy Newman song, and it's old. Been recorded by a whole bunch of people. Linda Ronstadt did a great version of it, but I think I'm partial to this one because it's from that scene in How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days where they've gone to his home--where he grew up--and that's where they bonded--then on the ferry coming back to Manhattan, they are clearly two changed people. It just...fits.

I grew up in my grandmother's house and she cooked dinner every night. Like you, we didn't have much, but we always had a good, home-cooked meal. There was no adventure in grandmother's menu, but it definitely made the house a home.

That's the way my mom's cooking was when I was growing up. It was rather bland to my adult taste. But there are a few dishes which cannot be made better than she made them. Her fried chicken is one of them. Not dipped, but just dredged in flour, salted and pan-fried. Yummm...I don't even like any other fried chicken.

I'm in the process of trying to buy my own place and though I'm not much of a cook, I'm longing for a real kitchen. Not the galley kitchens I've had for years, but a real kitchen. I think I've found the right place, fingers crossed I'll get to cook many "homey" meals there in the future. :)

Oh, fingers crossed for you! That's GREAT That you're getting your own place. And yes, you definitely need a real kitchen. I never want a kitchen where friends can't sit and talk to me while I cook. I just don't. My kitchen is tiny, but I specifically designed it with a counter bar with stools, just for that reason. Now if I could only get the house clean enough to be acceptable for company--you know--where there's not stuff piled on every horizontal surface, AND some of the vertical ones....

Cassondra said...

Donna said:


I grew up in a large family...So now, when I lay a meal on the table, it's enough to feed a legion even if I'm only feeding a few.


I do this too, and people laugh at me for the amount of food I fix on holidays. But it's not for the same reasons. There was always plenty when I was growing up. It might be humble, but there was always enough of it. Of course, I was kind of a second family for mom and dad--the other kids were gone and it was just them and me. So fewer mouths to feed. Still, I do this.

For me, I think it's the sense of plenty I need. I'm not sure why that is. Maybe THAT is from growing up with depression-era parents, and a grandmother who saved string and cool whip bowls. When my grandmother fed work hands, the table would be about to collapse under the food she laid out. Nobody ever had to look to see if there were more mashed potatoes. There were.

And I think that's the key--I have this inner angst about there always being some left--so anybody who wants more can always feel free to take it. Maybe I fear and am trying to prevent a sense of "not enough." Hmmm....maybe the reasons...at their root...aren't so different from yours.


Favorite meal - crab cakes. Not question.


OHHH...I would love this recipe. I make salmon patties, but I've never made crab cakes. (Salmon patties are another meal I can't make as well as my mom.:0/ )

We made our usual HUGE feast for Labor Day (We celebrate every holiday with a HUGE feast). My son's girlfriend said -"Can you tell me how you make potato salad? David won't eat my potato salad. He says yours is the best."

Can I just say - how sweet is that?


That's very cool. And cool that she wants to learn to make it. That's nice. I learned an awful lot from Steve's mom over the years before she passed. She was a professional cook her entire life-- and what she could do with food was just amazing.

Cassondra said...

Christie Kelley said:

I really hate when blogger eats my post, even if we are discussing food.

It's doing that to me constantly, Christie. I'm starting to copy my posts before I hit edit or submit, so I make sure I don't lose them.

I love roasting chickens or turkeys. There is nothing like the aroma wafting through the house. But I don't cook them unless it's cool enough. Thankfully, October will be here soon and I can roast some chicken again!

I think it's the time of year which is doing it to me too...I haven't roasted a chicken all summer, but last night--it was just right. Things have started to cool off here.

Cassondra said...

PJ said:

I'd awaken to the aroma of freshly baked biscuits, sizzling bacon, frying chicken, freshly churned butter and hot homemade maple syrup over fluffy pancakes. One whiff of any of those today and I'm immediately back in the security of my grandmother's kitchen, surrounded by warmth and love.

