Food For The Body And Soul

When I posted last Friday about making ribs, I hadn’t planned on a follow-up post about food. After all, I spent Saturday out with the fabulous Mister Soandso and I promised some folks photos of the costumes we wore to a party. But as you’ve probably figured out, the key word to understanding me is “random” and so I’m rolling with an observation that came to me this morning.

I can’t think of a time in my life not attached to either preparing or consuming a meal or food item. Yep. You read that right. Even my babies came to me with stories of food and meals. (Oh, a different type of food preparation!) Mister Soandso and I still giggle over how many lattes he brought me in hospital rooms that sat on that wheeled tray-tables, cooling until too tepid to drink.

My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving, primarily because I get to feed all the important people in my life that day and weekend. Food is important to me and not simply because of the obvious reason. Food, and the preparation of it, is an act of continuing life…of giving to another so that they may live. And when that gift is a bowl of hot soup or a batch of cookies or a birthday cake or a pint of ice cream and 2 spoons, that gift is about not only giving but of sharing the moments together.

I don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t comfortable in the kitchen, cooking at least via osmosis. There was a red stool–the kind with the step that folds up and into it–and my 3 and 4 and 5 year old selves would pull it over and “help” my mom make at least one meal a day. All the best of her and me happened in that tiny kitchen, warming the space and then our bellies with food from our hands.

Every family has its food traditions, every person his or her foods for when comfort is needed.

Back in my Minnesota teaching days, the holidays always brought conversations about food to the classroom. Some students talked about grandparents making lutefisk and lefsa. Others talked about homemade macaroni and cheese and collard greens with bacon. Stories of challah and tamales and pizza and peanut butter cookies. So many foods, so many memories.

I was thinking about the first thing I ever made by myself. Rolled and iced sugar cookies when I was around 5. The first meal I made? Chicken fried steak, fried potatoes and onions, broccoli. It may not have won a seal of approval by a nutritionist, but to my farming family, it tided them over while working out in the cold. The first chocolate cake I made? A 6-layer chocolate torte for my dad’s birthday. The first food I recreated after living in England? Jam tart pudding.

Dinners out, trips to various places, stolen moments. All have a taste-full memory for me.

I hope that when the time comes (hopefully it is in the far future) my memorial will include lots of stories about the foods I loved making and the people I loved eating them with. Because food has always fueled my soul far more than my body.

Today, people all up and down the eastern seaboard are bracing and facing Hurricane Sandy. May the power stay on, may the forced evacuations lead to impromptu extended family dinners, and may the waters recede, leaving only good memories.

Here is one of the first things I mastered. Fried potatoes. This not a sexy food. It isn’t a fancy recipe. But it is some of the best comfort food out there. These are the carbs of working people with a German surname. Food that warms the belly long after the body returns to hard labor out in the snow and wind of eastern Washington. It is a recipe that teaches a young cook patience. It is a good lesson for any cook…patience now is rewarded later.

Fried Potatoes

Russet potatoes, peeled, quartered, and sliced into thin slices

Walla Walla, or other sweet onion, peeled and sliced in thin slices.

In a large, seasoned cast iron skilled, heat enough olive oil to cover bottom of skillet with about 1/4″ of oil. Layer potatoes and onions into skillet. Salt and pepper as desired. Cover with fitted lid and cook over medium heat until a bottom layer is browned and crisp. Using a flexible metal spatula, carefully turn potatoes so raw potatoes are on bottom. Repeat until potatoes are cooked through. Be patient! Potatoes will stick if you try to flip them before they are crisped. If you’ve been too careful with the oil, carefully pour a bit more under a section of potatoes you’ve lifted.

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3 thoughts on “Food For The Body And Soul

  1. This is not a clinker. This reminds me of lots of good family times. Not being a cook myself I can only get this by thinking back on watching first my own mom, then my wife, then my daughters, in the kitchen being all nurturing and feeding people and happy.

    I also remember, lest this get to be a gender thing, watching my dad, early in the morning, cooking breakfast for my daughter and I, every morning before school & work, the two years we were there after her mom died. It was what he could do to help us cope, make sure we at least started our days well set with bacon, eggs, toast, jam, juice, coffee, milk And sausage.

    Important stuff.

    Thanks, Kristina

  2. As I tweetered, I just missed checking you out in my Monday line-up. I suck with things like digital lists and email reminders and rely on the old noodle to keep me going. After you read my new blog post today (I know you totally will 😉 right? I really need ALL 3 of my readership…) you’ll see why my memory might not have been rebooting so well… Anyway, sorry. You are one of my favorites, glad you reminded us to read!

    Thanksgiving was MY holiday growing up. I lived next door to my dad’s parents on our farm in Southern IL. My mom’s family (grandparents, Aunt and Uncle and cousins) live in Chicago and my only living great grandparents traveled constantly, living most of the time in an RV. Thankgsiving, everyone made the trip to our house. It was the one time of year, I had all my living relatives in my home at once. Think about this. BOTH sides of the family! How often does that happen? Weddings? Maybe your graduation? Funeral?(not so festive, maybe… unless you’re me and going to have an awesome “Afterparty” with a pig in the ground and beer on ice, U2 blaring… 🙂

    Those Thanksgiving’s spoiled me rotten, so much so that in my early adult years and up to about last year, my sister and I have taken to calling the day, Hatesgiving. Great grands gone, parents divorced, other family members growing older and uanable, or unwilling to put the effort in to the day, they once did, and unwilling to share the hosting. Thanksgiving in my family has devolved to everyone traipsing to Chicago for dinner at my Aunt’s. Now, even my cousin’s don’t come because they go to the in-laws. No more traditional recipes, instead we have a lot of fancy purchased things from expensive places. It’s a nice treat but not the same. Of course, we don’t see Dad or his parents. And in my case, since Chrimbo is also in Chi-Town, the following month and we are 150 miles away, affording both trips is impossible. So we often opt to share Thanksgiving with my in-laws four miles down the road.

    My MIL is a magnificent cook. But she knows it. And she doles out one roll at a time. Dispenses jams by the spoonful, not by setting them on the table. She cuts you one piece of one desert of your choice. (you are also NOT invited to bring something. In fact she prefers you don’t) It’s still lovely. And no one needs to gorge. But… it’s just not the same. I should also mention her stoic, not so far remomoved from Amish upbringing is very different from my jolly old European German, Norwegian, Scottish, Irish clan’s. There is sadly, no laughter around her table.

    But time marches on and your children grow up thinking these things are normal and one day your 14y.o. son looks at you and says, “It makes me sad you call it Hatesgiving. Why don’t you like celebrating with us?” And you realize what an ungrateful idiot you are being. So you teach your kids all the old recipes and you enjoy them throughout the weekend. And instead of waiting until the next weekend or so for St. Nicholas day to roll around to put up your Chrimbo stuff, you do it while the sweet potato pie is baking. And Thanksgiving becomes Lovegiving in your home again.

    That’s what it’s all about isn’t it?

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