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How we ate growing up


ivan
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I just thought it would be nice for her to have them all printed out in book form. Naturally it took way longer than I anticipated, but I did finally get it all done just before the Thanksgiving get-together (like, the day before, but that’s also another story). But working on the project made me realize how many of those recipes were a part of my childhood, and seeing them all together in one book (well, two – she has a lot of recipes) was an amazing thing.

Janet: thanks for your post. This thread continues to amaze me.

I am a (minor)bookbinder. I did the same thing with my mother's recipes and bound them into two books. Christmas presents for my mother and my daughter.

They were the best received predsents this Christmastime.

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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Pan:  You seem to have had an extremely good culinary upbringing!  That Bulgarian chicken stew sounds especially interesting.

Thanks for sharing.

Yes, my parents are both good cooks with gastronomic impulses.

The Bulgarian chicken with chestnuts and the potato-yogurt-pepper casserole both came from the Round-the-World Cookbook. Some of you no doubt remember the book. It was put out by Pan-Am Airlines and featured dishes from various countries Pan-Am flew to. Many of the dishes weren't particularly interesting, but enough of them were to make the cookbook worthwhile. (Parenthetically, someone in my building threw away a copy in good condition, and I snapped it up, but have yet to cook any of the recipes.)

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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My grandfather just passed away 3 months ago and last week my grandmother,mom and dad and mom's three siblings all went down to Florida to close up their house their and bring the stuff up to their house here in Cleveland.

A lot of the stuff was given away except for the valuable things acquired on trips abroad and other sentimental type things.

My grandmother gave to me 3 cookbooks, Joy of Cooking, Fannie Farmers and one of James Beard. These are the books she used as a newly married woman and as I was paging through them I noticed handwritten remarks next  to many recipes. This is something I do as well. I always write comments next to recipes, noting if it was good or bad, suggestions for improvements or serving suggestions. No one else in my family and none of my friends do this

My mother and father frequently do this. Sometimes, it's as simple as a "No good" on a dish that turned out to taste weird in a bad way. Other times, they cross out amounts of things and put in other amounts (such as increasing the urad dal in Madhur Jaffrey's Chettinad Chicken recipe - which we like to quadruple), and sometimes they add steps omitted in a cookbook.

My condolences to you on your loss, and I'm glad it is somewhat assuaged by a gift that will always remind you of the life your grandparents led together.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Later, my mother got better and better Chinese and Indian cookbooks and added dishes like Hot and Sour Soup, Ma-Po Tofu, Chicken with Chestnuts Chinese style (Cantonese, I think), Chettinad Chicken with urad dal, spinach with mustard seeds, etc.

My father gradually took over more cooking and has cooked almost every meal for the two of them (and guests when they come over) since 1992. He cooks mostly Indian and Chinese food.

I think that the way I'm continuing in my family food culture is that I have wide tastes in food just like my parents did. They told me that when they were courting each other, they frequently went to a cheap Greek restaurant, and they also went to one of the two Indian restaurants in Manhattan at the time. My mother had previously gone to the other one, the Karachi Rice Shop, which still existed when I was in high school (on W. 46 St.), and briefly dated the son of the owner. My parents have travelled widely and explored different foods, and so have I.

Your parents seem amazing Pan.

And you seem like a perfect child to have such respect for them and to have such fond memories.

What made your parents get into eating Indian food? How did that happen? Do you know?

Also not sure if the restaurant you mention that your mother visited was the same one that was managed by Shamsher Wadud, the man that owns Nirvana. I have heard some fun stories from Mr. Wadud about Karachi Restaurant. I wonder if it is the same.

You seem to have had an amazing youth. Thanks for sharing.

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This is probably the easiest way to introduce myself.  Great thread!

And a great post by you. Thanks!

Your parents seem amazing. How lucky you are to have grown up in that area of the US. Many friends of mine make fun of me trying to copy a Southern accent. I find it charming.

You know, if your boyfriend was from Northern India, you may have found much in common. Actually the south of India has great seafood. But in the north we eat lots of greens and cooked quite close to as those in the South. We eat our greens with flatbreads made with corn meal, Southerners in the US with corn bread. We eat beans and so do Southerners. We drink buttermilk in the North of India, and so do Southerners in the US. There is enough commonality... :smile:

Some southern Indian regions do use buttermilk and greens. But not as commonly as in the North.

Seafood is a staple of many parts of Southern India. And Southern Indians are more old fashioned in their value system (at least what many make us Northerners believe) like many of the people in the South of the US.

Where do you live now? What geographic part of the US. Only answer if you are comfortable.

And yes I was happy reading that each of our family placed great importance to kids sitting with elders. I really believe it is the best way a child can learn a lot about the world. Glad to see many seas away, another set of parents gave the same education to their kids as mine did for us in India. :smile:

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How much of your family culture is being replicated in your present-day family life?

unfortunately none. I really miss it, but my husband and I don't have any family here and we don't have children.

Glad you shared it at least online. I am sure you will have many occasions of doing so in good time.

