Today’s post comes to us thanks to Ms. Sharon Jensen, who has been my fabulous, most beloved friend since we were in high school in the early 80s. We’ve come a long way since we ate cherry Yoplaits and Its Its bars for lunch together, my dear.
Sharon has been kind enough to write us an exploration of just why it is she loves food so much.
This will be the last guest blogger for a bit. I’ll be back with a new post on Thursday. But in the meantime, take it away Sharon….
I love food. I love it, love it, love it. I think about it ALL THE TIME. Not in a creepy, unhealthy way, just in a….okay, so maybe it’s in a creepy, unhealthy way. Whatever. But all I know is I get absolute joy from eating delicious things made with delicious ingredients. And I’m always thinking of the next meal, usually while I’m still eating the current one. I’m already super excited about breakfast the next day as I’m digging into my dinner. That’s the way I roll.
I think it says a lot about me that the first thing I think of when someone mentions a specific holiday is the food that I will eat. Not the excitement of family getting together, not the happy memories that will be created, but the homemade caramel pecan rolls on Christmas morning. The nine-ingredient Ramos Gin Fizz that my Dad makes on the 4th of July. The cranberry ice and the sage stuffing on Thanksgiving. YUM!!! And most of my serious friendships, the ones that will stand the test of time, are all based on food. If you want to be a close friend of mine, you’d better like to eat. ‘Cause otherwise, what will there be to do? I can honestly say that Shauna, my best friend in the whole world, is the one other person whom I know loves food as much as I do. That’s why we are kindred spirits. Yes, love and support and loyalty is nice. But sharing bowls of homemade coconut ice cream with grilled peaches in basil butter? Even better. Therefore, our friendship is true and real and will last.
My love affair with food is the one thing that hasn’t changed in my life.
Maybe it’s because I started young. My mother served steamed artichokes with melted butter and lemon as far back as I can remember, and this was in small-town South Dakota in the 70s. What?! My friends didn’t even know what an artichoke was. And we would have fresh cantaloupe, lightly dusted with salt, for dessert. Or sometimes she would serve fresh strawberries with sour cream and brown sugar, because she’d had that in Europe or something. I actually thought that was kind of gross, as I was not a sour cream fan as a child. I mean, sour cream was for baked potatoes. (This was before you could easily get creme fraiche, which is really what she wanted). But still, I somehow knew it was very sophisticated. But my mom served it because it was delicious, not for the hip factor. And we always ate pieces of cheddar cheese with our apple pie or mincemeat pie (so British!), which, when I mentioned it at school, as a kid, EVERYONE thought was super weird. All I knew was they were sure missing out on the classic combination of salty, sharp cheddar cheese with sweet apples and cinnamon…pure heaven! Oh sure, we also had the usual casseroles made with canned cream of something soup. I mean, it was the 70s. I think it was the law. But she also made amazing pot roasts and roasted chickens, and twice baked potatoes, and strawberry rhubarb pie. And I was lucky, because she made the BEST homemade baked goods (the best apple pie I’ve ever had, the best birthday cakes, the best peach cobbler, the best chocolate chip cookies, etc.). As I grew up, my mom was responsible for introducing me to bagels, lobster, all kinds of fish….foods that I often had tried long before my friends had. She’s even responsible for making all us kids love peanut butter and banana sandwiches, which my friends had never even heard of! It was so exotic! Unless you were Elvis! This was the late 60s/early 70s, so maybe it was exotic.
Also, we didn’t have a lot of processed foods in our house, which I now know was definitely unusual. My mom didn’t buy store-bought cookies or snacks, or even soda. She made cookies from scratch, so why would she buy some? So it was always a “treat” on 4th of July and New Year’s Eve when I could gorge on chips and dip and soda. (Hello stomachache!) And we were only allowed a sweet cereal once a week, for our Saturday morning cartoons (the rest of the time we had oatmeal or Cheerios or Oat Flakes or Grape Nuts….boring!!). My sister and I would spend hours each week deciding which yummy box of sugar we would consume that weekend. (I always wanted Fruity Pebbles and she often preferred Honeycomb. There were fights. There were tears. Sometimes there were bruises). I also remember that we would make our own popsicles. And ice cream sandwiches! Place a ton of vanilla ice cream in between two graham crackers, press down gently and let the ice cream ooze out the sides. Eat the ooze first. Then bite into it. You’ll never go back! That is still one of my favorite desserts.
Now I realize how lucky I was. And so I really have to thank my mom for giving me an appreciation for food that’s fresh and real, not made in a factory. Thank you Margaret Jensen. And I can’t even really think of one dish that was her “signature” dish. She just cooked a lot of different things. But there are certain foods that I associate with her, my comfort foods, I guess. Her homemade meatloaf. She made the all-time best grilled cheese sandwiches, with whole wheat bread of course (which I always had to have with Campbell’s tomato soup made with milk). And her spaghetti and meatballs, meatballs made from scratch of course. This was somehow unbelievably good, even though it was a simple dish. I couldn’t get enough!
And then there was warm rice served with milk, brown sugar, and raisins, or fresh fruit. To this day, she’s the only mom I know who served this. My friends in South Dakota all thought I was weird when I would ask them how their mom did rice and milk. I don’t even know where she got this idea or when she started it. All I know is, when I was feeling sad or sick, this would always do the trick.
All you do is make some rice (white rice is what my mom used in the early days, and then later she would often use brown rice – both are delicious). Put some into a bowl while still warm. Pour milk over it like it’s oatmeal (I like to slightly heat the milk first). Sprinkle brown sugar and raisins on top. (In Shauna’s photo, we used fresh peaches instead.) Let the brown sugar sort of melt into the rice. Eat. Freak out over how yummy it is. Then when the rice is gone, you’re left with this fantastic sweet, nutty, warm milk. Enjoy!
Yeah, it’s pretty much just another form of hot cereal. Not that original. And yet. And yet. Mmmmmm. It’ll make everything better. Just like a kiss from Mom.
Thank you, Shauna, for letting me be a guest blogger this week. It’s an honor, and I love you dearly! Now I have to go and eat something….