Food, a personal essay

I want to talk a little bit today about food. I’ve been trying to eat better, and so I’ve been putting a lot of thought into the way I look at food.

And, here’s the thing, I love food. I have never been a part of, nor do I understand the whole food is fuel crowd. When I write my daily gratitude list, I have to remind myself that I can’t always just list something wonderful I ate that day. I mean, some days sure but not every day. My whole day can be made better just by knowing that I have a roast in the crock pot or that I get to go out to dinner.

It doesn’t have to be good, fancy food to make me happy either. It can be an egg salad sandwich. It doesn’t have to be fattening food. I get excited when sugar snap peas come back in season. I really like tofu.

Food is symbolic and tied to social cues. I’m an American, so there are certain activities that just require certain foods. A hot dog and a baseball game. Potato salad and a summer picnic. A cold beer on a hot night. Ice cream and wine after a breakup.

Food is a comfort, maybe too much for some of us. When I’m cold or stressed I want a bowl of homemade chili. I love something rich and savory, like stuffed grape leaves. Olives are a go to when I’m stressed, especially garlic stuffed olives.

Food takes us back to our pasts, places, and people. A warm tomato reminds me of my great grandma. She had a little garden in her backyard, and she’d grow tomatoes. Then she’d slice them and put them on bread with mayonnaise and pepper. She also used to make stuffed cabbage and stuffed peppers. The smell of tomato sauce brings me right back to her kitchen.

My other great grandma would buy boxes of cordial cherries every year for Christmas. Every time I have a box I’m twelve again, sitting in her living room on Christmas day with all of my extended family that I didn’t see any other time.

When I first moved out on my own, I made the same recipes my mother had always made, because I didn’t know anything else to cook. Spaghetti was big in our house. Hunt’s sauce with browned ground beef, garlic, and onion powder. She’d also make roasts in the crock pot that made the whole house smell like the best home to be going to. And while she didn’t make a ton from scratch, she always made mashed potatoes from real potatoes.

Even as children, we recognize this as love. There’s a reason you like your parent’s cooking more than anyone else. A meal made at home is love set on the table and eaten with a spoon.

When I was thirteen, I decided I wanted to upgrade our Thanksgiving meal. I wanted to show some of that love I’d been getting back to my family. The stakes were high, we’re all women and secretly competitive with each other. So I started making sweet potatoes from scratch. I skinned sweet potatoes, cut them up in little squares which are a bitch to do, and boiled them. Then I baked them with honey, cinnamon, and marshmallows on top. This has been a Thanksgiving staple ever since.

My experiment with cranberries didn’t go so well. First of all, they’re freaking hard to make. No one told me they were going to pop! So I had them merrily boiling on the stove when I start hearing this popping sound over and over. I go running in, and there the little red suckers are jumping out of the damn pot!

And after that, no one ate them. Everyone wanted the canned cranberry sauce because that’s what we’d always had. Win some, lose some.

For most of my childhood, my grandma would make a chocolate cake with peanut butter icing for birthdays. I don’t know how she made this icing. I think it’s just peanut butter and a ton of powdered sugar. But now that she lives so far away, I haven’t had this cake in years. Some things, I suppose, are left in the past. I do miss it, though.

Another thing my family makes is potato candy. I have no idea if it’s tied to our heritage or not. We’re Hungarian, and we sure never made Haluski. I have no idea how to make it, but I seek it out at every single festival I can find in town. But anyway, potato candy. Easy enough, you just take mashed potatoes and add powdered sugar until it forms a dough like consistency. If you’re going to make this, be advised, mashed potatoes literally melt when mixed with powdered sugar.

Simple recipes are the best. Butter cookies that only take three ingredients are a great way to bring a little bit of hygge into an otherwise cold and depressing day. A cup of hot coffee and some avocado toast makes me feel better about the morning.

Finally, as much as food ties me to my family and my past, it’s also evolved with me. All the way to the point where I’ve actually written a recipe that I couldn’t find anywhere else. I’ve started getting really experimental with food, recently. I made scotch eggs without burning down the house. I’ve even started growing some of my own herbs.

Food is a meditation, a prayer, a need, a hug. Food is a success and a reward. Food is fun, and the best form of self-care I can think of. Pure, good food is what every single one of us deserves.

Food is love shared on a plate. To that end, I’d love to share this recipe with all of you.

Curry Chicken Quinoa.

Ingredients-

  • One chicken breast
  • One tablespoon canola or other vegetable oil.
  • One tablespoon chili oil
  • One cup Quinoa
  • Two cups chicken broth
  • One tablespoon curry
  • One teaspoon salt

Chop chicken breast into cubes.

Heat canola and chili oil in a high sided skillet. Add chicken and fry until cooked.

Carefully rinse the quinoa.

Add the chicken broth to the chicken. Then add the rinsed quinoa.

Add curry and salt

Boil for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring about every five minutes. The meal is ready when the liquid is all gone and the quinoa is fluffy and soft.

I’d love to talk about food with you. What’s the best memory you have of food from your childhood?

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