It gives me a chance to trouble you for finding out details about the Gulasch your father prepared at times.

What made it special? How come he prepared that particular dish??

And thank you for sharing your food memories from growing up. :smile:

Maybe you will have less trouble understanding my accent. Like many Germans, I mis-pronounce my v's and w's. :sad:

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When I was 10 or 12, my parents (oops! Santa) gave my sister and me an Easy Bake Oven for Christmas. I don’t know who remembers those contraptions, but they used a 100-watt light bulb to bake, and came with little pans and cake mixes and recipes. Along with the oven we received a supplemental children’s baking set complete with miniature pie and muffin pans, cookie sheets, mixing bowls, spoons, and spatulas. We’d been hounding my mother for the oven for months, and we used it constantly, making lots of weird little cakes and brownies, which tasted about as good as you’d expect a cake mix baked by a light bulb would taste. But it was a start.

Whether because of that or because she always let us but never forced us to help her cook, we all developed some degree of flair in the kitchen, and a love of food. My memories of vacations are mostly family get-togethers (Mom’s side – Dad’s relatives were much less fun) on the Oregon coast, where the men fished and the women cooked (well, they mostly played bridge on the beach till late afternoon; then they cooked). All of my siblings and I have grown up thinking of the kitchen as the center of the house. One of my sisters and her husband recently remodeled their kitchen and dining area, and I think it’s telling that they decided to knock out a wall so that the kitchen, dining and living areas are all basically one big room now. In fact, we all gathered up there for Thanksgiving. My sister (the hostess), Mom and I did most of the cooking, but everyone wandered in to help now and then, in between Boggle games. My Dad (now 83) peeled potatoes and offered advice; my brother and his youngest son made the gravy. We had to pull up an extra table and use every chair in the house, but everyone including my nephew’s 2-year old sat together.

And I realize I’ve been going on for a bit, but one last thing seems worth adding. Last year I had the idea for Mother’s Day to type up all of my mother’s recipes in the MasterCook software program I have and print them out for her. My original motivation was simply the fact that I’ve been watching her shuffle through index cards and clippings from magazines for years, and I just thought it would be nice for her to have them all printed out in book form. Naturally it took way longer than I anticipated, but I did finally get it all done just before the Thanksgiving get-together (like, the day before, but that’s also another story). But working on the project made me realize how many of those recipes were a part of my childhood, and seeing them all together in one book (well, two – she has a lot of recipes) was an amazing thing. It’s something I highly recommend for anyone who wants to preserve his or her own personal culinary history.

I envy you now... Santa never gave me such an oven. :sad:

Thanks for a great wealth of beautiful memories. I love the part where you suggest that because you all were not forced but encouraged to help, you all have grown up having a certain flair with food. What a brilliant mom. That sounds amazing.

And the stories of you all having large kitchens.. and cooking together are wonderful.

The image of your 83 year old father peeling potatoes and offering advice will live with me for a long time.

The book you made with your childhood recipes sounds wonderful. How lucky you are to have had access to them and how lucky your mom is to have received such a great gift. I am sure the generations ahead will post on eGullet for a different set of members how beautiful and thoughtful gift you left behind.

I wish you and your family a long lifetime of many more such wonderful moments. And I hope you will share more of these with us on eGullet. Thanks!

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What was your family food culture when you were growing up?

My parents are originally from mumbai, india. they were quite cosmopolitan in the foods they tried and enjoyed, this transferred to the food that was cooked and we enjoyed foods from both europe and the indian subcontinent.

Was meal time important?

I remember pretty much always sitting down to a full meal with my brother and sister, my dad worked late so him and my mum ate separately and much later, which is often the case in indian households.

Was cooking important?

Food was important, but people more so. W/end meals were good as the whole family ate together - especially sunday lunch when mum's roasts were teriffic.

What were the penalties for putting elbows on the table?

None whatsoever, table manners weren't a big deal in our house [we weren't heathens's you understand] but quite informal.

Who cooked in the family?

Mum 95% of the time, i cooked the special ocassion meals, where i spend hours making what my mum would conjure up in minutes.

Were restaurant meals common, or for special occassions?

Mostly special occasions, birthday, relatives visiting etc - though we often got carry out - chinese mostly and sometimes finger 'likkin kfc or even [heaven help us] doner kebab, things i would sprint like the wind to avoid now.

Did children have a "kiddy table" when guests were over?

No, when people came over we usaully ate buffet style, kids first, parents later.

When did you get that first sip of wine?

illicitly, when i was about 10 - from dad's glass. however, when i was about 8 or 9 i gulped down virtually a whole glass of my dad's whisky, mistaking it for cordial/ginger ale. i was looking for relief from a particularly hot curry.

Was there a pre-meal prayer?

Only on Tuesdays [the one day in the week when no meat was consumed, or alcohol drank] - we all ate together and invariably rowed about something. mum put this down to the fact that my dad was irritable cos he couldn't drink - didn't understand this at the time, but now get where he was coming from.

Was there a rotating menu (e.g., meatloaf every Thursday)?

