Tag Archives: Food

Mom’s Potato Salad

When the first sleepy daffodils awakened, my mom made potato salad. In her eyes, spring was as good as here.

She taught me her dab-of-this-and-that recipe. Chopping onions wrung a million tears from my eyes, and my weepy attempts couldn’t begin to match her blue-ribbon results. At potlucks, I learned to avoid other cooks’ mushy, bland concoctions sprinkled with scary green things. Thus, I took part in the Great Potato Salad Controversy, far more extensive than I could have imagined at that tender age.

That reality truly hit home when, at 16, I waited on a restaurant customer who ordered German potato salad.

Retrieving the food, I called to the cook, “You forgot the potato salad.”

“You’re crazy. It’s right there.”

The manager corroborated the cook’s absurd claim: the sliced potatoes in gooey stuff with bacon was indeed German potato salad.

When, as a young married woman, I explored recipes, even American potato salad presented controversies. Some cooks insisted on real mayo, as if Miracle Whip were pushed by criminals out to ruin the purity of American cuisine.

Then yogurt and low-calorie radicals intensified the debate.

Add mustard versus no-mustard schools of flavoring, dill versus sweet-pickle/relish, mystical devotion paid to fresh herbs, and religion-sized chasms separated various sects.

Rewind to Mom’s potato salad. I wish she — and I — had conceived the lucrative potential of our culinary endeavors.

According to the New York Daily News, Zack “Danger” Brown challenged viewers of a fundraising website to finance his first attempt at making potato salad.

Expecting $10, he raised $55,000.

Thankfully, Brown was no potato head. He made a huge contribution to his hometown food pantry.

Click to enlarge.

Mom also fought hunger with her potato salad. She regularly filled up a large, voracious family. She shared it with lonely parishioners, troubled teens, ex-prisoners, domestic violence victims, and itinerant preachers. Occasionally feeding 30-40 people at one meal, she made tons of potato salad throughout the decades.

Today, chopping onions and staunching teary eyes, I remember a woman who gave not only cups of water in Jesus’ name, but bowls and bowls of the world’s best potato salad.

 

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What comprises your perfect recipe?

Birthday Cake vs. Birthday Pie

Birthday cakes boast a long, illustrious history. According to the Huffington Post, Greeks and Romans commemorated births of gods and men with candle-lit cakes. As wine flowed freely at birthday feasts, the honoree occasionally set his robe/toga on fire.

Birthday cake traditions still are regarded as sacred. Abstainers offend the family/office/church Cake Queen. (Watch your back, or she may stuff you into her oven.)

So, for survival reasons, I eat birthday cake. Thankfully, lighted candles suck out all calories.

On my upcoming birthday, however, I will indulge in raspberry pie. À la mode? Of course, à la mode. Do you think I’m an idiot?

Don’t answer that. You, either, Hubby.

Obviously, this crucial subject demands discussion. Though my sweet tooth welcomes sugar, regardless of origin or creed, I have always liked pie best, especially my mother’s — fruit-plump, with ambrosial juices bubbling through golden, flaky crusts.

As a child, I even loved reading about pie. Almanzo Wilder, in Laura  Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy, reverently scanned hundreds at a county fair: “When he began to eat pie, he wished he had eaten nothing else.”

Mom would have made me birthday pies, if I’d dared request them. But tradition ruled. I blew candles out on cakes.

Pie Heaven does exist on this earth. My brother not only married a woman who bakes the world’s best peanut butter pie, he practices optometry where Amish patients gift him with luscious offerings. Amazingly, he once shared his birthday shoofly pie with me … which made me suspicious. Had he stuck bananas up my Ford’s tailpipe? Informed the IRS I never had the three children I claimed? Volunteered me for a ten-year mission in the Sahara? I still wonder. …

Some opponents caution that deviating from the cake custom opens the door to chaos. Only at one’s wedding does one deal with cake-in-the-face. But birthday pie increases pie-in-the-face risks exponentially.

And their point is?

