Wednesday, February 25, 2009

That's Amore

Ahhhh, my mama. She’s the oldest child of a pair of good Catholics who birthed seven children they couldn’t afford and would have had more if cancer hadn’t claimed my maternal grandmother’s reproductive organs. Mama is also the mother of five children, because after escaping her childhood household she decided she hadn’t had enough clamor and destruction. For a long time, she was also caretaker to two crotchety old in-laws, whose dietary no-nos fit on a list that ran for a mile. My mom’s cooked for a lot of people in her life, with not a lot of money in the grocery budget, and under some pretty tight dietary restrictions.

It is probably fortunate, in a way, that she hates to cook.

Were she a budding gourmand, I think she would have been frustrated by having to serve spaghetti with ketchup on it instead of pasta sauce, as she did for her siblings. I think the usual of frozen fish sticks, frozen peas, and boxed macaroni fare of my youth would have hurt her soul as she dreamed of serving frissons of fillintheblank topped with finely whipped crème fraiche and a fresh herb garnish. But she didn’t. In that arena, at least, my mother was well-served by being underfunded. A small budget reduces the pressure to perform in the kitchen arena.

I’m not telling you anything she wouldn’t tell you herself, here. In that game where you get to pretend you’re rich and pick either a chef, masseuse, chauffeur, or maid, my mother has never hesitated in her answer. She has often told me that if she never had to cook again, she would die happy. She raised a couple of cookin' daughters, because as soon ever as she could get us on our feet and chopping in the kitchen, we took over.

That being said, then, I remember that my mother always made her own spaghetti sauce. I grew up never knowing about the convenience and ease of bottled marinara. When I discovered it in college, I found it shocking that people took such short cuts. Could these be genuinely caring mothers buying the Prego and Ragu? How could people eat that disgusting stuff? Some mornings I would get up for school and see the dozen or so jars of tomato products on the counter. The big pot would be on the stove. Bay leaves, oregano, basil, sage would have been plucked from the oft-neglected spice cupboard. And on the really extra special days, next to all of these cans and bottles and jars would be resting a box of lasagna. And I would know that this was a day to skip lunch in anticipation of the best food ever known to humankind.

My mama’s lasagna is kind of like a Supreme Pizza – it has everything. She includes your standards: the noodles, the homemade sauce that bubbled and cooked all day, the ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan. She includes tasty fresh vegetables, like sliced mushrooms, diced green peppers, chopped whole tomatoes. She throws in the meats: ground beef mixed in the sauce, pepperoni slices, hot Italian sausage chunks. She layers this in a way that I have never been able to duplicate, perfecting the distribution so that every bite you take has some special chunk of delicious in it. And she slices it up into enormous squares that are melted, crispy-on-top and surface-of-the-sun hot inside. This is always complemented with a bowl of fresh salad of lettuce, raw mushrooms, carrot slices, pepper rings, and celery. She serves up a covered basket of steaming garlic bread, for mopping every morsel of her delicious cooked sauce, and then puts on her football pads and helmet before battling her way through the slathering, viciously hungry children and to the table.

I have never, not once, been able to wait and avoid burning the roof of my mouth. And, let me tell you, it tastes even better heated up the next day.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

my mama's main dish.

my mom never really cooked fancy, dancy dishes. her dishes were simple, but oh so delicious! there was one dish, however, that my mom spent quite a bit of time making. ah, yes. i loved walking in the door after school and finding every square inch of our kitchen counter tops covered with tea towels. this meant only one thing. we were having homemade chicken and noodles for dinner.

i would always lift the tea towels and sneak a few of the noodles my mom had made. each noodle was irregular in shape. some were small while others were quite long. most times, i would eat the little ones because i knew she wouldn't notice that they were gone. i don't ever recall watching her actually make the noodles and boil the chicken, but i definitely remember snitching the work in progress!

my mouth waters just thinking about sitting down at our tiny, blue table. she'd dip me a bowl of the soup and i'd sprinkle just the right amount of seasoned salt on it. deee-licious. i savored each and every bite. and while eating the soup, my dad would always pester my mom about having mashed potatoes with it. this idea my mother despised. 'too much starch,' was her answer. we never did eat mashed potatoes with the chicken and noodles, but it didn't keep my dad from asking each time we dined on it.

to this day, i love my mom's homemade chicken and noodles. i bet my mom has the best in the whole world. no contest!

Monday, February 23, 2009

I Wonder What Mama Makes Best?

My family was the type that ate dinner together every single night. My brother and I would come home from school or athletic practice, do our homework and wait for Dad to get home from work. Mama would be slaving away in the kitchen to make something for dinner that would refuel us, would sustain us for the night, and would taste good. I am a very picky eater and I am allergic to some random things, but there were very few meals that my mother ever made that were not delicious. The things I usually did not like were the things my brother loved best (tuna casserole, anyone? ::gag::). I got lucky, I guess. I grew up with happily married parents who loved their kids more than anything and my mother can cook with the best of them. She grew up on a farm and as second oldest with lots of siblings, so she was honing her kitchen skills from early on.

Mama will tell you that what she cooks is nothing special and that none of her recipes require any fancy ingredients. Mama will also tell you that her favorite "spice" is a little bit of salt, she loves to use butter and that "anyone can make her recipes". And Mama would be dead wrong. I have spent years trying to perfect her recipes and re-create them in my own kitchen. While I may get close, nothing tastes as good as my Mama's home cooking. I think her secret ingredient is really love.