Only as above, in so far as tuesday was veggie day - not necessarily indian - mum tried various veggie filled pancakes - tasty or soups, also not bad.

How much of your family culture is being replicated in your present-day family life?

Quite a bit actually, like my mother i'm really into food and cooking, experimenting and i feel cookery is much like therapy. I always like us to sit down to a meal together [partner and i] when we get home in the evenings and cannot imagine couple's that live together but don't eat together [i know a few!]

:raz:

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My mothers family is French/Swedish and my fathers is Swedish. Both of my grandmothers learned cooking and baking at their mothers sides, who were brand-new to this country and very much brought the "old ways" across the ocean with them. Neither of my grandmothers worked outside the home while their children were growing up. My mother and her sisters in turn learned "the work" at my grandmother's side. As a result, they are instinctive, fearless, and very accomplished in the kitchen. Cooking, baking, and eating was never a big deal to my mother and aunts: we certainly are not a "foodie" family. It was simply something that was done always, done well, and probably taken for granted. During holidays there was such an abundance of food. I especially remember the pies. If I could make piecrust like my grandmother, I'd never shut up about it.

Growing up mealtime was important. My mother, my sister, and I always sat down together, with or without my father. My mother considered it paramount that my sister and I have at least some understanding of "the work." Being rebellious, I avoided the kitchen whenever possible, and had almost zero interest in cooking or baking until much later. My sister learned as a child with my mother, but I mostly stayed out. My folks were pretty liberal with everything, elbows on the table I suppose being one of the things they figured was unimportant. I don't remember much discipline period, and certainly not elbow-related. We always used good table manners because our parents did, and we wanted to please them. Of course, if my sister and I were (gasp) left to our own devices, picking up a large handful of spaghetti noodles, dipping it into red sauce, and throwing it across the table at one another was not uncommon.

Restaurant meals were not usual. My family is frugal. We would get together in a restaurant only on special occasions, never for holidays, and then only because the family is really too large for any of its houses! I can only remember one or two times. At an Italian restaurant once, which the adults in my family liked for the paper tablecloths and crayons (and which us kids liked for the same reason), the waiter brought a dessert tray. I had never seen such a fantastic thing, and I kept asking him: "are those real? Please, are those cakes real?" He ignored me quite studiously. Finally, I stuck my finger right through the middle of a piece of cake. It was real. When we left the restaurant that night, the dessert tray had been replaced in its little cooler. There was the cake, with a finger-hole right through the middle of it.

We always had a kids table. We still do. There is no other choice. The kids just keep on coming. I usually elect to sit at it still, even as a 23-year-old. The conversation is much more refreshing: no politics, no loud wine-driven debates about recent headlines, no worry if you take too big of a bite and have to chew with your mouth open. Just true enjoyment of the food, occasional belching and slipping off the chair underneath the table for no reason, plastic dinosaurs and soldiers peacefully coexisting on your plates (and sometimes, in your milk), and best of all, once you are finished eating, complete freedom to lift up your shirt, expose your bloated belly to your dining companions, and make loud noises of satisfaction.

I never touched wine until my sophmore year of high school. My parents would certainly have let me, I just had no interest in it. One evening, my mother poured me a glass of Bordeaux and would not hear my objections. I drank it like juice, and then I drank another. It went to my head immediately. I retired to my room to write in my journal about my first experience with wine. My handwriting was a little off.

We said prayers with my father's family, but not my mother's. We didn't have a rotating menu, but each of my aunts had a different inclination. The eldest spent time in France, and cooked French food at her house. My mother, French also. My hippie aunt made the greatest Indian and Asian foods that I never got to eat anywhere but at her house. She also made a mean green eggs and ham. My mother's youngest sister made her own candies, her own potato chips, and her own pickles, so she was of course my favorite.

Right now, due to strange family circumstances, both my sister and I are sharing a small apartment with our mother. Cooking is absolutely central. I am in the process of organizing and cataloging my mother's recipes, like some of you have already done--thanks for sharing your stories. We cook and eat together almost every night, and our friends know when we eat and often happen to "be in the neighborhood." Our neighbors across-the-hall have also stopped by, driven by the smell, just to "see what we're cooking now." I am preparing for culinary school and lately I have noticed that my aunts--even my grandma--have asked me for advice with their recipes and menu planning. This is an incredible feeling. I am not even nearly in their league, but they are eager to encourage me and pass on their secrets of "the work." Last Friday evening I was making a dough, and I asked my mother for help. She was hesitant at first, lingering over by the sink, but soon she was by my side, helping me, making suggestions, and sharing failures and successes. She knows I am afraid of dough but did not want to "step on my toes," if you will. It was precious time to us both.

Noise is music. All else is food.

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What made your parents get into eating Indian food?  How did that happen?  Do you know?

Also not sure if the restaurant you mention that your mother visited was the same one that was managed by Shamsher Wadud, the man that owns Nirvana. I have heard some fun stories from Mr. Wadud about Karachi Restaurant.  I wonder if it is the same.

You seem to have had an amazing youth.  Thanks for sharing.