The lemon cream pie that once smeared my visage caused no dire effects. Fellow conference-goers, however, fussed about my suit and hair as if I’d suffered a blast of radiation.

When globs of luscious pie are within licking distance, who cares about my hair? Some people should get their priorities straight.

Did you hear that, Almanzo? I know you’d bravely take a pie in the face. And choose birthday pie, too.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Which would you choose? Birthday pie or cake? Which kind?

 

Soup-er Bowl

Does anything spell h-o-m-e like a kettle of simmering soup?

I grew up in southern Indiana, where winter (aka slop season), gleefully dumped rain, sleet, snow, or all of the above on us. After school, my siblings and I slogged through frozen fogs and bogs. After petting all the wet dogs we could find, we arrived home looking like mud-sicles. The bubbling, meaty fragrance of Mom’s soups thawed us out and cured a host of maladies: lost-library-book anxiety, gym class climb-the-rope deficits, spelling-contest memory loss and flat-chest syndrome. That delectable vapor also scared away any viruses that had followed us home.

Dad, after long days at his construction job, noticed a similar curative effect. His sore muscles unknotted. The what’s-this-economy-coming-to hammer on his temples slowed.

Mom’s soups, consisting of between-paycheck rations, wouldn’t appear on The Food Channel. Teeth-defying beef bits were simmered into submission with potatoes and frozen vegetables from our garden. She boiled ten-cent-a-pound chicken wings, then cooked “slop-and-drop” rivels in the broth. My Southern-born dad looked forward to ham-bone bean soup. Saturdays brought chili, a suppertime ritual sacred as the weekly bath night.

When no meat remained in the freezer, Mom cooked creamy potato soup. Occasionally our family saw several days of bean or potato soup in a row, a silent marquee that proclaimed, “Don’t ask for money.” Still, those soups warmed us up, filled us up and helped us grow up.

Perhaps, by law, every northerner should consume one steaming bowl of soup daily from November through March.

Groucho Marx wouldn’t agree. In the classic 1933 Marx Brothers movie, Duck Soup, he elaborated, “Take two turkeys, one goose, four cabbages, but no duck, and mix them together. After one taste, you’ll duck soup the rest of your life.”

Duck soup? He obviously hadn’t tasted my mom’s soups. Perhaps Groucho had been sampling Chinese bird’s nest soup. This concoction with an unappetizing name — and a literal bird nest— currently costs $30-100 per bowl. Or maybe he ate lunch with a Japanese mountain tribal group who served their soup of bananas, beans, and dirt (twigs included). Perhaps Groucho hadn’t recovered from a trip to the island of Palau, where bat soup — boiled whole and hairy with  ginger, spices, and coconut milk — is considered a delicacy.

I’ll stick with less exotic fare. Tonight, beef vegetable barley soup, using Sunday dinner’s leftover pot roast, plus crusty bread, will take the Groucho out of Hubby and me. And leave us only one pan to wash.

Simple. Cheap. And, as an old canned soup commercial declared, “Mm-mm, good!”

 

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What favorite soup warms your winter days?

My Crazy History of Christmas Cookies

No matter how old I grow, my stomach will always cherish one hallowed holiday tradition: cut-out, frosted Christmas cookies with colorful sprinkles.

During my childhood, Christmas cookies had such a short life expectancy that baking them hardly seemed worth it. The December appearance of a mixing bowl at our house ignited a war to determine who would “help.” When Mom or I dared take a restroom break, the kitchen was plundered by cookie-starved barbarians.

The first holiday stay at my future in-laws’ home completely muddled my Christmas cookie worldview. Perfect reindeer, Christmas trees and Santas were baked, with no fear of masked marauders. After decorating them like a culinary Michelangelo, my future mother-in-law openly displayed her creations on kitchen counters.

It was like visiting an unguarded art museum.

A kind woman, she chose not to prosecute me. When I married her son, she gave me her recipe!

