Saturday, January 23, 2010

Home Cooking: Helen’s Famous 30-Minute Meals

My mother was talented in many ways, but I think one of the most amazing things about her was her ability to make a complete and delicious home-cooked meal in thirty minutes. I suppose this is a talent she developed after all those years of working at the Camera Shop all day long with my dad, then coming home to feed him—and me—a hot meal.
In any case, some of my favorite meal memories are the things she whipped up as though on the spur of a moment, with no pre-planning required. Of course, I now know that she had likely been thinking about her menu since at least Monday night—the day before her weekly trip to the grocery. But when I was still a child, living at home, those meals seemed like a little bit of magic.
Breaded tenderloin, fried potatoes, cornbread and beans, chili soup—the list went on and on of the dishes she prepared and had on the table almost quicker than I could drop off my book bag, turn on the television news, and come to the table.
Sometimes I would sit on the stool next to the stove and watch her work. An electric skillet on one side of me; the stovetop on the other, Mom would pull together a full course meal with hardly an effort. I suppose this is how I really learned to cook, despite the three years of mandatory home economics classes I took in junior high and high school—back in the day when girls were being raised to be housewives.
“Turn the tenderloin, Lu Ann,” Mom would say when the time was right. “Can you help me peel the potatoes?”
I became an expert at using a paring knife. Give me a potato, an apple, or even a pear and I can skin it in almost one smooth curl—something that can’t be accomplished with a potato peeler.
Years before I was old enough to wield the sharpened knife, Mother had taught the same skills to Sue, who eventually taught them to her daughters, just like I’ve been teaching my sons. Society hasn’t changed its rules only for the girls, you know. Boys need to know their way around a kitchen the same way girls should know how to care for their car.
So, while my husband was off at work two weeks ago, my boys were called to duty to assist in the kitchen as I pulled together those thirty-minute meals my mother was so famous for. Pulling out their family favorites, we made biscuits and gravy, macaroni and cheese, tuna and macaroni salad, ham salad sandwiches, tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches, chili soup, and potato soup, as well as a few of Sue’s recipes that perhaps took a little longer, but were so good.
This past week my husband has been home and once again taken charge of the cooking. We’ve had some great meals, but somehow I’ve found that cooking the things my mother made was more satisfying to the taste buds, keeping me away from those late-night snacks I always look for after eating steak or chicken. I’m almost convinced my children think so, too. None of my meals had leftovers, with the boys heading back two or three times to refill their plates or bowls.
Yep, those thirty-minute meals my mother taught me have remained successful. Even my youngest has noticed the difference. “Mom,” he said to me one night earlier this week, “it doesn’t take us as long to eat the stuff you make, but it sure is good.”
And I’d have to agree.
Thanks, Mom, for teaching your 30- minute cooking secrets to me.


Stephanie Black said...

I love quick, yummy meals!

L.T. Elliot said...

What an awesome (and useful) legacy your mom gave you. I tend to burn water so I'm lucky if I manage something warm and edible at the same time.