Category Archives: Holidays

Meatball Mamas from Around the World

Photo by Flickr/gavinr

This entry is one of our Mother’s Day contest winners. We asked readers for their favorite food memory about mom.

By Denny Fernald

On Mother’s Day, we celebrate not only our own mothers and grandmothers, but all the Moms in our lives, including our own daughters, and daughter in law, the mothers of our grandchildren. Even all the other Moms in our extended family.

Our blended family is blessed with a richly diverse group of at least three generations of Moms that have roots from around the world. When our family gathers for a holiday meal, it is like pot luck at the United Nations.

My fondest food memories are of my Mom’s Swedish meatballs. We had no Swedish ancestors, but she was a great cook of all things.  She used the Fanny Farmer Cook Book (from The Boston Cooking School, my home town).  I still use that book frequently to re-create her best dishes.  I have successfully duplicated her Swedish meatballs with healthier ground turkey.  Those meatballs still evoke wonderful taste bud memories, immediately transporting me back 60 plus years to my Mom’s loving table.  That’s real comfort food.

Surprisingly, meatballs are prominent in many of the comfort foods of our family.

My wife’s Mom, Grandma A. (who grew up in Brooklyn with parents from Naples and Sicily), makes the world’s best Italian meatballs.  The Neapolitan secret is starting the meatballs raw in the “gravy”, i.e., the red sauce.

My wife makes a fine spinach broth with egg/parmesan balls, that honors her Italian roots. All the children, even the vegetarians, love it.

Our vegetarian daughter, in Greensboro, Mom to one, makes great Middle Eastern falafel balls from chick pea flour.

Our daughter in Pittsburgh, Mom of three (grand) daughters, has perfected the local favorite Italian Wedding Soup with tiny little meatballs she purchases around the corner at the tiny little Italian grocery in their neighborhood.

Pierogies. Photo by Flickr/Kitchen Wench

Our daughter in Queens, NYC, Mom to our one grandson, makes matzo balls and gefilte fish balls from her Jewish grandmother.

Our daughter-in-law in Delaware has pierogies – wrapped Polish meatballs–from “Barcia”—the Polish name for the other grandma of our granddaughter.

Then there’s our son-in law’s Mom from the Philippines, who can do wonderful won ton balls.

Our niece has mastered the little Asian dumplings of her mother-in-law from Korea.

Ugali (corn meal mush formed into little balls with your fingers at the table) is a favorite of our granddaughter whose other grandmother is from Kenya.

Mother’s Day is an American holiday, but we celebrate all the mothers of our lives, domestic and international, and how they have nurtured us with food from each the corner of the Earth with every class of meatball!

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Korean Girl Seeks American Food

Kraft macaroni and cheese, an American classic. Photo by Flickr/smiteme

This entry is one of our Mother’s Day contest winners. We asked readers for their favorite food memory about mom.

By Angela Yoo

Growing up as one of the few Asians in Harrisburg, North Carolina, I always envied the American food the rest of my friends ate on a daily basis. While dreaming of gooey slices of pizza, fluffy mashed potatoes, and chicken smothered in gravy, I would frown and pick out limp, slimy specks of scallions from dishes of kimchee and guk with my chopsticks   “Those green onions are good for you, and there are starving children in Africa!” my mother would scold. At least once a week, a fight would ensue as I insisted that my friends ate “good” food that I never did.

Kimchee Beef. Photo by Flickr/stevendepolo

My complaint really was not about the quality of the nightly home-cooked dinners of steamed dumplings, Korean glass noodles, stuffed squid, or kalbi steaks. My mother was a terrific cook, making every dish from scratch, but somehow, these meals never seemed as special as a plate of bright orange macaroni and cheese served in my friends’ homes.

When I moved to Chapel Hill to begin my college career, I was eagerly anticipating daily indulgences of American cuisine. With my meal plan, every meal was an all-you-can eat smorgasbord of everything quintessentially American or, at least, Americanized “exotic” fare. Hamburgers, waffles, tacos, lasagna, corn on the cob, ice cream sundaes – all without scallions! I was living my butter-rich, starch-laden, all-American dream. However, what once was so wonderful, soon became bland, colorless, and frankly, boring. I found the dairy-rich foods to be incompatible with my lactose-sensitive Asian gut, and the carb-heavy dinners tasted one-dimensional.  I missed the spices and heat and everything else that makes Korean cuisine complex and interesting.

