Sunday, August 18, 2013

Food for Thought

Are you a foodie? Until recently, I didn't even know what that word meant. According to the dictionary, a foodie is "a person who takes pleasure in the preparation, presentation, and eating of food."

When I was growing up, food held a place of importance in our lives. Not just eating it, but growing, harvesting, preparing, serving and savoring it.

Planting a garden was a family project, and as we raked and pulled weeds, we talked about all the wonderful meals we were going to prepare with the fresh vegetables we were planting. Summer meals were my favorite because the table was filled with tomatoes, corn, peas, red beets, cucumbers, lettuce and onions fresh from our garden.

Family gatherings were always planned around meals. We had holiday meals, birthday dinners, family reunion feasts, "cousin luncheons," and Sunday night corn roasts.

When I was in second grade, my mother returned to teaching. She had been a teacher before she and my dad married in 1930, but at that time, women were required to resign their teaching positions when they got married, so that they would not be taking jobs away from married men who needed to support their families. My mom had loved teaching and, although it had been 29 years, she was excited to return to it. She soon discovered that as much as she enjoyed teaching, it was difficult to teach full time and care for a family. My dad decided that Wednesday night would be our night to go out to dinner, to give my mom a midweek break from meal preparation. My brother, Gary, my mom and dad and I looked forward to Wednesday night every week. Gary cares the least about food of anyone in our family, but if he was allowed to choose where we would go, he always picked Mid's Italan Restaurant in Navarre. Mid's made their own spaghetti sauce and their pasta was heavenly. Plus everyone got to wear giant paper bibs. (I was one of the few people who thought they were great.)

A year after we started the Wednesday night restaurant meals, Gary left for college, and after that, it was just my mom and dad and me. We had a lot of favorite places to go. The Green Leaf Restaurant in Wooster, which had a simple menu, with low prices, and good food, which may be why they are still in business today. Howard Johnson's in Wooster had a clam feast every Wednesday, that we thought was unbeatable. You would get a plate heaping with clams, french fries and the yummiest cole slaw anywhere.  Every few months, we would go someplace classy, like Leonard's in Dover or Alexander's in Wooster. Both places had a quiet atmosphere, white tablecloths, cloth napkins and stemmed goblets for water. What a treat!

I always thought it was strange that people would drive for hours to eat at the Amish restaurants in Holmes County. We very seldom ate at those restaurants, because the meals were exactly the same as what we had at home, so why go out? For our family, restaurants were a place to go to try something different.

When I was in my early 20s, I lived in Wooster. I always wished that I could see my sister and my mom more often. At that time, my sister and I both worked for banks. One nice thing about working at a bank was that they closed for Columbus Day and Veterans Day. Of course, stores were always open on those holidays, and generally had huge sales. We decided that those two holidays would be set aside each year for "Mom and Daughters Day Out."

My mother and my sister would arrive at my house early in the morning. Soon after we hugged "hello" one of us would ask, "where are we going for breakfast?" Often, we had breakfast at the Green Leaf.  After breakfast, it was time to head for the mall to see what great bargains we could find, but before we left the restaurant, we were already planning where we would go for lunch. And at lunch, we discussed where the best place would be to stop for a light supper after the afternoon's shopping. Those days are some of my favorite memories, because we had great conversation, lots of laughter and wonderful food. I don't remember much about the bargains we found at the mall...

My mom and dad spent a lot of time traveling after they retired. My mother's postcards from their trips, always had a few lines about things they had seen and many lines detailing what they had eaten, and how it had tasted. She could fit more on a postcard than I can write on an 8 ½" by 11" piece of paper.

Mom, also, kept a daily journal in a stenographer's pad. Her journals were filled with details about the people they met, the places they went and pages and pages about the foods she had prepared or eaten.

I inherited her favorite cookbooks. They are all well-worn, covered with spatters from whatever she was cooking or baking, and filled with notes about every subject under the sun. Every recipe she tried has a notation of when she made it, who ate it and how it tasted. At her funeral, 4 of my nephews reminisced about the cookies that Grandma always brought them when they lived far away. I told them I knew just which cookies they were, because Grandma had written in the cookbook, "made these for Gene's boys, took them to Niles, the boys said "YUM!”, they traveled well." If those cookies had not "traveled well" they would never have been baked again. She would have been upset to find crumbled cookies in her Tupperware container, and she would certainly have noted that in her cookbook for future reference.

I have passed the appreciation of good food on to my daughters. Both of them enjoy cooking and baking, and an evening out at a favorite restaurant is always fun. Kari, my youngest, tends to stick to foods that she knows. Kylia, the older one, likes to try new things and experiments a bit more.

