Saturday, 27 February 2010

Autobiographical Food

Reading the Settlers’ Cookbook got me to thinking about what recipes I might include in an autobiographical work (not that I’m planning to write one, mind). If you love food, and I don’t know many who don’t, it’s rather a fun exercise to think about how your eating habits have changed over your lifetime. Assuming, of course, that they have changed, with new technology, products, learning and maybe even dare one hope… a healthier lifestyle? This is also yet another way to indulge in a bit of nostalgia, remembering what foods have figured large in your life.

As with everyone else, my initial meals were influenced by the culture and creativity of the women who raised me. In my youth cooking was women’s work; it has changed to some extent here, but I’m guessing mothers are still the primary feeders of small children.

Then came the period when I worked full time and attended university classes four nights a week; food was fast and fattening. I can tell you it is possible to become thoroughly ‘fed-up’ with greasy, spicy on-the-run junk.

Then I decided I would learn to cook and entertain. Those meals were straight out of a cookbook, one my Grandmother (a non-cook) gave me as a wedding present, and presented proudly. My second marriage found me feeding a bottomless pit and a small child. This necessitated grabbing the life-raft of frugality. I learned to plan meals around carbohydrates, how to make casseroles and other ‘universal’ dishes to stretch what meat and poultry I bought, also things like white sauce and pancakes from scratch. This was also a time of being introduced to the wonders of tortillas and chili made with spaghetti. This was when I feel I actually learned how to cook, though as many mistakes as I still make, this obviously remains a work in progress.

After my second divorce, as with the first, I had far more money than I needed, but continued in my frugal habits with a view to early retirement through Financial Independence. My move to England was exciting but very stressful and I resorted to comfort food. I discovered salt and vinegar crisps, prawn crackers and Muller’s fruit yogurts (full fat). I even briefly sampled pork pies and corned beef pasties. (That’s not a typo; in the US pAsties – are what strippers put on their nipples. One doesn’t hear about them here in the UK, maybe they don’t bother here or perhaps this is a relic of a quainter(?) time.)

Then I bought a house and had my own kitchen again and I got a grip. Being obsessed with running further and faster made me eat much better again. Whilst today I could still do with better portion control, the vitamin and fibre content of our meals is very good.

So, here are the items I might list in the various chapters of my Autobiographical Cookbook. (Recipes available upon request)

  • Beef and potato hash in the grinder (which I have)
  • Meatloaf Pressure cooker stew
  • Door stop Christmas fruitcake (no recipe, sorry, non replicable if we’re lucky)

  • Cherry pie
  • Boiled chicken and ground beef (for the dogs)
  • TV dinners
  • The full whack at Thanksgiving, but as Mom helped cook it may have been more her doing than Grandmother’s…

  • Gerber’s Baby cereal (I loved this pablum stuff long after I could chew. Weird, I know)
  • Fried chicken that Colonel Sanders could envy
  • Bell pepper & cherry tomato flowers – a fancy garnish she made for fun
  • Rotisserie chicken on the BBQ with potato salad most Sundays with Grandma & Grandpa over and with Chris, our next door neighbour
  • Beans and ham – only for herself at first, but I learned to like it eventually
  • Steak and salad – my Dad’s favourite
  • Fish sticks and fries
  • Chinese food from/at House of China – eaten with chopsticks
  • Steak dinners at Sirloin Stockade – she didn’t like the pictures of cows on the walls
  • Fruit salad
  • Corned beef hash
  • Chipped beef on bread (AKA S.O.S. – S**t on a Shingle, but not in our house)
  • Bread and gravy (for seconds when there wasn’t much else)
  • Garlic frittered chicken, chicken chow main, sweet and sour pork, rice, noodles (an all day cooking project)
  • Chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes with gravy
  • Horse Dovers (my Dad’s humour) and shrimp cocktail for New Years Eve
  • Black-eyed peas on New Years Day for goo luck
  • Cornbread stuffing
  • Hush puppies (fried cornmeal)

First Marriage
Hardees, McDonalds, Del Rancho, every drive-in joint on Broadway in Edmond, OK where I got my undergrad degree: for Quarter Pounders with Cheese, Footlong hotdogs with chili, Chicken fried steak, Hot Ham and Cheese, fries, onion rings…and (of course) Diet Coke

Starting to Cook
  • Canned biscuits with Vienna sausage and cheese
  • Beef stroganoff
  • Chicken & dumplings (made with canned biscuits)
  • Hollandaise sauce (easy version)
  • Chicken Cordon Bleu (once)
  • Roast chicken
  • Fried chicken almost as good as Mom’s, but not quite

Second Marriage
  • Hamburger Helper (pre-Tightwad Gazette)
  • Chili with kidney beans, minced beef and spaghetti
  • Roast chicken pieces with different sauces
  • Fried eggs and rice
  • Universal Rice dish
  • Universal Muffins
  • Universal Casseroles
  • Leftovers wrapped in tortillas
  • Pancakes
  • Popcorn by the bucket (popped in a roasting tin until I learned to over fill a sauce pan and empty it half way)
  • Tuna and pasta in white sauce
  • Learned to do Mom and Grandmother's Thanksgiving meal

Single Again
  • Crackers with cheese and a tin of tuna
  • Tortilla chips (low fat) and salsa (most of the bag and all of the jar)

Life in England
  • Beans, beans, beans:
  • Hummus with veggie and toast sticks
  • African (stir-fry with vegetables and garlic)
  • Soup in crockpot with bacon or ham, tomato and onion
  • Cold pasta or rice salad
  • Vegetarian cassoulet
  • Pease pudding (lentils, actually)
  • Hash (with potato and onion)
  • Tinned, on toast
  • Refried Mexican style, etc.
  • Fruit salads with low fat yogurt
  • Vegetables : steamed, stir-fried or roasted
  • Crust-less quiche and mini-quiches (in muffin tin)
  • Savory muffins
  • Salmon:
  • steaks
  • smoked salmon with crackers
  • salmon puff (tinned)
  • fish patties (tinned)
  • Soft cheeses: cream, boursin, cottage cheese even!
  • White fish:
  • Sweet and sour sauce
  • Kedgeree
  • Fish patties
  • Lettuce-less salads (sometimes with spinach)
  • Fruit salad with low-fat yoghurt
  • Veggie omelettes
  • Homemade pizza, usually with chorizo or salami
  • Tuna and veg with ketchup sauce (sounds crazy but it’s good)
  • Rice dishes (with veg only, with beans and veg, added chicken bits or other meats)
  • Spice cake
  • Beef bourguignon (Bill’s speciality)

So, that's mine. What would be in your Autobiographical Food story?


TKW said...

I love this idea! I'm also laughing at some of the stuff you listed, like S.O.S. and leftovers wrapped in a tortilla. I might steal this idea sometime!

Now I'm off to think of my food autobiography!

I've got early childhood down:
macaroni and cheese
tuna sandwiches
hamburger helper
casseroles, casseroles, casseroles
pot roast
sloppy joes
egg poached on toast

James said...

Wonderful post. I think stews, soups, and gumbo are what I would like to define my food life with. Thank you once again for very entertaining reading.

Rick Stone said...

Mine would be easy. Meat and potatos. An occasional steak from Cattleman's Steak House. Hamburgers from Sonic. Meatball sandwich from Subway. As the ad on TV over hear goes: "Beef, it's whats for dinner".