Archive for August 16, 2010

Signal Boost: The Mom Food Project

Cooking with momWe all know what Mom Food is, even though its specifics may vary: It’s the food you grew up with, the food that instantly evokes feelings of home and comfort and being cared for. For some it might be potroast with all the fixings on Sunday evening; for others it might be frozen fish sticks served with the same side dishes every time it showed up on the table.

As my friend Serene puts it:

“Mom Food is about the people who feed us because they love us.  It’s also about the food that evokes memories of being loved.

For me, it’s my mom. For you, it may be your dad, your aunt, a grandparent, or the person next door who took care of you when your parents couldn’t. … Mom Food doesn’t have to be fancy and elaborate.  Mom Food is just food — creamed peas on toast, or spaghetti with tomato sauce, or congee — made by someone who loves you.”

Boy, do I get that.

If you’ve read the “about” page on my blog, you’ll recognize the photo above. That’s me and my mom in the kitchen, circa 1962-63. While she could be an excellent and adventurous cook (how many other American families get home-made Japanese food for Christmas dinner?), the daily pressure of shopping and cooking for a family of six – including a meat-and-potatoes spouse – meant that the meals of my childhood were often simple, straightforward and (especially at the end of the month) economical.

A homemaker of her times, she embraced the then-novel convenience foods because they made mealtime faster and easier, if not more adventurous. Yeah, she might (and did) haul 6-year-old me and my 4-year-old brother through the streets of a small Japanese city tasting raw fish and vinegared vegetables; she also put Kraft macaroni and cheese on the table for meatless Catholic Fridays, invariably served with canned pickled beets because she’d read in some women’s magazine that color contrasts helped make a meal more interesting.

So when I think of “mom food,” what comes to mind, among other things, is “slumgully,” a skillet dish of her invention involving ground beef, chopped celery and canned mushrooms, sauced with bottled ketchup and served over enough egg noodles to stretch the dish to feed a hungry family. But also her dog-eared, 1930s edition of Fannie Farmer, and how, once I was old enough to help in the kitchen, she’d hand it to me and say “find something you’d like to cook. If you can read the recipe, you can make it.” That laid the foundation for my own adventures in cooking, and being unafraid to try new things.

Serene’s blog about Mom Food is wonderful. Go read it right now.

As she writes: “Food isn’t love. Feeding people is love.”

August 16, 2010 at 7:19 am 2 comments

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