Despite a childhood of fantasizing of escape from Cabarrus County, I was never happier to return home than that first semester break. My mom, who had re-entered the workforce at this point, rarely spent much time cooking any more, but she labored in the kitchen just for me those few days. Not a single morsel of American food entered my mouth that weekend, and I made sure to gorge myself on as much Korean food as possible. When I packed to make the drive back to Chapel Hill, the back of the car was piled with Tupperware containers and Ziplock bags full of enough food to last a couple of weeks.

The next semester, I cancelled my meal plan and decided to try my hand at grocery shopping and easy-to-prepare meals. Prior to this, my few experiences with cooking included baking a box of gingerbread cookie mix that produced what my family called burnt horse dung. I knew that even my science major would be insufficient in preventing food chemistry disasters and some expert advice would be required.  During the first semester, I had barely called home, but now there was a need for regular consultations with my mother.

I had never been close to my mother as our regular bonding sessions ended once she finished teaching me how to read and ride a bike. Any attempts at conversations after that would almost always turn into an argument about my messy room, skipping church, and my lack of ambitions to become a doctor. These arguments usually included some variation of “You don’t love me!” from me and “Korean parents don’t gush over their children like idiots!” from her. However, when I called to ask her cooking questions, we would manage to have civil conversations that no longer ended in screaming and tears.

Had I known food could so easily transcend the differences between generations, culture, and values, I would have asked her to teach me to cook earlier. Once I grew older, I realized how, unlike her verbally expressive American counterparts, my mother truly did not know how to be demonstrative. I began to understand that her Korean upbringing wasn’t just an excuse she used and that open praise and adoration for her children really did not fit into her cultural vocabulary. Food was a second language for her to show how much she did love me and my siblings. Today, my mother still criticizes my over-seasoned soup and my improper knife skills. I shrug my shoulders and silently think how grateful I am that she cares enough to tell me so.

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Mother’s Special Sandwich

Photo by Flickr/sea turtle

This entry is one of our Mother’s Day contest winners. We asked readers for their favorite food memory about mom.

By Anne W. Little

As a young child I was pleased to have a “special” lunch sandwich prepared by my Mother.  She explained to me how special it was.  She said not many others in the neighborhood, indeed the county, could have this wonderful sandwich.  I  believed every word, after all, she was Mother.  So, while my sisters were in school, we would sit down to this “specialty”.  It was two slices of bread, mustard on one side and mayonnaise on the other.  When I started school I realized that other children HAD to add bologna on their mustard/mayonnaise sandwiches… and felt sympathy for them.  I now know my special sandwich was a way for Mother to save a little on the grocery bill while allowing my sisters to have the bologna for their lunches, but to this day I eat my “special” sandwich with pleasure.

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Momma’s Circle of Love

This entry is one of our Mother’s Day contest winners. We asked readers for their favorite food memory about mom.

By Leslie R. Stacks

My parents grew up poor and began their marriage in the Depression.  Over time they became wealthy, but Momma remained frugal.  She could not bring herself to buy an expensive cut of meat, and no leftover ever went unused.  That is why it was so special when, for Momma’s 70th Christmas, her ex-daughter-in-law gave her a standing rib roast of prime beef.  She even hired the city’s top chef to show Momma how to cook it.

I lived in another state, and early Christmas morning Momma phoned to tell me she had taken the roast out of the refrigerator – as the chef had instructed – to let it come to room temperature.  A while later, Momma called to tell me she was preheating the oven.  Still later, Momma called again, to tell me the roast was now out of the oven and set aside to rest – as the chef had instructed – so it would retain its juices when cut.

At each phone call, Momma was increasingly giddy with delight and anticipation, so I could hardly wait for her next call, to hear how good the roast had been.  A couple of hours passed, but no phone call.  Finally, the phone did ring, and it was Daddy.  He told me that the roast had been wonderful, and that Momma had enjoyed one of her best Christmases ever.  Afterward, though, while in the kitchen with her grandson cleaning up, Momma had collapsed and died.