It was fun to write this, Suvir.

The only thing I can say about my parents (and my grandmother) eating Indian food is that it was something different and unusual in New York at the time.

I really can't remember with any certainty the name of the man who used to run the Karachi Rice Shop (not called "Karachi Restaurant"). I'm thinking Massoud, but I'm not sure. He took over from his father. The restaurant closed some time in the early-mid 80s, I believe.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Where do you live now?  What geographic part of the US.  Only answer if you are comfortable. 

And yes I was happy reading that each of our family placed great importance to kids sitting with elders.  I really believe it is the best way a child can learn a lot about the world.  Glad to see many seas away, another set of parents gave the same education to their kids as mine did for us in India. :smile:

Hi Suvir and everyone,

I hope everything is going well with you and your family. When I was a child, Northern indian food was an incredible treat. My favorite snack were pappadams--we stocked up on them whenever we got the chance. I never had eaten Southern indian food until I met my boyfriend. I still consider Indian cuisine one of the most complex out there-- I never get sick of it, which makes my bf's mother very happy :smile:

I live in Chicago currently--actually tonight, we went to Devon on the far north side for dosas. :biggrin:

I really enjoyed writing this response and reading everyone else. I believe this has been mentioned earlier, but I think this thread is entirely publishable. And I am sure there is more than enough talent among the coordinators and posters to get the work together. Perhaps a way to support egullet?

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cannot imagine couple's that live together but don't eat together [i know a few!]

:raz:

I know a few too. And , like you, I cannot imagine it on other than an emergency basis..late meeting, one partner out of town, etc.

I am an atheist, but sitting down with the family,every night is the closest thing to a religious ritual our family has. Our daughter griped in her teens, because we rarely ate before eight, but I am happy to observe that she now honors the dinner hour.

Eat together every night. Kids have to take music lessons. The only two rules for child-rearing that this , admittedly dim, couple ever had.

Our daughter has turned out well.

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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What made your parents get into eating Indian food?  How did that happen?  Do you know?

Also not sure if the restaurant you mention that your mother visited was the same one that was managed by Shamsher Wadud, the man that owns Nirvana. I have heard some fun stories from Mr. Wadud about Karachi Restaurant.  I wonder if it is the same.

You seem to have had an amazing youth.  Thanks for sharing.

It was fun to write this, Suvir.

The only thing I can say about my parents (and my grandmother) eating Indian food is that it was something different and unusual in New York at the time.

I really can't remember with any certainty the name of the man who used to run the Karachi Rice Shop (not called "Karachi Restaurant"). I'm thinking Massoud, but I'm not sure. He took over from his father. The restaurant closed some time in the early-mid 80s, I believe.

It was enjoyable to read.

Wow, your grandmother ate Indian food as well? That is amazing! :smile: They were ahead of their times.... How lucky you were, not that your parents and grandma ate Indian food, but that they were open to more exotic cuisines. Lucky you!

And thanks for the information about the Karachi Rice Shop.

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What was your family food culture when you were growing up?

I had a very interesting food culture growing up. My Grandparents where Jews from Syria who migrated to the US and ended up in the South. So it was not uncommon to have Arabic dishes like kibbeh, hummus along side more traditional Jewish or Southern dishes. On New Years it is always collards and black eye peas. On the Jewish New Year we have stuffed grape leaves, stuffed squash or eggplant, kibbeh etc.

Was meal time important?

Food was always an important part of family life. It is very customary to make sure your guest are well fed

Was cooking important?

My Grandmother took it to an art form with perfection in any anything she made. She would cook for her family and friends and as the family grew that resulted cooking for more than 40-60 people at many family get together. She still cooked for her large family even in her 90s. My mother also was a great cook and food was always important in family life.

What were the penalties for putting elbows on the table?

No penalties

Who cooked in the family?

As mentioned, my Grandmother did most of the cooking for “family” get together/holidays. My mother did all the cooking in our house. Now I do the cooking for my family

Were restaurant meals common, or for special occasions?

Most meals were in the home and in my home they still are.

Did children have a "kiddy table" when guests were over?

At large family meals the kids would sit together, but more just to be together. They were not banished to the kiddy table

When did you get that first sip of wine?

My first sip of wine was probably at 8 days old at my bris. Wine is a customary part of Shabbat and holiday meals

Was there a pre-meal prayer?

Prayers were always made before meals on Shabbat

Was there a rotating menu (e.g., meatloaf every Thursday)?

Certain dishes were a standard for Shabbat Friday night dinner but there was more variation during the week

How much of your family culture is being replicated in your present-day family life?

Not much has changed. I have made efforts to retain traditions and recipes of my heritage.

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I had a very interesting food culture growing up.  My Grandparents where Jews from Syria who migrated to the US and ended up in the South.  So it was not uncommon to have Arabic dishes like kibbeh, hummus along side more traditional Jewish or Southern dishes.  On New Years it is always collards and black eye peas.  On the Jewish New Year we have stuffed grape leaves, stuffed squash or eggplant, kibbeh etc.