My Mama makes this dish that we call Hamburgers in Gravy. It is freaking unbelievable. The name of the dish describes it perfectly as it really is just hamburgers in gravy. However, pair this with some homemade noodles, some Indiana corn on the cob -- sorry, I have become distracted. Let me just say that this meal is amazing. I request it every time my parents come to visit me or every time I go back home to visit them. Every. single. time. I also always request salmon patties, fried potatoes, and brownies. Oh! And...okay, I could go on and on forever with this list of things my Mama makes best.

So I will just end by saying, DANG. My Mama can cook.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Maturity, in Purses

Back in the heady days of my youth, back when it was me and only me that a handbag was designed to serve, I was a purse miminalist. The smaller, the better in my book – in fact, my favorite “handbag” of all time was the tiny card wallet with keychain attached that I used to carry around with me in college. ID, check. Credit and debit cards, check. Keys, check. The end. Maybe a chapstick in my front pocket, and I’d be done.

Later, the little red hobo was able to do the job that my pockets couldn’t quite manage – that is, carry my brick of a cell phone. Life abhors a vacuum, or in this case empty space in a purse, and so my needs multiplied to fill up the bag I carried. Tiny comb. Wee perfume. Gum.

And then I got pregnant, and I decided that it was necessary for me to graduate from Tiny Cute Hobo to The Gigantic Poppins Bag, or as I self deprecatingly like to call it, the Mom Purse. The weekend after my husband left the country for Brazil for 3 months, I cheered myself up by strolling to T.J. Maxx and dithering over a selection of 10 mom purses. After over an hour of collecting options, I whittled them down to 2: a gorgeous buttery brown over the shoulder bag, and a red Liz Claiborne with white stitch detail and polka dot lining. In order to never have to switch out black/brown purses again, I went with the red. And now I have embraced my space with gusto.

The Poppins bag currently holds:

In the sunglasses pocket
A pair of sunglasses
A pacifier

In the cell phone pocket
My new work cell
My personal cell
A paper clip

In the first big pocket
Matches from the Outback Steakhouse
2 AA batteries of questionable charge
An old broken carabiner keychain
2 Chico bags (for groceries – yeah Sunni!)
My “inspiration/shopping list/used gum disposal sheets” notebook (yeah Amanda!)
A pen and checkbook
The instruction manual for my new work cell phone
A sample pack of the wipes we make at work, with the work logo printed on the pack
A disposable diaper
A pack of baby wipes
2 teethers

In the second big pocket
My wallet, reasonably stuffed
A receipt for a benefit I declined at work 2 months ago
The list of 401k investment options recommended by our broker 1 month ago which I still haven’t acted on
More work wet wipe sample packs
A nail file
Another pen
Another net bag for groceries

In the middle big pocket
All the stuff a woman shouldn’t leave home without – i.e., 2 chapsticks, gum, comb, perfume, lotion, hand mirror, tweezers, keys, Visine, lip gloss, and ancient Kleenex

In the side zip pocket
Grocery discount cards, coupons, 2 more pens, 4 patches (like, sew on patches – WTF? Where did they come from??), more grodacious Kleenex, phone numbers for baby’s pediatrician and insurance co. if the car breaks down

There you have it, baby! Everything but the kitchen sink!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

my "luggage"

super jas refers to my purse as my 'luggage.' true, it is a large bag. true, it weighs a bit. true, that i carry nearly everything in there that one could want. but, to call it a piece of 'luggage' is a bit of an exaggeration in my book. boys... what do they know? and where would they be without our purses and their contents? seriously.

like i said, my bag is fairly big. currently, it holds the following items:
*a canvas bag that little mama decorated for me that i use to carry groceries (i'm trying to be green, g love!)
*paid bills
*candy wrappers
*a pack of gum
*two toothbrushes (my girls went to the dentist today)
*my black bag that holds such things as loose change, eye drops, chapstick, hand sanitizer, moisturizer. i guess you could say it's like my purse within a purse.
*bottle of advil
*band aids
*an assortment of mcdonald's happy meal toys

i love my bag and i love that it's big and can hold damn near anything that i need it to. and even though it may be heavy, at least i give my arms a workout each day. just another added bonus!

Monday, February 16, 2009

I Wonder What Is In My Purse?

I'm thrilled to be Monday's hostess once again! Forgive me for the lightness of this topic, but I am lucky enough to be off of work today. So, I have given my brain a vacation. This topic, however, intrigues me. I hope it intrigues you as well.

So, my purse usually weighs about ten pounds. The purse I currently carry is a gorgeous black Coach bag that my husband generously gave me for Christmas. This gift was quite a surprise and I love carrying it. It has a ton of pockets so that I can stash all of my stuff!

In the first pocket you will find my wallet, pictures of family and friends, and a pen. I always have to have the pen with me otherwise I forget to write down my purchases. That makes balancing my check book a nightmare. So, for everyone's sanity, I carry the pen.

In the center pocket of my purse you will find a Vera Bradley makeup bag that I adore. It was a gift from my mother and it is in the cutest pattern -- Java Blue. This makeup bag is stuffed full of lipsticks, lip glosses, a mirror and my absolute beauty must-have of Bonne Bell Lip Smacker in Strawberry. The center pocket of my purse also holds my keys, my Blackberry for work and my personal Blackberry. There are also bills to be paid and my camera that I always have with me.

The last pocket of my purse holds Kleenex (hello, Old Lady!!) and a memo pad for notes, thoughts, and information. This pocket also carries my migraine meds. The migraine meds are a necessary evil, unfortunately. No matter what purse I am carrying, you will find those migraine meds. I have learned that lesson the hard way.

I guess you could call me well-prepared. Also, if you meet me in a dark alley and try to steal my shoes? I will beat you with my very heavy purse!