Last night I was thumbing though one of my magazines when I came across a recipe for Potato Chip Chicken. That recipe reminded me of the Kellogg's Corn Flakes chicken my mother used to make for us six kids. She hated to cook, and often didn't, which is why at the age of twelve I had to learn to make Salmon Pea Wiggle for eight. Which is why to this day, even though I eat salmon, I never eat anything that wiggles.
Mama went from rolling chicken in corn flakes to rolling in money in her very popular restaurant and now she cooks for the masses. As children, we never teased Mama about anything she did or didn't do, mostly because, in spite of her culinary ineptitude, she was never more than one foot away from a wooden spoon that stung worse than any wasp. Naturally, as adults, when time and opportunity arise, we tease her unmercifully on the irony that as a restaurateur, she is finally cooking for her kids. We have to pay her to do that, of course, but at last she feeds us.
I cut out the corn flake chicken recipe and sent it to her with a note explaining that upon finding this particular dish I became nostalgic about my childhood. I told her I realized how fortunate we were that she rolled our chicken in Kellogg's Corn Flakes, not greasy potato chips because I’m certain that’s why we are physically healthy adults today. I also told her that eating breakfast cereal on our supper chicken is most likely the reason we are flaky grown-ups. I’m sure that made the old hen feathers fly.
It is true that children learn what they live; I learned to dine out whenever possible. That practice has come back to haunt me now that I live in a small town where gardens are not only larger than the area restaurants, they are more abundant.
I had to learn to cook.
My first attempt was for Warm Brown Rice Salad. Long grain brown rice and petite peas sounded delicious, but the ingredients that caught my eye where champagne vinegar, two types of olive oil, Dijon mustard, basil and parsley. The recipe instructed me to mix them so I grabbed the wooden spoon I inherited from my mother and got to work. Everything looked fine, except for one driblet of mustard that would not combine. There is this thing on my counter, this whirly gig type mechanical thing that sits there daring me to use it. I used it. Now my favorite pink T-shirt is sporting champagne vinegar, two types of olive oil, Dijon mustard, basil and parsley.
Almost as tedious as cooking is this tiresome activity called grocery shopping. Since I can shop without cooking, but can’t cook without shopping, I had to venture into the belly of the store – beyond the counter in the front where the chili, soups and sandwiches are already prepared for you. While there, I saw a poster that advertised pine cone tomatoes two for a dollar. I have no idea if twenty-five cents for a tomato is a good thing or a terrible extravagance, but given that I have a few quarters and no tomatoes, it sounded good to me.
I went in and looked over the produce section, but didn’t see any tomatoes that resembled pine cones, and thought perhaps they meant plum tomatoes because there was a large basket of those. The plum tomatoes were not on sale, however, and this confused me. I asked the owner, “What does a pine cone tomato look like?” She looked at me strangely and said, “They are canned; Pine Cone is the name of the company that cans them.” Forrest shook his head, rolled his eyes, took my hand and said, “Come on, Fruitcake” and led me to the canned vegetable aisle.
I might be a fruit when it comes to veggies, but I know one woman who asked the butcher, “Are the chicken arms on sale this week?” That makes my blunder seem paltry.
Like any good mother, I have passed my cooking skills on to my daughter. Emily told me she was having some friends in for dinner. I gladly gave her one of our three dozen spaghetti squashes for the event. She gutted it like a pumpkin, baked it and served the shell to her dinner guests. You go, girl.
Grammie Hughes once said, “Just think of all the time, money and mess a person could save if no one had to eat.” I’m with Gram and headed for take out!
L.E. Hughes is a columnist, writer and owner of Diamond Corner B&B in Stratton, Maine. She welcomes your thoughts and comments: firstname.lastname@example.org.
© April 2006, Lew-Ellyn Hughes. All Rights Reserved and Retained by the Author.