Would you share some recipes? Have you seen the sites Middle East forum? Maybe you can share some of your experiences... :smile:

I envy your growing up enviroment. Stuffed grape leaves have become a favorite of mine... and now they are becoming a favorite of most of my friends. A third generation American friend from Lebanon makes these for me. They are Armenian in origin but a recipe her family had learned generations ago. They are superb. And the secret ingredient in her recipe is Ketchup. Something she decided to add.

At my surprise birthday party, she had brought a platter of these for me as a gift. I shared these with some foodies and writers, they were charmed within minutes.

Her life was a marriage of the many Middle Eastern cultures.

Sounds like yours was perhaps a tad more wonderful. Thanks for sharing your post. It was wonderful.

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Thank for the kind words Suvir,

I have visited the middle eastern forum. Your recipe for hummus is very much the same as mine. Any recipe you are interested in? The stuffed grape leave recipe uses mulberry leaves which work very well and have a better shape for more precise tighter rolling. Every region has their own way of doing something. I would be happy to share :biggrin:

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Wow, your grandmother ate Indian food as well?  That is amazing! :smile: They were ahead of their times.... How lucky you were, not that your parents and grandma ate Indian food, but that they were open to more exotic cuisines.  Lucky you!

And thanks for the information about the Karachi Rice Shop.

You're welcome, even if the information is a bit hazy.

I do remember eating there when I was in my Freshman or Sophomore year in high school, I think.

I don't remember much about the meal: I think it was pretty typical north-Indian cuisine (though, in this instance, from a part of the Subcontinent that is now in Pakistan). But there was one unusual feature: Their firni literally had a layer of rose water on top. The rest of it had more or less the consistency of custard. It was very good.

As for my grandma on my mother's side, she was a bit of an adventurer (adventuress?) herself. Her widowed mother brought her from South Africa, and upon her arrival in Brooklyn at the age of 7, she spoke nothing but Afrikaans, so she said (but perhaps some Yiddish, too, as _her_ mother spoke Yiddish but never learned English). At the age of 18, she hitchhiked cross-country to San Francisco with her sister. She often liked to talk about that. Imagine those two intrepid young women hitchhiking across the U.S. in the 1930s! Her sister liked SF so much that she stayed, but my grandma eventually made her way back to Brooklyn.

You might also be interested to know that my grandpa on my mother's side was a vegetarian, and a Rosicrucian who had powerful spiritual skills. Reading auras was simple for him and not worth noting. Just for fun, he would tell my mother over the phone what she was wearing, even though she was thousands of miles away and was wearing something she had just bought and he had never seen. I know some of you will find these things hard to believe, but to me, all it means is that some people are more talented in so-called "extra-sensory" perceptions than others, and some people cultivate those talents more than others. He also believed in reincarnation, and so do I. But this is getting too far off the topic of this thread. :biggrin:

Edited by Pan (log)

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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  • 4 weeks later...

What was your family food culture when you were growing up?

Definitely Southern...however my mother was extremely adventurous, trying Chinese, many Italian, and a lot of made up dishes.

Was meal time important?

My father worked odd hours and we ate when he got home. Regardless of the time. I was always given a "snack" if he wasn't home by 5:30Was cooking important?

What were the penalties for putting elbows on the table?

Both of my parents were quite strict about table manners. In fact, when I was 4 yrs. old, I asked at a relative's house "who's birthday is it" because they had candles on the table! Ever after, we had formal, candlelight dinners every Friday night.

Who cooked in the family?

Mom

Were restaurant meals common, or for special occassions?

Very, we went out a couple of times a week. Usually for Chinese or Italian.

Did children have a "kiddy table" when guests were over?

Only when we visited relatives, never at our house.

When did you get that first sip of wine?

I drank wine (watered down) at most meals.

Was there a pre-meal prayer?

Only if we were at my maternal grandmother's.

Was there a rotating menu (e.g., meatloaf every Thursday)?

No, my mother was much more adventurous than that.

How much of your family culture is being replicated in your present-day family life?

It's just my husband and me, but we eat together at lunch and dinner, and I am even more adventurous than my mother!

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Why is this thread making me cry? This thread is making me cry. It's beautiful. Thank you for creating it, Ivan.

Food culture. Family.

Ideas, which on my worst days, are what I regret most about being an immigrant, leaving home, walking away unthinkingly from it all when I was 21, an adult by most measures, but certainly not self aware. Walking away without realizing that I was taking, on my narrow shoulders, the burdern and responsiblity of recreating it all, in this land so far away from home.

Food was important in my family. But in an unspoken kind of way. It was just who we were. It was like loving your family. But of course.

I realize, now, that this is rare, and I treasure it immensely. It occasionally results in outbreaks of emotion when I am home, that my parents don't understand and indulge me in my American-ness!!

My mother was a housewife (I know, not a PC term) and my father a pilot.

