Living Out Loud

Food Memories Are The Best


I'm fortunate enough to have never suffered from income derived hunger at any point in my life. Other than through unintended weight gain, food has not been a stressor. Quite the contrary, I have a lot of happy memories associated with food and the people who have prepared it for me.

My paternal grandmother loved to cook in the traditional southern style. Although she had once been quite overweight, she slimmed down when I was a child and maintained that weight loss until her death many years later. She grew up one of two girls in a family of eight children on a farm in southeastern North Carolina. Her brothers plowed the fields with mule-drawn plows and often did hours of work before breakfast. Using a wood fired stove, my grandmother, her sister and her mother cooked prodigious amounts of food for them, making a dozen pans of biscuits a day, full bushels of potatoes and beans and gallons of milk from the family's cows.

My grandmother believed in the liberal use of fatback to season vegetables: field peas, snap beans and butter beans were her specialty. She dipped fresh tomatoes in scalding water and peeled them before thinly slicing them. They were served at every meal from July-September, gown in the large garden my grandfather tended in his every spare minute. She would cook any type of game that my grandfather or uncle killed, making venison stew and fried rabbit. I wasn't a big fan of that. Although she's been gone 30 years, her pound cake recipe lives on through my stepmother's efforts.

As a 70s kid, the meals my mother made at home reflected what was available in the Piggly Wiggly grocery store at the time. Our tacos came from a kit made by Old El Paso, complete with orange shredded cheddar cheese, tomatoes and iceberg lettuce. I was an adult before I had any lettuce other than iceberg. Pizza was from Chef Boyardee and was topped with long strips or mozzarella torn from packaged slices. Chinese food was from a Chungking canned kit. Today my mom is a gourmet cook, heavily influenced by her late husband's preferences learned in France where he studied as a college student.

I was so unsophisticated about food that when I first met my stepfather, who lived at the coast, he served fresh caught steamed shrimp for dinner. At the end of the meal, I noticed a pile of shells on everyone's plate, and I asked what they were. They all looked at my shell-less plate and howled when they realized I'd eaten mine, not knowing you were supposed to peel them. I was 18 years old and getting ready to go to basic training.

My current comfort food is my wife's spaghetti. Her grandfather was an Italian immigrant, and her family is big on tradition preparation. They make homemade sauce with meat cooked in it, a roast or sausage, sometimes chicken. They have a salad at the end of the meal and then have fresh drink espresso afterwords. It's food cooked with love, and I adore it.

I tried to raise my kids without causing any food related hangups. My son was the kind who would order chicken fingers and French fries at a Mexican restaurant rather than try anything new but today he lives in Texas and orders lengua tacos in Spanish at the authentic taquerias he frequents. I was scared my oldest daughter would be a toothless, 300lb diabetic based on her prodigious candy consumption but she's a very healthy and slim nurse who trained her kids from birth to eat their vegetables. My youngest daughter was picky about the things kids are picky about. She didn't like for her food to touch on her plate and was deathly afraid of anything spicy - all traits she eventually outgrew.

I love to hear people's food related stories because it says something about them and the way they were raised. I don't watch food porn on TV or read cookbooks, but I do love a good meal.

See my friend, Alexandra's, memories from her international childhood.