Life is a combination of magic and pasta. –Federico Fellini
My sister in law, Tara, was raised on the west coast, moved to Colorado in her twenties and now lives in a beautiful little home that she and my brother have worked hard to fix up and create into their own perfect little place. I asked her to share some of her own thoughts and history with food and community.
When I was young my mother would have these huge dinner parties. She would invite everyone she could and cram them into our tiny apartment. She would then proceed to serve them the most elaborate roast dinner on her sets of fine china. Everyone buzzed on wine and bubbling around enjoying each other’s company. Momma loves to entertain and people love momma. By the end of the night there would be wine on the carpet, trifle in bellies, and piles and piles of dishes in the sink. Those were the best nights!
Everything about my eating and cooking habits changed when I got married. We plan our meals together for the week and are also more conscience about where our food comes from and how it got into our home. My husband is a true leftovers lover so if I make batches and batches of food, he is happy, which makes me happy, plus we very rarely eat out which in turn makes our wallets very happy!
Now that I am married to a very handsome hunter it brings a whole new light to meat. Killing our chickens is emotionally hard, yet it’s worth it to eat the meat. Seeing a deer go down in the woods is even harder, but it’s ethical and necessary if we want to eat meat. People have become so unattached to where their food comes from, it shows up at the grocery store wrapped in plastic and super cheap. People forget and ignore that their meat had a face not long ago. The work and process it takes to raise animals is hard and expensive. The American diet has meat in every meal, which is irresponsible and selfish. It forces farmers to do unnatural things to animals to keep up with the demands. It’s sad. We try to limit our meat consumption to a few times a week and it is mostly our deer or ducks that now reside in our freezer. Yay for meatless Monday’s!
I do love to entertain!! It’s easy, fun, cheap, and people gift me with alcohol. What’s not to love?! We like to invite people over from all areas of our lives and have them all participate in the making of the meal. Everyone gets a job, so it’s interactive for them and zero stress for us. People really enjoy feeling useful! Our kitchen and dining room are open and connected so people can mingle freely and no one “gets stuck” in the kitchen. It’s a nice way to enjoy an evening together!
I would encourage everyone to buy local food and support your small farmers. Visit your farmers market, meet them, know where and how your food came to be. Start a small garden. Just throw some tomatoes in a pot. It’s an easy, rewarding, and delicious introduction to food production.
Also (and I know this isn’t for everyone!) we don’t own a microwave. It’s the best decision we have made. We make and eat real food, we take time together to prepare dinner and talk about our day. We are intentional about our food and we love it! I would recommend it for everyone!
What could be more important than a little something to eat? — Whinnie the Pooh
I married a sports fan. It’s new territory for me and I don’t always understand it.
We hosted a super bowl party this year. We used to get together with friends when I was growing up for the Super Bowl, we had fondue while we watched the game. That’s one of the more difficult meals to eat while watching the tv at the same time so I can’t tell you why that was chosen but I loved it! I couldn’t make that for my husband on a game day though, food is an accessory to games for him, whereas it’s more the reason I’m interested at all. I may not understand the games but I will cook for them otherwise you are left with sports bar fare and sports bars aren’t really known for being high class or delicious, in fact since most of their customers are like the Mr they don’t have to be real worried about the food, if the right game is on and the beer is available the guys will continue to show up.
The idea was that we would have the game on both upstairs and downstairs so we wouldn’t have to crowd 30+ people in our basement to watch the game on our decent sized but certainly not overly large tv. The best laid plans went awry and while we had the drinks and food buffet upstairs the 30+ people in attendance crowded into our basement, in what would have been a firemans nightmare I’m sure, to watch the game and play commercial bingo. Runners were sent for beers at critical moments and when one person went up for a couple of wings they were requested to bring another dozen down for everyone else.
We made ten pounds of chicken wings with four different kinds of sauce, there were Javalina meatballs, pigs in a blanket, and all the chips, dips, and veggies.
It was the first time I really felt like I could get on board with sports, my house full of delicious food, donated drinks, good friends and family, while games were played and games were watched. There is a lot about sports fan culture that I am learning to love, the meals and drinks shared around games, supporting others simply because they are on the team you’ve chosen, easy watching food so you can watch your game with a wing in hand, it’s the actual sports that I just don’t care about.
Don’t worry, the Mr cares enough for both of us, which leaves me free to try new game day recipes.
Learn how to cook– try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun. -Julia Child
My mother, aunts, and uncle were raised on the Indian reservation near where I now live while my grandparents worked on translating the bible and putting the legends of the people down in writing.
I asked my aunt to share some of her memories of the food from that time in her life.
How did growing up on the Indian Reservation influence your food habits and your ideas of eating together and hosting people for meals?