In a country the size of India, that meant he was home a lot. As a result, my parents had many "creative projects" when we were growing up - food was definitely a part of those creative projects. They baked bread at home (a rarity in India), improvised tandoors to make naans on, experimented with cakes, Burmese food ....... We also were able to partake in the most wonderous of ingredients from all over the country which my father brought back from his flights. And cakes from the best hotels in the country because he almost never used his food allowance from overnight flights.

We ate dinner together. Mostly my mother cooked. I started helping her as soon as I had basic coordination skills. We never had a cook, but the maid, who cleaned and washed, also functioned as a partial prep cook. My father contributed during the special food projects and cooked when my mom was ill or just having one of those days when she was sick of it all - rebelling, I think in retrospect, at the inevitability of producing food for teh family.

Dinner was served at the dining table around 9pm with stainless steel plates and no napkins (not a good idea when you eat with your fingers!) As kids we had to pass the smell test (hands had to smell of soap) before we were allowed to sit at the table. There was always much conversation and argument on a wide variety of topics. No squabbling was allowed, no talking with food in your mouth, no slurpy sounds, no gross out topics. The only thing that resulted in physical punishment was squabbling, and there was a fair amount of that as we were growing up. Siblings, you know.

Laying the table for dinner and cleaning up were shared, rotated tasks. Although my Dad and Mom were exempt, she always supervised and atleast one of us (three kids) complained and whined.

Festivals were important. Besides the daily puja (prayer) in the house where food was offered to the goods after they were bathed and washed , festivals brought religion into our house. Food was how we paid homage to the Gods. My mother would cook days in advance and she would feed everyone that came to the house, hundreds of people over a period of days.

When my 8 months pregnant sister got widowed at the age of 22, my parents lost faith for a while. And our capacity for joy was strained and stilted. That was the first time I had any inkling at all of how precious our life was. It was a sad house to live in for a while - I think the baby saved us. We kids are all atheists, my parents are slowly returning to the fold.

I don't think my parents ever recovered their joie de vivre, my sister, amazingly, has. My father also got promoted into a 9-5 administrative job besides his flying at the time. My brother and I were growing up and inexorably drawing away from the hearth, wrapped up in the all consuming trivialities of our daily lives. I was in college, and stayed tehtered because the baby had to be raised (my sister, understandably, was preoccupied). My bother drifted.

I think those things changed our lives forever. Fewer creative projects, less time, a quieter sadder enthusiasm for life. And it all showed in the food. We ate out more than the 3-4 times a year that we used to. To this day, my brother is less nostalgic and romantic about "home food". It amazes me.

When I go home now, I see it coming back, slowly, and dearly miss being a part of it. My sister is now remarried and has a second child, my father retired. The old ways are coming back but slowed down by age and my mother's illness.

The thread of food is inextricably woven into the fabric of the lives of Indian women. It is, for many who are constrained in unimaginable ways, a form of self expression, a means of expressing love, anger, sophistication, social status. For women who stay at home from choice or repression, it is inevitably a measure of self worth.

And I think it all shows in the food.

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The thread of food is inextricably woven into the fabric of the lives of Indian women. It is, for many who are constrained in unimaginable ways, a form of self expression, a means of expressing love, anger, sophistication, social status.  For women who stay at home from choice or repression, it is inevitably a measure of self worth.

And I think it all shows in the food.

Indiagirl,

Thanks for that personal and most amazing post. :smile:

I am so happy to have read this post... it tells me a little about how you have such passion about food.

I totally agree about cooking at least in the Indian context being all that you say it is. I am happy someone other than me has made the same point. And actually so much more beautifully. Some chauvinists here and elsewhere have questioned me and suggested I may have some blind admiration for women and their role with food in India, but after reading your post, all I believe and have understood, find new affirmation.

Maybe you can now post a little about your exposure to Burmese food in the Indian forum. Would be truly a gift for all of us.

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  • 4 months later...

Dave the Cook suggested I revive this thread since I seem to be so full of s…er…stories. :wink:

I’ve posted some of this in other threads so I apologize if I am repeating myself.

What was your family food culture when you were growing up?

My dad’s side of the family was English-Dutch and that didn’t have much influence over our family’s meals. He grew up on a farm in rural Indiana where his mother was the shame of the county. She was a farmer’s wife who not only couldn’t drive (if she needed to go somewhere, my grandfather would have to stop farming and drive her to her destination. You never ask a farmer to stop farming just to “play” chauffer) but she also was a farmer’s wife who could not cook. To this day I still associate the smell of burnt, over-boiled-percolated-on-the-stovetop coffee with their farmhouse.

My father grew up eating my grandmother’s terrible cooking, which included chicken just about every day. Because of that, he detested chicken and wouldn’t eat it the rest of his life.

My mother’s story is quite different. Her parents were from Bohemia (before it became Czechoslovakia, et al). They settled on a farm in rural Kansas and died when she was very young. My mom’s older sister, Mary, took over as head of the household (I think there were 7 brothers, too).

Aunt Mary, unlike my father’s mother, was an extraordinary cook. Everything was made by scratch and nothing was wasted. They didn’t have a refrigerator and used the back porch as their freezer during the wintertime. Her ”ethnic dish” was pork roast with homemade sauerkraut, dumplings and potato pancakes. When we were kids, she would visit and make kolaches (similar to Danish pastries), peach or apple for us and authentic prune for my mom.