Forgetting my brothers now lived hundreds of miles away, I baked a typical triple batch. My new husband and I ate little stables and mangers until Valentine’s Day — and loved it.

When our eldest, aged two, took her debut Christmas-cookie-baking lesson, the initial batch of dough hit the floor. Experimenting with the mixer’s beaters, she distributed another batch on the ceiling.  Finally, I shoved a bowlful into the refrigerator to chill. She parked in front of it.

Toddler: Cookies ready yet?

Mommy: No, honey. They have to get cold.

Toddler: (Yanking on fridge door) Don’t want cold cookies!

Mommy: We’ll bake them, but first, they have to get cold.

Toddler: (Suspiciously) Okay.

Mommy: I’ll set the oven timer—

Toddler: For the ’frigerator??

Mommy: (Looking heavenward) When it dings, the cookies will be cold.

Toddler: Okay. (Sits in front of oven.) Timer ready yet?

Later, she mixed frostings so that her mossy green and dark blood-red Christmas cookies could have graced a vampire’s holiday table.

As my slate of helpers grew, I learned to make dough one day, then bake/decorate the next. Using this system, we survived two decades of making Christmas cookies.

New sons-in-law, however, scorned cookie cutters as insults to their rugged individuality. They custom-designed mutant mittens, alien reindeer and Christmas carburetors. With the appearance of additional little helpers over the years, we once again turned out dozens of Christmas vampire cookies.

Worst of all, Grandma sneaked store-bought dough into the equation.

Now, a few years later, the grandchildren make their own — circumventing Grandma’s appalling shortcuts — and bring them to family gatherings.

With them taking charge, our family’s Christmas cookie history should flourish for generations to come.

 

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What favorite cookie will you bake (and sneak) this Christmas?

The Saga of Penelope the Peach Tree

Once upon a time, in our backyard, there lived Penelope the peach tree.

Actually, two lived there. But even as we moved in, Percy the peach tree took one look at us, his new owners, and said, “There goes the neighborhood!” He never recovered.

Penelope delayed her judgment. Still, she expressed her disapproval: not one peach appeared that first summer. Next spring, though, pale pink blossoms crowded Penelope’s branches, exquisite as an oriental painting. I told Hubby, “That tree loves us.”

Visions of bubbling, crusty pie à la mode and caramel peach praline shortcake filled my salivating days.

However, when Hubby thinned tiny, excess peaches from Penelope’s branches, she took revenge by producing three edible fruits — and a thousand that resembled green ball bearings rolled in pepper.

The mutant peaches did not go to waste, however. I made jam as Christmas gifts for my less-than-favorite relatives.

Penelope the peach tree can be temperamental.

The following year, we respectfully requested Penelope produce real, peach-colored peaches, bigger than a marble. And no black rash, please.

Some trees, like some people, can’t take constructive criticism. The following spring, she wore only a few sulky blossoms and no fruit. Our fractured relationship distressed me. My relatives started speaking to me again, once they knew they wouldn’t receive pepper peach jam at Christmas.

It was a very sad year.

Next spring, however, blossoms crowded Penelope’s branches. Perhaps she’d repented of her pettiness. More likely, she simply forgot. Peach trees aren’t known for sharp memories.

When hubby thinned Penelope’s too-plentiful peaches again, I exercised caution when walking behind the garage, her domain. Would Penelope throw her remaining peaches at us?

Surprise! Penelope’s green peaches grew from marble to golf ball to baseball size. So many loaded one branch that it cracked. She obligingly provided just enough greenish, pepper-dotted fruit to make Christmas jam for my relatives.

But Penelope’s peaches ripened in her time frame — not when I was free to pick, peel and slice. Because of writing deadlines, I remained chained to my laptop.

Hubby made new weekend plans.

As my dearly beloved donned an apron, we heard devious chuckles from behind the garage. Penelope exacts revenge on peach-pruners, one way or another.

Hubby griped. But I had infected him with my pie and praline shortcake vision. He peeled and packaged.

Is he a peach of a guy, or what?