I've heard, a number of times, that the sense of smell is the most powerful of all the senses for evoking memory. I don't doubt it one bit, and I have to wonder if that's because of food, primarily.

My mom's signature dishes were swiss steak, chicken and dumplings, pot roast and potato salad. I'm the only one in the family who has mastered her potato salad and I think I do a pretty good job on the swiss steak and pot roast but I've never been able to duplicate her chicken and dumplings. Those were hers and hers alone.

Weird, isn't it, that we can't ever quite duplicate it? It convinces me more and more that it's the love ingredient. No one person is like another. Just like art, cooking for a family includes a part of the cook in every spoonful. I'm starting to believe that this is the part we can't quite duplicate.

Anna Campbell said...

Daz, congrats on the chook. He might be very happy to be a long way from Cassondra today!!!!! LOL!

Cassondra, what a gorgeous post. I found my eyes filling up as I read about you toddling around after your dad from the moment you can walk. I miss my mum's roast dinners, especially roast beef. And she made gravy better than anything I've ever tasted. I can't duplicate it - I've tried!

I love cooking for my friends and you're right - it's the simple, homely stuff that I cook. I'm not a terrifically fancy cook but I'm OK at a few basic things. I'm also not bad on the baking front and there's nothing that says home like the smell of a batch of biscuits/cookies in the oven.

Ooh, getting the urge to drag out the flour and the butter (ALWAYS butter!) and the sugar and start making a batch of something yummy!

Seriously, this post was beautiful. Thank you for putting it up!

Susan Sey said...

Hey, Cassondra--

I'm in awe of your post, as always. You reminded me that food--that mundane bane of my existence (I'm the mom of a picky eater, lord help me)--will someday be my kids' fondest memory. Someday they'll say to each other, "Remember how mom used to make us eat the pesto she made from the basil we grew in the garden?" "Remember how we used to have home made pizza every Friday night & you'd only eat it without sauce, cheese, or pepperoni--so basically focaccia, as we did put some rosemary on it?" "Remember how mom wouldn't let us eat thanksgiving dinner until she'd checked her spreadsheet & rescued the cranberry sauce from the fridge?"

Good times. :-)

By the way, you made growing up on a farm sound like poetry. This suburban girl is envious.

Amy Andrews said...

How great that the day I decide to see what you banditas are up to its a Cassondra post! Hello to everyone and apologies for being away for so long...

Sadly, having kids has sucked the "joy" out of cooking for me especially one very very fussy child who has always been a challenge to feed although thank goodness he's much better than he used to be. I used to love cooking but now its just something I do to keep the family fed (and the welfare from my door :o)

My Mum's an excellent cook and we grew up with some form of cooked dessert most nights and to this day dessert is still my fav part of a meal. I dont realy cook that many desserts though as I really really dont think we "need" a heavy carb laden helping just before bed.
I adore sticky date pudding - but have never cooked it. And my mother steamed syrup pudding which I do cook and am salivating even at the thought of it!
Last night I actually made home made sausage rolls - haven't done that in ages. And I am an absolute expert at cooking gravy, even if I do say so myself :o)

jo robertson said...

Beautiful post, Cassondra. I don't cook a lot anymore either, but I love when someone comes into the house and says it smells delicious.

Congratulations, Daz! I agree that the special time around the dinner table is so much more than about eating; it's sharing with family, sometimes friends, talking about your day, enjoying each other's company, which is hard to come by in this fast-paced world.

Cassondra said...

Anna said:

I miss my mum's roast dinners, especially roast beef. And she made gravy better than anything I've ever tasted. I can't duplicate it - I've tried!

Oh...I can't do my mom's roast beef either. And darn, it was good. It seems so simple, but I can't make it taste like hers.

I love cooking for my friends and you're right - it's the simple, homely stuff that I cook. ....and there's nothing that says home like the smell of a batch of biscuits/cookies in the oven.
Yummmmmm....now you're making me want biscuits! I'm just an okay baker. I can do it, but I'm a strict recipe follower for that. I don't understand the processes well enough to mess with it or experiment.