I know this sounds like a sad story, but for me it is a story of love and cooking and Momma.  Remember I said the roast was a gift from Momma’s ex-daughter-in-law? Rachel and my brother parted on very harsh terms, then my brother disappeared.  Momma chose to put aside her anger and hurt so that she could maintain a relationship with the mother of her grandson.

Over the next few years, their relationship grew, even after Rachel met a doctor named Luke and the two of them got married.  To Momma, it was the most natural thing in the world to include Rachel’s new husband in her circle of love.  When Luke and Rachel had a daughter, Momma’s circle of love grew, and she sewed baby clothes for the new little girl, just as she had for all her other grandchildren.

That final Christmas night, Rachel, Luke, and the two children were there for dinner.  Luke was the physician who attended Momma upon her collapse—and the son who held her in his arms at her death.  And Momma’s circle of love remained unbroken.

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Julie with her kids picking strawberries at Carrigan Farms last Mother's Day.

This entry is one of our Mother’s Day contest winners. We asked readers for their favorite food memory about mom.

By Julie Crandall

I remember when I was a kid waiting for strawberry season.  My Mom’s favorite dessert was strawberry shortcake and we’d always have it on Mother’s day and my birthday and pretty much anytime Mom came home with those giant bright red strawberries that she’d get at a roadside stand along a dusty road near our home in Glendora, CA.  We’d see those berries and the look on Mom’s face and we could almost taste the promise of summer.   I can still picture my Mom biting into that crispy warm shortcake and the intense red of those juicy berries with the bright white dollop of fresh whipped cream mounted on top.  I don’t know exactly what it was about that strawberry shortcake that makes me still almost weep for home.

I left CA after my Mom died in 1991.  Time passed and strawberries started popping up in the market not just in the spring, but at all different times in the year.  At first it felt like an exciting novelty, making our treasured dessert in the Fall or even in the dead of winter.  But pretty soon it became sort of confusing and disorienting when I noticed that eventually strawberries joined the ranks of bananas and oranges (and everything else for that matter) as fruit that was available anytime throughout the year- imported from somewhere else, so we’d have to wait for nothing.  Sure, there is something nice and convenient to getting anything anytime, but we lose something as we slowly and gradually wake up to find that nothing is special anymore.  It was in the “waiting”- in the longing- for the season when we’d see Mom walk in with those beautiful strawberries that made strawberry shortcake more than just a dessert.  Strawberries were a season, and strawberry shortcake was an experience… it was a time and a place and it was the sweetness of Mom.

Waiting… I guess you could say it’s a spiritual practice; you could definitely say that learning to wait is a necessary tool for life.  So I mostly pass by those strawberries that I see in the market in the “off season.”  I’m waiting for those strawberries which are picked at their prime right from the fields down the street.  Come to think of it I may even drag my own kids down to pick a few baskets ourselves this Sunday on Mother’s Day.  We’ll head home and I’ll get out the Bisquick… and I’ll make strawberry shortcake just the same way Mom used to.  With a grateful heart that longs for home, I’ll watch my kids and think of Mom- and how sweet it all was and still is…. and how very worth the wait.

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Meat and Potatoes

Meat seeks potato for long-lasting friendship. Photo by Flickr/whatwehadfordinner

By Tamra Wilson

You can’t have a decent meal without meat and potatoes, my mother insisted. True to her Irish roots, both were mandatory for a balanced meal – especially the potatoes.

Going on a picnic? Lunch meat or hotdogs were the meat and potato chips or potato salad was the side dish.

Having fried chicken? Mashed potatoes were expected. Meatloaf? Mashed potatoes again.  Steak? Baked potatoes came into play.

Polish sausage called for fried potatoes, which evoked Dad’s chestnut about a dimwitted cousin who told his mother, Irma, that she had served the wrong kind of potatoes. In a hurry, she had boiled them and added a little butter, which Dad called “saxophones” because to him they were as dismal as listening to a saxophone solo.

The cousin whined, “Aunt Irmie, I don’t want boiled potatoes; I want greased potatoes.”

We would laugh at the threadbare joke though we had never met the cousin.

When I edged into junior high, the school cafeteria had enlightened me on foreign fare, but when mom sneered at the large ruffled-edge lasagna noodles, the tiny can of stinky Parmesan cheese and the obligatory can of mushroom sauce she threw her hands to the ceiling. “All this work and no meat!”