So my mom grew up eating Aunt Mary’s wonderful cooking and, living on a farm, had chicken just about every day and, to this day, loves eating chicken (though I try to steer her away from KFC).

Fortunately, my mother learned how to cook from my Aunt Mary so my 3 brothers and I all grew up loving chicken, too.

Was meal time important? Was there a pre-meal prayer?

Yes and yes. No one could eat until everyone was seated at the table and the prayer had been said. Ironically, it wasn’t quite the religious prayer one would hope for: “God is great, God is good and we thank him for this food (as kids, we pronounced this “fuyd” to make the rhyme with “good”). By His hand we are fed, and we thank Him for our daily bread. Amen.”

We were never a religious family but always did say the prayer.

Was cooking important?

Not as important as it is now that we all have gone our separate ways, for me a separate city. When we gather now, we all cram into my mother’s kitchen to make the dinner and it is truly a loving, bonding experience.

What were the penalties for putting elbows on the table?

My father had one heck of a back hand reach. Fortunately, manners were learned early on and the subject usually never came up again. When you were finished, you also had to ask to be excused from the table.

Who cooked in the family?

In the beginning, Mom, the housewife, cooked every meal. Dad barbecued burgers, cheap marinated steaks and, once in a blue moon, delicious rotisserie chicken (not like what we think of today but instead, chicken parts with bbq sauce in a round metal basket rotating over the coals…devine!). He once cooked a Thanksgiving turkey on his Weber kettle that we still talk about to this day, it was so good. And my mom, not to be outdone, made a similarly legendary turkey noodle soup from the same said carcass that is also recalled fondly every Thanksgiving.

As a kid, I was in awe of the Easy Bake Ovens and loved the fact that you ended up with a little individual sized cake. My mom, mistakenly thinking since I enjoyed this little baking that I would enjoy real baking, started having me make regular sized cakes (from a mix) for the family. She missed the point entirely but the deed was done.

In later years, she got a job outside the home and we became “Latchkey” kids.

My oldest brother (the “black sheep gourmet”) and I (I’m the third oldest) were drafted to start dinner before she got home. Usually, this entailed putting a roast or meatloaf in the oven after school so it would be done by the time my parents got home from their respective jobs. By necessity, she also became a whiz at using a crock pot, fixing one pot meals that would be ready by the time she came home. Every year, thanks to her teachings, I still make my St. Patrick’s Day corned beef in a slow cooker.

Were restaurant meals common, or for special occassions?

When we were young, restaurant meals were non-existent since we didn’t have a lot of money. My Dad was in the Navy and when he was overseas, my mom would get part of his paycheck and had to make it last until the next month (to this day, she still doesn’t know how she made the money last through the month, but she did). Later, when we were older, we’d go to restaurants for graduations (elementary school, junior high, high school). Even during those rare times when we’d go to Disneyland or to a local ballgame, we couldn’t afford to eat there. We’d always pack our meals and eat in the car which was such a “bummer” for us kids.

Did children have a "kiddy table" when guests were over?

For holidays and special gatherings, always. It was usually just a card table with a table cloth draped over it and positioned near enough to the “adult” table that you couldn’t get away with too much.

When did you get that first sip of wine?

Beer was tasted first. It had to have been during an evening when my folks had friends over to play cards and they weren’t paying attention as to where they left their open can of beer.

Whiskey was first tasted at a family reunion when I was only 9.

Wine was first sipped during a holiday gathering, probably Thanskgiving and probably Cold Duck. No expensive wine…ever.

Today, once in a while, I will make myself a very dry Sapphire martini, straight up with olives. But normally, if I do have a drink with dinner, it’s whatever “chi-chi” beer was on sale.

Was there a rotating menu (e.g., meatloaf every Thursday)?

On Fridays, my dad really liked to have a fish fry. We weren’t Catholic but he loved fish and adopted the tradition. All of us kids loved it for the fish sticks, breaded shrimp (both from the freezer section of the grocery store) and French fries, all drowned in ketchup. My dad also looked forward to the next morning when he would take the fish leftovers and make a scrambled egg & Fish breakfast. My two older brothers enjoy this dish even today.

Saturday nights were “fun food” nights. The main “fun” dishes rotated each week and included homemade pizza (using “Appian Way” roll mix for the dough, topped with crumbled sausage, pepperoni or slices of kielbasa…aka the Bohemian pizza, with oodles of shredded mozzarella), tacos and tostados, bbq’d hamburgers, Frito boats (homemade chili with Fritos and shredded cheddar cheese and hot sauce, as we got older)…usually these meals were served with homemade milk shakes or soda pop which we weren’t allowed to have any other time.

