I’m thinking about the concept of Soul Food and how we nurture our selves and families with whatever our personal concept of soul food is. It is regional, it is at the heart of who we are because for most of us, we cook or prep at least one meal a day, two on weekends, maybe, and the rest of the time, between housework, a job, and a myriad of responsibilities, we are thinking about what we crave and how to get it, foodwise. We run on food and go back for the memory of what satisfies.
We plan meals out, make those early Sunday bagels runs, or call in for takeout. Soul food is found on the rhythm of our days and in the beat of our nights.
I am reading A Common Table by Cynthia Chen McTernan after flinging it in my Amazon Japan cart and clicking checkout with excited hands; I nearly bought two.
The author, Cynthia, talks about that insatiable need to make and eat the food of her mother when suddenly in college on a Boston campus. How many of us go off, newly married or with roommates. It is a very cold kitchen without the scent of what drives us and the simmering sauces and baked meals that indelibly make us up.
Decades later, with a hungry family, this is a shot of the blondies my two daughters, ages 8 and 2, made with me.
Sometimes soul food is an experiment, a shot and a stab in the dark with only a shopping list and a vague idea of what we can do with it.
The first time I made any semblance of Thanksgiving was in my Boynton Beach apartment. My adorable Roomie was gone, leaving her tower of micro-Martha Stewart cookbooks and somehow, my younger sister was home from college and willing to try to cobble out a meal out from nothing with me.
We had mainly grown up vegetarian and always subsisted on the trust that there would be enough mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and other things like pie. Never turkey.
The above shot is from two days ago, modern-day, when I made a kind of potato/daikon, shallot dish of buttery, somewhere between chips and scalloped potatoes. This early Thanksgiving story was without smartphones. They were not invented yet, or at least not for the mere man or woman. We would have had to bring film into a CVS or Wallmart and so forth. Who knows if it happened, but our two-person feast was memorable.
Certainly, I never made a turkey or bought a turkey or any of those turkey things like identify a neck or shove a lemon up there with garlic.
But here we were in sunny Boynton Beach, my roomie gone, no mom, only Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel narrating the Macy’s Day Parade. As is customary for the women on my mom’s side, I turned to Ina. Ina Gartner, Barefoot Contessa. She would be the one to supervise our antics. (Sorry, Martha). I made what any fledgling Thanksgiving cook, rather what a first anytime home cook makes, and that was the smallest bird I could find without scavenging for blue jays or actually looking for young pigeons/squab to throw in my oven.
I bought two petite Cornish game hens that despite Ina, I overcooked. In the end, we probably stuck to our sides of whipped, buttery potatoes and whatnot, but we tried. My sister and I ate like grownups, filling the sunny, seashell-laden apartment with the scent of thyme and white wine reducing in a pan.
Boy, I wish we had some sort of photo or memorabilia from that Thanksgiving. We were probably adorably cute, insanely young, and maybe a little bit drunk. Proud, too, as the giant Snoopy balloon bumped its way down Central Park West. Our first Thanksgiving without any parents or takeout was a success.
That day we made our own kind of giddy, makeshift soul food and came close to becoming adults–little game hens ourselves, maybe, but well-fed, wined-up adults. We pressed in and ate to fill our kitchen and ourselves. A big sister cannot simply let a little sister call in for pizza, though that may have been one of our last-resorts had dinner not really panned out.