No wonder your friends love to come visit--you BAKE for them!

Cassondra said...

Susan Sey said:

Someday they'll say to each other, "Remember how mom used to make us eat the pesto she made from the basil we grew in the garden?" "Remember how we used to have home made pizza every Friday night & you'd only eat it without sauce, cheese, or pepperoni--so basically focaccia, as we did put some rosemary on it?" "Remember how mom wouldn't let us eat thanksgiving dinner until she'd checked her spreadsheet & rescued the cranberry sauce from the fridge?"

LOL! That's GREAT! And yes, they will say those things. I'm sorry you've got a picky eater. I'm married to a picky eater. He'd rather have fast food or potato chips than what I cook. I keep hoping that one day, his taste buds will wake up and smell the home cooking. *sigh*

Cassondra said...

Amy, it's great to see you back in the lair!

You said:

Sadly, having kids has sucked the "joy" out of cooking for me especially one very very fussy child who has always been a challenge to feed although thank goodness he's much better than he used to be. I used to love cooking but now its just something I do to keep the family fed (and the welfare from my door :o)

See, I think it was that way for my mom too. I think it sucked the joy out of cooking completely, having to do it three meals a day, 365 days a year for years and years and years. And those fussy kids--I honestly don't know what I would have done with one of those. Clearly, I was not cut out to be a parent.

My Mum's an excellent cook and we grew up with some form of cooked dessert most nights and to this day dessert is still my fav part of a meal. I adore sticky date pudding - but have never cooked it. And my mother steamed syrup pudding which I do cook and am salivating even at the thought of it!

OMG. YUMMMMMM..that sounds wonderful. I bet they're sinfully good.

Last night I actually made home made sausage rolls - haven't done that in ages. And I am an absolute expert at cooking gravy, even if I do say so myself :o)

Oh...I need a gravy lesson from you then. I'm intimidated by gravy.

Cassondra said...

JoMama said:

I agree that the special time around the dinner table is so much more than about eating; it's sharing with family, sometimes friends, talking about your day, enjoying each other's company, which is hard to come by in this fast-paced world.

Yes, indeed. It is hard to come by. I think maybe that's why I cling to it so tightly. It's my way of preserving a bit of time for that.

Amy Andrews said...

lol Cassondra I was intimidated for a long time by gravy too. But I practised a lot - made some truly awful gravy in that time :o)

Now I've become a terrible gravy snob I'm afraid. If its not made from scratch from the meat juices then I go without :o)

Cassondra said...

Amy said:

Now I've become a terrible gravy snob I'm afraid. If its not made from scratch from the meat juices then I go without :o)


I won't eat fake gravy either. I don't like all the chemicals in it. I often just use the drippings and some chicken broth to deglaze the pan, and serve that as gravy. I know how to thicken, but that's my fear--I haven't figured out how to consistently keep it from being lumpy.

But honestly I'd rather have lumpy homemade than fake. I just won't eat fake.

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Hey Daz! Congrats on catching the rooster!

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Cassondra, as always, you bring me right to the heart of whatever it is you post on.

Sigh.

Favorite meals - fried chicken, mashed potatoes, salad, fruit salad. Ham with pinapple circles on it, green beans, mashed potatoes, biscuits.

Biscuits. Biscuits. And bakers hat rolls. yeast rolls, cinnamon rolls. And did I mention biscuits? Cat head biscuits. (You Sou'th'ners know what I mean by that term) with molassas or seasoned honey and butter...ooooh.

My sister and I often joke that our growing up led us to the belief that "love is a full refrigerator" - in exactly the same way you described it, Cassondra. Not because it's a weird relationship with food, but because food LEADS to familial time, talk, and laughter.

It leads to connection.

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Dianna said: My son piped up and said she cooked love in it. I cried, what can I say? Just call me emo.

Aww, man, you're makin' me cry. :> My boys always tell their friends, "Oh, my mom cooks."