To Penelope, this ending to her saga may seem like the pits.

But smiling at each other over hot peach pie and ice cream, we’ll take Penelope’s “happily ever after” every time!

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite peach indulgence?

 

 

A Noble Quest for Ice Cream

I know exactly where to find ice cream in my hometown. So do thousands of academics, farmers, ball teams, Bible study ladies and motorcycle gangs.

Ivanhoe’s has served area ice cream addicts for decades.

But we were in Indianapolis helping my grandson’s family move on his birthday.

So that evening I forced myself to leave Hubby and the others — hoisting a piano above their heads — to seek a grocery.

Consulting his phone, Hubby gave me directions, then bowed his head and prayed. “At least, we’ll see each other in heaven.”

Okay, so I needed 13 tries to navigate endless roundabouts. By time I found the address, I had viewed the outskirts of Louisville, Chicago and Japan.

I finally found Hubby’s designated grocery store.

It had not yet opened for business.

Sitting in the store’s soon-to-be-blacktopped parking lot, I realized my family could have moved the White House’s contents since I left.

I reached for my cell phone … that I’d left at home.

I peered through murky twilight. Should I case the area for a pay phone? But who knew how many evil roundabouts lurked in the gathering gloom …?

A vision of my grandson, stuck-out lip quivering with disappointment, gave me courage to try again.

I would accomplish my mission the old-fashioned way, like my father before me.

His method? Pick a direction and trust God to lead to a store/motel/gas station/restrooms.

I found auto repair shops, upscale tattoo parlors, and … marinas. In Indianapolis?

Like Dad, I tried one more road … that led to a health food store.

“Seriously, God?”

Desperate, I entered and found ice cream!

Soy cranberry and papaya bark.

In despair, I sank to the floor.

Then spotted it on the bottom shelf:

Not carob. Not tofu. Not even yogurt.

Chocolate chip. Ice cream.

I bought it and arrived as the last piece of furniture was moved into place. Not even Hubby possessed the energy to roll his eyes.

Smiles that reigned as our grandson blew out candles morphed into frowns as I plopped ice cream on pieces of cake.

“It’s not healthy,” I promised. “Honest.”

“Yes, it is.” My other grandson pointed to the label. “It says this ice cream came from healthy cows.”

“Taste it,” I pleaded. “Real chocolate chips, see?”

My family is nothing, if not broadminded — especially when starved.

Smiles returned. Birthday Boy ate two big helpings.

Everyone needs character-building tests, challenges that demand their all.

But I’m glad my usual ice cream quest requires only a three-block walk to Ivanhoe’s — without a single roundabout — to choose from 100 sundaes.

Now, there’s a challenge. …

 

Where does your favorite ice cream quest lead you?

Sweet, Burning Hunk of Barbecue Love

Visiting the South a few years ago, we sought to sample its bodacious barbecue. So we braved Saturday night kill-the-Yankees traffic to find Blaze’s Piggy Pit.

Homemade posters taped to its front windows warmed our hearts. We had not arrived at a restaurant that demanded we share an appetizer and a dessert, the kind John Steinbeck said took pride in serving food untouched by human hands. Instead, the signs shouted all-you-can-eat nights. A picture of Mr. Blaze himself adorned one window — wearing a suit and tie fit to make his mama proud, with a tortured smile to match.

The poster said he was running for mayor.

What better way to please his public than to cook up the world’s best barbecue?

Inside, I poofed my ’do because big hair and hardworking blue jeans obviously were required. The dining room smelled yummy-in-the-tummy-smoky, as it does at a family reunion cookout, when Mom tells you to go play with your cousins until supper’s ready.

The waitress, upon greeting Casey Jack and Junior Lee by name, skipped menus. She handed them shovels and steered them toward the barbecue and fish bar.

Bankrupting the Piggy Pit on our first visit wouldn’t be neighborly. So my husband ordered a slab of ribs, and I selected pulled pork. With our first bites, my husband closed his eyes. My taste buds fell in love. We paused for a moment of silence.