One day, armed with coupons and the sale paper, Mom and I headed for the supermarket where I talked Mom into a Chef Boy-Ar-Dee lasagna kit on the condition that I did the cooking. Concocting such a dish was beyond her, and clean-up was a chore with baked-on sauce.

The lasagna was edible, but Mom would have little of it. “Give me meat and potatoes any day.”

Lunch on wash day or window cleaning day called for a pickup meal. Having matured during the Depression, she ran a waste-not, want-not kitchen that left a lot of “want” in the taste department. Meat was re-heated or made into a sandwich. Mashed potatoes re-appeared in the form of scorched potato dollops that tasted funny.

I sniffed the potatoes with odd brown flecks. This was in the days before we knew the nutritious value of potato peelings.  “Is this warmed over?” I said.

“Yes, warmed over the stove.”

She laughed alone.

To this day I won’t save leftover mashed potatoes and never serve “saxophones.” Dad was right. Potatoes – particularly those that should’ve been mashed – are pretty dismal indeed.

Tamra Wilson lives in Newton, her story collection, “Dining with Robert Redford and Other Stories,” was released in 2011 by Little Creek Books.

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Food Books: A Baker’s Dozen to Give for Mother’s Day

Food books. Photo by Flickr/chotdaLet’s admit it: Picking out the perfect Mother’s Day gift is hard. Flowers die in days. Perfume spills. And no one wants junky jewelry.

But books? Ah, a book will always fit and will never need ironing. Even better, it invites the reader to relax, so in honor of the upcoming holiday, I asked some local experts for food-themed book suggestions.

Park Road Books store owner Sally Brewster recommends The World in a Skillet: A Food Lover’s Tour of the New American South by Paul and Angela Knipple, which showcases the global influences shaping the ways we cook and eat throughout the region.

Brewster’s husband Frazer Dobson doesn’t even like creamed corn, but the recipe from Charred and Scruffed: Bold New Techniques for Explosive Flavor On and Off the Grill by Adam Perry Lang with Peter Kaminsky “will make you fall to your knees.”

Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America by Gustavo Arellano is an entertaining look at a culinary phenomenon from the columnist best known for his  syndicated feature ¡Ask a Mexican!

Warning: Fries and pies abound in The Truck Food Cookbook: 150 Recipes and Ramblings from America’s Best Restaurants on Wheels, the latest from legendary food writer John T. Edge.

Paper Skyscraper’s Tim Hamilton recommends Food Rules: An Eaters Manual by Michael Pollan with illustrations by Maira Kalman. It’s catchy, colorful, and wise.

Fans of M.F.K. Fisher will want to read An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler. The thought-provoking collection of essays even includes a chapter on how to boil water. Fish: Recipes from the Sea by the editors of Phaidon Press and Carol-Jane Jackson is both beautiful and useful; its chapters divide fish by variety and it presents more than 200 recipes.

Customers at The Book Mark are fond of Giada De Laurentiis, reports owner Kathy Friese. Known for her popular “Everyday” series, De Laurentiis has a new book,  Weeknights with Giada: Quick and Simple Recipes to Revamp Dinner. Friese’s clients also like Ree Drummond, who went “from high heels to tractor wheels”; her new book is The Pioneer Women Cooks: Food from My Frontier.

What do food writers read? Everything. Here’s what I’m perusing – and planning to cook from this spring. The Fresh Egg Cookbook: From Chicken to Kitchen is the newest book from the accomplished author and James Beard award nominee Jennifer Trainer Thompson. It offers clever takes on familiar recipes, such as Green Eggs and Ham.

Son of a Farmer, Child of the Earth author Eric Herm examines the challenges of modern-day agriculture, and writes, “You say a little prayer and take a shot of tequila. Some years, more tequila is required than others.” It’s a powerful read.

Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef is Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir of the author’s hardscrabble years as a vagabond whose life ultimately yields unexpected joys and successes.

The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook, by Savannah bakers Cheryl Day and Griffith Day, boasts “more than 100 recipes from the best little bakery the South.” Stay tuned for updates on my results.

In the meantime, happy reading, happy eating, and Happy Mother’s Day!

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