I don't feel like I do - measuring by the standards of my Mama, I probably DON'T! - but evidently I do it enough that my boys are willing to call me a cook. Ha!

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Hellion said: supper always ready on the table when Dad came in...this is my Home. (And I love squirrel, which I'm sure puts me in a minority, but there you go.)


Nope. I like it too. Grins.

Even when I still lived alone, I cooked, Hellie, because it felt so much better and more stable than take out ALL the time. :>

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Donna said: So now, when I lay a meal on the table, it's enough to feed a legion even if I'm only feeding a few.

Heehee. Donna, my DH always asks "who's coming over, the 82nd Airborne?"

Grins. Well, I'd feed 'em well if they DID come over! Ha! I love this and do it too.

Why?

One word: LEFTOVERS.

Yum.

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Cassondra said: It is, in one sense, all that neighbors and friends can do to set the world back on it's correct path again. If you can't stop the hurt, the one thing you can do is feed them, yaknow? Make sure their bodies are taken care of, and leave it to God and time to heal the soul. And I somehow think that having the body fed might actually go a ways toward beginning the healing of the soul.

*sniffle* Having fairly recent experience with this, I can answer that it does go a ways to healing the soul. Knowing that someone thought of you in your hour of need, someone made something so you didn't have to think about it - which you usually can't at that point in time - and so that you can just focus on making sure you continue to breathe in and out.

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Cassondra said: On a sad note, I got nary a tomato from my garden this year. Not a one. :0(

I got cherry tomatoes, but no beefsteaks. It just got too hot too fast and fried 'em all on the vine. Sigh.

Amy Andrews said...

Cassondra said -
I won't eat fake gravy either. I don't like all the chemicals in it.

Here, here! Plus you know, it just doesn't taste like gravy!!! :o)

Cassondra said...

Jeanne said:

My sister and I often joke that our growing up led us to the belief that "love is a full refrigerator".... -because food LEADS to familial time, talk, and laughter.


That is perfect! I could so have that sign in my kitchen. Along with the one that says, "I cook with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food." Snork.

That is exactly it. Knowing at any time, if somebody drops by, I have enough to set out an extra plate. Or enough, if it's near lunch time, to dig in the fridge and throw something together, and be able to say, "Please don't go. I'd love to have you for lunch, and we've got plenty. LOOK at this fridge. This is gonna ruin if you don't stay and help us eat it."

There's something about feeling as though you should leave because of the time, and being coaxed into staying and sharing, and KNOWING that you really are welcome. I guess there's a bit of an art to that, as not everyone seems able to do it. But those of my friends who have done that for me--they're my favorite friends to visit.

It's as though my heart knows that if you feed me, you really do want me around. That's probably silly, but there it is.

For me, there's also just something about feeding people. Something magic in the way it affects my soul. And I hope, in affecting mine, it also affects theirs.

Cassondra said...

Jeanne said:

"Oh, my mom cooks."

I don't feel like I do - measuring by the standards of my Mama, I probably DON'T! - but evidently I do it enough that my boys are willing to call me a cook. Ha!


I figure as compared to other kids' moms, you DO cook!

Cassondra said...

Jeanne said:

Knowing that someone thought of you in your hour of need, someone made something so you didn't have to think about it - which you usually can't at that point in time - and so that you can just focus on making sure you continue to breathe in and out.

Indeed. I have needed that on more occasions than I care to recount. Over the years I've watched my community. Even when people don't normally come around, or pay much attention, even when you haven't seen them in a good long while, when you're in grief, food appears. If this is a thing peculiar to the south, I by God don't ever want to live anywhere but the south. There can be three people at the funeral, but there will be a table full of food in the back. There just will.

flchen1 said...

Cassondra, I LOVE your posts. That was beautiful.

Kandy Shepherd said...

Cassondra, what a warm, moving post, I loved every word of it.
Cooking is all about nurturing and sharing and that can only be good!