Recentty I have really been struggling with my eating. And by recent, I mean the past 57 years. Its really my parents fault. For Mable and Bill, Food was Love.
My dad had a sweet tooth the size of Manhattan and my mother loved to feed it. A master baker, she made our Sunday dinner rolls by hand, grated fresh coconut for coconut cake and whipped the cream herself for my favorite, strawberry shortcake. She could cook a standing rib roast to perfection in an old oven in our basement with no thermostat and no meat thermometer. My mom was such a great cook that we would fight over the last piece of fried liver and onions just to have the last spoonful of her velvety mashed potatoes.
My dad, who moonlighted as a New York City cab driver, never left home without a huge Mr. GoodBars or Nestle Crunch Bar in his hack bag. And as far as he was concerned, dessert was a daily necessity.
They also inspired an undying love for street food. “Dirty Dogs”, as my dad called the pushcart hot dogs in New York, were always a favorite. Fried frogs legs and other delicacies from Nathan’s on Coney Island usually followed a terrifying ride on the Cyclone Roller Coaster and to this day, White Castle is one of my favorite restaurants, as much for the characters who are waiting for food after a night of clubbing or finishing the night shift as for the food.
Yup, they sugared me up, salted me down and sent me out into the cruel, processed food world.
But they did some good stuff too.
For one, the family dinner requirement. No matter what you had planned, 6pm was dinner time and everybody was expected to be at the table. Once there, we all reported on what happened that day and talked about current events. I grew up in the 60s and 70s so there was lots of conversation about Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, Bobby Kennedy and the Black Panthers. I learned that my parents had very different views about politics and race and that we were allowed to have different views as well.
Thanks to my grandmother, who lived with us, we also had a family garden. We grew tomatoes, cucumbers, collard greens, peppers, zucchini and flowers. As the youngest, I was responsible for pulling weeds. We had a grape arbor too, with the sourest grapes in New Jersey and a scary looking apple tree. Hey, we don’t call NJ the Garden State for nothing.
And, as I mentioned earlier, my mom was a terrific cook. She made soups and stews. We ate beans and rice. There were always at least two vegetables at every meal and we ate a lot of salad and yogurt, which not a lot of people did in the 1960’s. She always wanted to try new recipes of the day, like eggplant parmesan and stuffed peppers. (yuk).
As I look back, I marvel at how much I emulate my parents food style. I am a home cook and love to try new recipes (but no stuffed peppers).
I still love White Castle and the street food of today, from food trucks. My husband has a sweet tooth the size of his hometown, Chicago and I try to fill it, while not every week, but I do bust out a cake or pie at least once a month.
We aspire to have family dinner at least 3 times a week, and when we eat dinner rolls, I make them from scratch. We talk to our children about their lives and current events, and occasionally they will humor us with a “talent” show.
I have a plot in the community garden, and while I don’t have my grandmother’s green thumb, I joined a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) food share program--just in case.
If my mom knew then what we know now about diabetes and nutrition, she might not have suffered as much from the debilitating effects of the disease. But I love my parents and think that in spite of their limited nutritional knowledge, I was provided with a wonderful foundation to love good food and family. And ladies and gentlemen, that aint bad.