Sundays were the “serious” dinners: Roast beef and mashed potatoes (instant potatoes from a box…in later years, from scratch), the previously mentioned pork roast & sauerkraut (the sauerkraut not homemade anymore but from a store bought jar), marinated cheap steaks and baked potatoes, and so on. My mom also made a killer chicken fried steak using crushed corn flakes as the coating, which I’ve mentioned in another thread. I swear I could eat it all in one sitting and have no regrets! :biggrin:

In the early years, when we had no money, mom would often make “budget stretcher” meals… meals that were cheap but also in a quantity meant to provide leftovers for the next night. She used to make a hideous Chop Suey using that canned stuff you get in the grocery store. I still get the “willies” thinking about it. She’d make Navy bean soup with ham hocks along with corn bread (baked in a cast iron skillet) which we used as a delivery system for butter & honey. And then there were the endless nights of Hamburger Helper. As a teenager, I grew to hate these foods but today, as an adult, I find once in a while I get a craving for these cheap meals (except for the chop suey…never the chop suey).

How much of your family culture is being replicated in your present-day family life?

I learned to cook from my mom who cooked for six people so now I cook for six people and there’s just me! I do make the pork roast & sauerkraut every once in a while but I have to freeze half of it since I make it in such a large quantity. It's always better the next day, anyway.

My oldest brother (the aforementioned “black sheep gourmet”) has the uncanny knack of taking whatever ingredients are on hand and making a gourmet meal out of it. He was making white pizzas & bbq chicken pizzas for us long before the world had ever heard of Wolfgang Puck. We’ve harangued him for years to open a restaurant with his talent (like it’s that easy), but he’d rather not have to work hard for a living.

My second oldest brother inherited my father’s skill at barbecuing. He is a zen master of smoking and grilling but thinks nothing of it, as if it’s no big deal. He does have a holster that holds his beer while his hands are busy tending to the grill.

My youngest brother can defrost and “nuke” but that seems to suffice for him.

I seem to have become a cookbook collector and am on the constant lookout for the next “Great Dish” to bring into our family gatherings. I enjoy cooking. I should say I enjoy the sensuousness of cooking…the rhythmic chopping, the scents of herbs and spices, the sound of sizzling butter and hearing when it changes and knowing what it means, stirring the pot and seeing the ingredients morph and change before your eyes. Lastly, I find satisfaction when all is done and you can say “Hey, I made that” and “You can do the dishes”.

My dad passed away almost 20 years ago. Mom is 73 now and has told me that if she never cooks another meal she’d be happy, having had to do it all of her adult life. But then she will cook a meal for me when I visit, knowing that I will enjoy it and that’s why she does it.

There’s a line from the Bonnie Raitt song “Nick of Time”: “…Life gets mighty precious when there's less of it to waste.” So I treasure our family gatherings, our communal cooking, knowing that they are ultimately numbered.

Sorry, that this is so long…

 

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”

 

Tim Oliver

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When you were finished, you also had to ask to be excused from the table. 

No, Toliver, it was not too long! Thanks so much for this.

I fixed on this tiny detail from your post, because I, of course, had to be excused too (to hit the suds, then homework.) My young adult daughter had to do the same. But I've noticed that, (er ahem, old lady clearing throat) no one I know has children who ask this. And I think it's because the ritual of family dinner has slipped away. Why ask to be excused if everyone is rushing and eating their own personal microwaved dinner,and there's nothing there to be excused from? It's not the solemn (and perhaps, sometimes dreaded) everyday event it was for most folks, even twenty years ago.

Thanks for sharing. Really.

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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Horray for you, guajolote. Please keep being a hard-ass. I was a hard-ass mom. The result is that I have two delightful grown children (30 and 33) that are comfortable with their manners in any setting. They are also a delight to have around. While they sometimes griped about "the rules", they now acknowledge that "the rules" are what have made them comfortable and they really feel for some of their peers that don't really know how to act. In some cases, not knowing manners has been a career limiting failing. Too bad more parents don't realize this.

Funny... When my son lived with me for a few years in his late 20's, we had a rule that we sat down to dinner, telephone went unanswered and the TV was off. I found myself asking my son if "I could be excused". We laughed a lot about that.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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What was your family food culture when you were growing up?

French-canadian/Irish New England White Trash on food stamps.

Was meal time important?

Yes.

Was cooking important?

Yes - in part because the person who cooked didn't have to clean, in part because my mother really wanted to learn to cook.

What were the penalties for putting elbows on the table?

Laugh. Yeah, right.

Who cooked in the family?

Everyone (see above).

Were restaurant meals common, or for special occassions?

Special occasions only.

Did children have a "kiddy table" when guests were over?

No. Children ate at the dinner table if they could behave like adults - if not they were sent to their room, told to be quiet and were not fed.

When did you get that first sip of wine?

I honestly don't know. Longer ago than I can remember.

Was there a pre-meal prayer?

Never.

Was there a rotating menu (e.g., meatloaf every Thursday)?

At a micro level (as in the example above), no. At a macro level, yes. Deer in the fall, vegetables in the summer, canned and preserved stuff and root vegetables in the winter, fiddlehead ferns in the spring, you get the idea.

How much of your family culture is being replicated in your present-day family life?

The person who cooks does not clean.

fanatic...

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