Then Hubby proceeded to ruin the family name. Even a Yankee knows a true barbecue connoisseur picks up ribs. Instead, my husband not only used knife and fork, he surgically removed every shred of gristle and/or fat.

Barbecue blasphemy.

Mayoral race or not, it’s a wonder Mr. Blaze didn’t toss us out of the Piggy Pit.

Fortunately, he kept too busy to notice. No suit and tie tonight. He wore jeans and a T-shirt. He and his poofy-haired mama called us “honey,” and did we “want more sweet tea, darlin’?”

I ordered cheesecake for dessert. Steve overdosed on pecan cobbler, suffering sugar-induced hallucinations.

However, we turned down complimentary golf cart service that hauled blimpy customers to their cars. I am proud to say we walked out of the Piggy Pit on our own two feet.

Does Mr. Blaze know about tax rates and sewer systems? I don’t know. Still, anyone who bestows that kind of barbecue on mankind — plus infinite hush puppies — for a reasonable price must be a man of mayoral vision, with deep concern for friends, neighbors and even hungry Yankees.

Definitely a winner, in my (burp) book.

 

When (and where) was the last time you ate bodacious barbecue?

Bacon, How Do I Love Thee? Check My Cholesterol Count

How I wished this treatise began with heavenly fragrances and sweet sizzling leading to crispy, smoky bacon.

Unfortunately, I sat in a hospital laboratory, breakfastless, awaiting a routine cholesterol test.

That day recalled my bacon fast at 16, when I swore off because I heard it caused zits. Mom, concerned about my skinny frame, entreated in vain. My heartless brothers wolfed down handfuls of bacon like popcorn. I closed my eyes, but their crunch-crunch-crunch, reminiscent of giant locusts, started my days on a miserable note.

Plus, pimples, unappreciative of my sacrifice, showed up anyway.

Nowadays, I rarely hear about bacon bans related to acne. No, those who wish to deprive mankind yammer about good and bad fats. Which is which? Both look lumpy in a swimsuit.

Despite bad press, bacon recently has enjoyed popularity surpassing Justin Bieber’s. To skeptics, I inquire: How many Bieber-of-the-month clubs exist in which members fork out 50-plus bucks monthly to have Justin dropped off on their doorsteps?

I thought so. Yet thousands subscribe to The Pig Next Door, Bacon Freak, and dozens of bacon-touting clubs that do exactly that.

Bacon isn’t just for breakfast anymore. Many crave it for dessert: bacon cookies, bacon-sprinkled cupcakes, bacon ice cream, even apple pie with a bacon lattice crust. Others indulge a sweet tooth with bacon truffles, bacon brittle, bubble gum, lollipops, soda and candy canes.

Not content with filling their stomachs with delectable morning meat, bacon addicts treat their teeth to bacon-flavored toothpaste and floss. They wear T-shirts with slogans such as “Bacon is meat candy” and “Praise the Lard.”

One Christmas, I gave my son-in-law a grilling apron sporting a pink pig and the caption, “Thank you for turning vegetables into bacon.”

Sadly, I didn’t discover the gift that would have won me the Lifetime Mother-in-law Award until too late. Sculptor Mike LaHue created a larger-than-life bust of actor Kevin Bacon, covered with cooked bacon bits. No, he didn’t eat Kevin. But he chowed down on extra bacon bits to sustain artistic fervor.

According to reporter Rosa Golijan, LaHue was glad to complete this project, auctioned off for charity. However, he missed Kevin smiling from his refrigerator every morning.

Reading such reports in the laboratory waiting room, I wished I could have delayed this test a little longer — say, 30 years. I considered leaving and continuing my fat-lovin’ ways.

In that case, another product would meet my needs in a most unique way. A bacon coffin. A $2,999.99 steel casket with slice-of-bacon décor, complete with bacon air freshener.

Advertised with a fitting slogan: “For those who love bacon to death.”

So … how do you like your bacon?