Many of our learning experiences as we homeschooled involved food. And, in my opinion, food made those experiences more memorable.

As we studied world geography, we sampled foods from many countries. Some foods we made ourselves, and some we tried in restaurants. We once did a unit study on Australia, and I ordered some Australian foods from an online company, *Everything Australian. Our favorite was Tim-Tams, an Australian cookie. They're a rectangular chocolate-covered, wafer cookie (Aussies call them biscuits) with cream in the center. Aussies like to do something called the Tim Tam Slam, which means they take a small bite off both ends of the cookie, then place one end in a cup of hot chocolate or coffee and sip the drink through the cookie. The inside softens first and just before the cookie collapses, you stuff the rest of the cookie in your mouth. I think those cookies have something to do with the reason Kylia is busy saving her money for a trip to Australia. I'm sure that eating Tim Tams is on her list of things to do.

When we studied the Civil War, we made hard tack, which both girls thought was terrific. They even made enough to take to my family's Thanksgiving dinner. The hard, dry crackers were met with less than enthusiastic response, but my family was interested in hearing the girls excited explanations about the important role those teeth-breaking crackers played in U. S. history. It's amazing that we were invited to return the following year.

I spent many, many hours reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s "Little House" books aloud to the girls. The most challenging book for us was "Farmer Boy," the story of Laura’s husband, Almanzo Wilder's childhood. The book was challenging because there were so many tantalizing descriptions of Almanzo's favorite pioneer meals that we were soon overcome with hunger pangs. We had to stop repeatedly for snacks! I was thrilled when I found the Little House Cookbook and we tried many of Almanzo's favorites.  The most delicious was fried apples’n’onions!  That was Almanzo’s favorite and it was ours, too!  Yum!

Many of our science experiments involved food. Numerous scientific principles were learned by making our own butter, ice cream, bread and cheese.

Food was an oft used medium for our art lessons. At Christmas, we designed unique gingerbread houses, and artistically decorated cookies. Easter eggs brought us a wealth of opportunities for artistic expression, from painting to using dyes made from natural materials.

When Kylia received a digital camera, she discovered that one of her favorite things to photograph was food. She said the best thing about photographing food is that it doesn't move. Waitresses began to greet us with the line, "Oh, you're the people who take pictures of your meals."

Food is a great tool for learning math. Hershey bars are terrific for illustrating the concept of fractions. Cooking and baking involves endless math possibilities. Planning meals and parties involves budgeting, skillful shopping, weighing, measuring, planning quantities, determining portion sizes and estimation.

Whether my girls were studying Spanish, German or Sign Language, names of foods were their favorite things to practice.

Even when the budget is tight, we try to find time to eat an occasional meal in a restaurant. Often we choose an ethnic restaurant because we love the unique flavors and textures that are often found there.

Another reason we love an evening out now and then, is that, for us, a meal in a restaurant is a time to relax and chat without worrying about oven temperatures or dishes to be washed. It is a time without phone calls or noisy neighbors. It's a special time for us, to talk about things of great importance, as well as those of marvelous silliness. It is a time to remember other meals enjoyed with family and friends. Those memories sometimes make us laugh and sometimes bring tears, but they always enrich our lives.

Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that the reason food is something I enjoy so much is because my mother always cooked with great love and care. I think that's why I always thought her cooking was better than any I tasted elsewhere. She sang as she cooked, and she smiled when she served the food. She savored each bite and she was grateful for the opportunity to provide a good meal for her family. When my dad treated her to an evening out, she thought of his love and kindness as she enjoyed her meal.

I try to remember those things when I am cooking or when I am enjoying an evening out with my daughters. It's the love and caring that makes the food taste so good!

Wherever you sit down with your family to share a meal, take the time to think of those who prepared the meal, and to thank them for what they made. If you are doing the cooking, think of the people for whom you are cooking and put a little extra love in the recipe.

Thank you for seasoning my life with your caring and your kindness! Friendship is a treat worth savoring!

Bon App├ętit!

Ruth

***Note
Everything Australian no longer carries Tim Tams, however they can be purchased from Australian Products Co.

Want to see someone do the “Tim Tam Slam”?   Watch here.

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"Worries go down better with soup." ~Jewish Proverb

"It's difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato." ~Lewis Grizzard

"As the days grow short, some faces grow long. But not mine. Every autumn, when the wind turns cold and darkness comes early, I am suddenly happy. It's time to start making soup again." ~Leslie Newman

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