The summer bounty from our garden is in full bloom and with that lots of cooking to make use of these wonderful gifts from God. I just love the process of seeing food go from seeds, to seedlings, to plants, to vegetables and finally to either a simple or complex meal on the table.
Cooking has been a passion of mine since I was a small girl. In my home growing up we had five children of which I was the fourth. Although my mother cooked for the whole family every night, my mom did not enjoy cooking. It was just another chore for this thoroughly modern women of the 60’s and 70’s, and she used prepared food often.
One of my best friends in grammar school, Karen Welz, also came from a family of five, where she too was number four. We went to kindergarten together in Norfolk, Conn and then onto Catholic school in a town thirty minutes away for first and second grade. I don’t really remember the reason, but for third grade my parents sent me and my brother to another Catholic school and Karen changed to the elementary school in the town of Norfolk, Center School. I disliked my new school immensely and cried almost every day on the way to school begging my father not to make me go. It was so traumatic that they finally sent be to a counselor. Actually I think it was a psychiatrist. I was miserable. Again, I don’t remember if it was my ranting or what, but for fourth grade I was finally put in Center School where I reunited with not only Karen, but other friends from town. I was happy again although still somewhat traumatized, and would not spend the night at any friends house until a fateful summer night when I was invited over to the Welzes.
All five girls fawned over me and made it so much fun to spend the night that I stayed for a week. With (I think) brief visits to my home which was walking distance away. Or maybe I saw my mother at our local beach and that was enough to satisfy me that all was well at home. I worried a lot as a child. Which is why latter in life I developed the website www.isurrenderthis.com.
I digress. The Welz’s had a house full of girls and I loved it. The oldest daughter Ann loved to bake and often times (it felt like every day to me) there was a lovely cake or cookies for us to eat. These were not the boxed cakes that I was familiar from in my home, they were sifted and measured and made from fresh ingredients. I thought this was fantastic. It was beyond my imagination and soon I asked my mother if I could bake a cake from “scratch”.
My mom was agreeable and we set to finding the perfect cake. My dad loved bananas and I chose a banana spice cake. The only thing I remember about making this cake was making a “special” list of ingredients to set out for the milkman. Cream, cream cheese and extra eggs.
The next thing I tried to bake was a cheesecake. I must have been about eleven years old. I felt fairly confident in my ability and don’t remember asking for help…thus…I put 3 Tablespoon of salt instead if 3 teaspoons and it was a disaster and had to be thrown away. That was an expensive mistake.
Another best friend of mine was Caryn O’Brien or OB for short. She was an only child and lived with her mom and grandparents. Her home was another, completely different from my own. Here they at “formal” dinners at the expansive dining room table…and they ate late. Most nights I spent there, Caryn and I ate in the enormous eat-in kitchen well before the adults. This was so exotic and wonderful. Her grandmother, Grammy, was a wonderful cook. Straight out of the pages of Julia Childs. I remember watching her make “Chicken Croquettes” and being amazed. I could not believe people ate this way, but for Caryn, it was just the way things were. I was inspired again.
I know for a fact that having these two girls as friends changed my feelings about food forever. I wanted to be able to make anything and know how to do it. As a very young bride of 19, I invited my whole family and by husband at the time’s family over for our first Thanksgiving. My grandparents even flew northeast to share in this event. I made EVERYTHING from scratch. From Boston Brown Bread, Sally Lunn Rolls and pies to ordering a real Smithfield Ham from Virginia to go with the turkey. It still amazes me today.
So cheers to you my friends Caryn and Karen…who I might add are both amazing cooks…for inviting me over and sharing your wonderful homes with me.