Living the Dream On The Food That Built Me 

History made me hungry.

Well, not exactly. More specifically it was The History Channel’s “The Food That Built America” that made my mouth water. This series explains the trials and tribulations American food manufacturers went through to create food we didn’t know we needed, like Twinkies, KFC and Wonder Bread. In America that often meant cutthroat efforts to steal the best ideas and make the competition look foolish. Or just dumb luck.

Well, I wasn’t hungry for power. Maybe I got hungry because the recorded episode I was watching was about Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn. Alas, I was too lazy to get up from my lounge chair to get something to eat and sort of drifted off into a sentimental journey of food I grew up with.

I suddenly recalled entering the house of my youth through the back porch to the kitchen and the aroma of my mother Bea’s fried pork chops. My mood would instantly improve. We were just youngsters still learning about food. Nutrition was not on the radar. Taste was. I loved mashed potatoes and gravy but hated beets and rutabagas.

It really wasn’t that pork chops were so delicious. Sometimes the aroma is better than the actual product. But Mom made them so they had to taste good. Who could I compare her cooking to? Dad? He boiled hot dogs until they split so he’d know they were done. He was a biology teacher.

Mom made sure we ate well. Her nutritious meals tasted good and were varied throughout the week. The food was fresh almost every day because there were never any leftovers. She fed as many as seven if we were all squeezed around the kitchen table next to the washer and dryer. We learned to eat as much as we could quickly before it was gone. But there was certainly no food insecurity. We usually   got full.

She was a stay-at-home mom who made three meals a day. That’s what moms did back in the 1950s and 1960s. They were part of the Greatest Generation that started the baby boom era, my Ungrateful Generation that overate anything put in front of us. If we had seen it advertised on TV it tasted better.

If anyone ever suggested that Mom add a little color to a meal she’d reply, “Well, we’re having corn!” She followed the Norwegian-American eating philosophy of quantity, taste, variety – in that order of importance. We ate plenty and it tasted good but there were few attempts at culinary experiments. 

She also made numerous Norwegian staples including lefse, lutefisk and kringla, each with varying success. But most dinners were a rotation of beef or pork roasts, whole chickens, potatoes and gravy, homemade bread, jam and pickles. Jello with Cool Whip was a common dessert. Fish sticks or sloppy joes meant Mom had had a busy day.

Mom did not venture into “spicy” foods. The spiciest thing my folks would eat was the tartar sauce at the Friday fish fry. Mom’s pizza was Chef Boyardee in a can. As a kid I thought anything out of a can had to be good and meant that we were rich, especially if we had seen it on TV.

Anyone looking at me would know that I haven’t missed many meals. And that’s because I married a good cook. I wanted to continue a good thing. With Catherine’s cooking, the quantity stayed the same as Mom’s but the taste and variety changed for the better. That can be a deliciously bad combination for weight management.

She lured me in with some dishes I had never heard of such as quiche and Grandma Nerison’s spaghetti (bacon is the secret). She makes the standard roasts and chicken my mom made. But she also makes chili, lasagna, egg spaghetti and a dozen other dishes my mom seldom, if ever, made and if she did, they were just not as tasty.

She taught me that fresh was better than frozen which was better than canned. I learned that spices really can enhance taste. And I learned to expect an internet-sourced recipe trial at least once a week. It could happen on any day.

Mom would win at breakfasts mostly because Catherine doesn’t get up early and figures cereal is all you need. Mom had a hot breakfast ready every Monday through Friday. She’d make pancakes, eggs of some sort or oatmeal. There was always toast from homemade bread that was too big for the toaster. Weekends were mostly cereal on our own.

Catherine was a working mom so purposely cooks enough so there are leftovers. She makes a couple of big meals like roast, chili or spaghetti that will mostly fill the dinner needs for the rest of the week. I’ve been fine with leftovers ever since the microwave oven was invented.

Catherine doesn’t bake bread from scratch. Does anyone anymore? We have used our bread maker a few times but that’s cheating. If we have pancakes, I make them. It started as a Saturday thing when the kids were little. And we only have them when the kids come home to visit.

It would be nice to have a hearty breakfast once in awhile. Pancakes or eggs, bacon, hash browns and toast. Catherine says that’s fine. I just have to make it all.

So I’m making smoothies for breakfast now.