Gee Mom, Mother's Day is this Sunday and I'm supposed to do a tribute to Mom's and their cooking everywhere. But I'm at a loss to cite you as an inspiration for making me the inveterate foodie I've become. When I think of growing up, many food epiphanies occur to me, but most are restaurant related, like the crabmeat in a sherry-butter sauce I had at Antoine's in New Orleans in 1964 -- I still remember the oval sterling silver serving dish it came in, and how the big chunks of snow-white crabmeat sat in the bubbling sauce. My mom still likes to tell the story of how I took a couple of bites and asked her: Why don't you cook like this?'
Well the way she did cook was somethin' else. Beef BBQ-which was essentially chunks o' beef crock potted to death with ketchup and brown sugar, pork chops baked in ketchup with a lemon slice on top, and fish sticks. Boy was my Mom BIG on Mrs. Paul's fish sticks. To this day I hate Mrs. Paul's Fish Sticks. That might've been our weekly fare, but Sunday's were special days. Then we got Dad doing the cooking, which was almost as bad as Mom, except at least he had the good sense to stick with pancakes and waffles always cooked beside the kitchen breakfast table. To this day I wonder if any other family in America, growing up in the mid-nineteen-sixties, had a mom and a dad who were enamored of a portable griddle thing they proudly placed beside the family table where they could cook flapjacks to order for their starving kids.
But ignorance is bliss and growing up then didn't exactly whet the palate for the good stuff. Julia Child might've been big in Boston, but no one in Orlando Florida had heard of her in 1965...and the three TV channels would only advertise edibles like Swanson's frozen dinners or Jolly Green Giant canned corn, if they mentioned food at all.
But my Mom, being a product of the Depression, and having watched her Mom slaving away at a stove for all those years, was glad to be liberated from the drudgery of rolling out dough, shelling peas, or plucking chickens. Frozen food meant freedom, and no one thought any worse of it for having a dinner that began with the pulling back of an aluminum tab revealing a mushy, freezer-burned unrecognizable turkey breast. I do kinda fondly remember there was something contained in a tiny triangle at the top of the tray that was the only thing that had any flavor. Then and now, though, no matter what it tasted like, it was special because she was in the same room, serving it to us.
So happy Mother's Day to all of you Moms--whether you're a good cook or not......Because to this day, I'll swear that my Mom, Marcella 'Call me Ruth' Schroader Curtas, makes the best bowl of Cheerios with a sliced banana on top, in the whole world.
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