Hmm… interesting question. How in the world do you separate your family influences from your outer community experiences or influences? Instead of figuring it out, I’m going to describe what I remember of potlucks at church when I was small. I grew up on the Tohono O’otham (formerly Papago) Indian Reservation.
On the reservation, we had a potluck at every holiday. What I remember is the food more than the “fellowship.” That was probably because I was a kid. I’m sure that my parents remember interacting with people because adults talk more than kids. We kids love food, then we play!
What I remember is that it was all “dewicious.” When the Indians made chili, they did not mean chili beans or Texas style chili with hamburger in it, chili meant what the Mexicans call “chili con carne.” Some people made it extremely hot, some mild and some in between. Some made the chunks of meat large, some small, and some in between, no matter, the end result was wonderful. Sometimes somebody would bring a stew, but not often, usually meat came as chili.
Another staple was beans, and by beans, I mean pinto beans. I don’t think they were cooked with a lot of different spices, just salt and pepper; perhaps some also put in cumin? I do not remember the beans ever being “refried” back then, just brought in the juice they were cooked in. They were usually served with a slotted spoon so you could avoid getting too much juice on your plate; that would make the paper plate disintegrate too quickly. When I was little I associated refried beans with “Mexican” food, enchiladas, etc.
Another staple was tortillas. Very infrequently someone would bring cowboy tortillas. These are small, thick tortillas that the Indian men would make when they were out on round up; they were probably small because they had to fit in a pan over a campfire. I love cowboy tortillas; I think I could make them because you don’t have to make them so big and round and thin, but they are not what I think of when I think of T.O. tortillas. The usual tortillas made by the Tohono O’otham Indians are large, about 16 inches in diameter, and extremely thin. They were soft and pliable, with dark spots where the dough had bubbled up and resulted in a scorched area or burn. The tortillas were best the first day, okay on the second day if they were well protected from the air, and stiff and hard as cardboard if they dried out. After growing up eating tortillas like this, it makes most commercial tortillas seem like dry, puffy, clammy, gummy leather. The tortillas were often cooked outside over a wood fire and had a delicious quality that cannot be duplicated by other means. When I moved north, then east-ish, the tortilla landscape was bleak and something had to be done about it. That’s a story for another time.
Okay, back to the potluck fare. Another frequent item at a potluck was potato salad made with DILL pickles, salad dressing or mayonnaise (I couldn’t tell), sliced celery and chopped boiled eggs. Yum! . I don’t remember the salad being very yellow, so I don’t think that mustard was included, but, then again, I was a kid and couldn’t tell. My first encounter with sweet pickles in potato salad made me want to spit it out in surprise. You can keep your sweetened untamed masses! My father-in-law grew up in East Texas and his mother made potato salad with sweet pickles and I could hardly put the stuff in my mouth. Dill, people, DILL! It’s gotta be dill!
Sometimes someone would get confused and bring a lettuce salad. What?
Other people would be even more confused and bring a jello salad. What? What? Huh???? People!
If all the stars were lined up just the right way, someone would bring tamales! Tamales! Okay, that’s a Spanish/Mexican word, but the T.O.’s OWN tamales! I had never heard of green corn tamales until I had moved off the reservation and was in my early twenties. The tamales that the T.O.’s make are made with the red chili I mentioned before inside the tamale; not pork, not olives, not anything but red meat in red chili sauce. I’m sure things have changed by now, but we are talking about the potlucks of 40 to 50 years ago. The tamales were usually large and had several corn husks wrapped around them. Not the tiny ones you can buy in the frozen section of some stores. When he was a child, my husband sometimes ate tamales that came from a CAN!!!!! That’s beyond words to me. Tamales were always the star of the show when they showed up.
Another very infrequent item was cholla cactus bud salad. I tasted this as a kid and decided that I probably didn’t want to live off the land quite THAT much. It’s a real traditional item, though, and my Mom and Dad thought it was a WONDERFUL treat. Mom never made it herself. I think the thought of wandering around in the desert, harvesting buds from cholla cacti, and brushing off all the spines without getting any in your hands/eyes/mouth, whatever, was a little intimidating. She had four kids and so much linguistic work to do! Who has time to search the desert for edibles?
Occasionally someone would bring yeast rolls which were heavenly. When the potluck was in Santa Rosa, the church ladies would get together and make yeast rolls which they then baked in the adobe dome oven on the church property. THAT was wonderful!
I think one of the things that made the food so good was that many families were still cooking on wood-burning stoves or over an outdoor fire. The smell and flavor of the wood permeated the food. We cooked on a gas stove and food didn’t have the same flavor.
Well, I’m drawing to the close of my most vivid memories of church potlucks from childhood.
A recipe has no soul. You, as the cook, must bring soul to the recipe.