Hello, February. I am happy to see you this morning, along with the tiny daffodil stems pushing up through the ground in my front yard – such hopeful signs that Spring is on the way – for some of us, at least!
My parents’ yard is still covered with two feet of snow. Spring shows up in their neighborhood about mid-April – so my parents are heading to Panama, where they will comfortably spend the rest of the winter in 90 degree bliss. We had a great time visiting with them for a few days before they headed out to the airport this morning. My mom brought us homemade raisin bread and bacon-ancho chile fudge. Can you say LOVE?
With February here and Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I’ve been thinking a lot about love… and the kinds of food I love and the food that makes me feel loved. There are some things, like Vietnamese fresh rolls, that I love to eat and I crave on a regular basis. I could eat fresh rolls every day. And other foods I love, like Thanksgiving stuffing and mashed potatoes, that are hard for me to stop eating, so I only eat them occasionally. (I’m adding bacon-ancho chile fudge to the eat occasionally list!) Food is such a a complex and emotional part of life and certain foods bring back the strongest memories of childhood.
During dinner last night I decided to ask my parents to tell me about a childhood food they loved.
My dad started out by grabbing a piece of paper and drawing me a detailed map of Shelton, the town where he grew up. The map included important landmarks like his elementary school, the Catholic Church, a mom & pop grocery store, several very large hills and the two neighborhoods that made up his daily paper route. Apparently it was important for me to get the “lay of the land” before he would answer my question.
So… after school, my dad would walk to the local mom & pop grocery, pick up a stack of Seattle Times papers and deliver them to his customers on the way home (which was, of course, up a very large hill). And, if he had enough change in his pocket, my dad would treat himself to his favorite grade school snack… a Hostess Double Cupcake and a Nesbitt’s Orange Soda. My dad loved Hostess Cupcakes. I never knew! Listening to him describe the marshmallowy centers and white curly-cue icing almost made me want to run out to 7-11 to pick up a twin pack, just so I could watch him eat one. (Dad, next time you visit, there will be a Hostess Cupcake in the cupboard. And an orange soda. I promise.)
Now my mom had an entirely different response to my question. She started out by telling me (in great detail) about the amazing desserts her grandmother used to make, including a banana-chiffon cake that sounds divine. Then she thought for a moment and said, “Gravy. I love gravy.” Not exactly what I was expecting. Her explanation? The family was on an extremely tight budget, but her mother, being an excellent and very resourceful cook, could make a meal out of almost anything – even a little milk, a little flour, and a little butter (or bacon fat, or whatever was in the pan). Some of us might call this a bechamel sauce, but my grandmother just called it gravy. What kind of gravy? Chipped Beef Gravy, Bacon Gravy, Sausage Gravy, Pork Heart Gravy, Turkey Gravy, Chicken Gravy, Tuna Fish Gravy, Egg Goldenrod Gravy, Leftovers Gravy. My mom remembers it always tasting delicious even when served on a humble biscuit or a piece of toast. I know from my own experience that my grandma’s sausage biscuits and gravy were absolute heaven, so I guess I can understand my mom’s answer. I loved my grandma’s gravy, too.
Okay, my turn… There are a lot of foods that I loved as a kid (Thanksgiving stuffing for one), but there is a childhood standout, and it’s a little embarrassing because it’s a donut. A Winchell’s Donuts Apple Fritter to be exact. I know, I know… kind of pathetic. But the thing is, as a kid, I played softball in the summertime and we always stopped at Winchell’s after our games. Winchell’s apple fritters were the biggest, most expensive (and in my young opinion) best tasting donuts around. And, we never had food like this at home! So, to this day, Apple Fritters makes me think of Walnut Creek, California, and warm summer nights, and being 10 years old, and having my best friends on my softball team, and getting to order what I want, and life being pretty much perfect. They just do.
This month, Joy and I want to take a look (and to cook) the foods that say love to us. We know some of these recipes won’t be heart healthy or low calorie (I just looked up Winchell’s Apple Fritters online and OMG they have 600 calories!!) but we’re going to make them anyway. This isn’t necessarily the food you eat every day. These are the special recipes that bring back memories from childhood or help create new ones. I’ve got a whole list of special recipes I want to try out again. I hope you will follow along as we take a trip down memory lane with all kinds of foods that say LOVE.