"I Love Food" by Sharon Anne Jensen


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!

warm rice with milk and peaches

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….

40 comments on “"I Love Food" by Sharon Anne Jensen

  1. Michele

    Soon after I met my husband, he invited me over for a mid-morning breakfast. On that fall day, he served me a bowl of hot rice with milk and raisins. I had never had it before, but I soon fell in love- with him and the rice!.

    Of course, now we regularly have rice for breakfast! Thank for bringing back the memories. 🙂


  2. Jill

    My mom would also serve rice and milk – usually after we had rice for dinner. It was a treat or dessert in our home. I never cared for it, though the way you write about it and Shauna’s picture make me want to try some with the yummy, locally grown peaches I have on my counter right now!

  3. Tiara

    Good food is a part of my closest friendships as well. It just adds something to them… I guess it’s the shared enjoyment of a common love. Plus, I find people that are passionate about their food are passionate about their lives and that always makes for a great time!

    My mom cooked a lot of healthy things no one else I knew ate, but she never did much with rice other than stir fry. I still remember the first time I had rice pudding made by a friend’s mom. Sweet, creamy, swirled with cinnamon and vanilla. *sighs* Now I’m inspired to try a breakfast version with the brown rice I have in the cabinet tomorrow!

  4. Lisa

    Ohh, rice & raisins! My mom made that for me too — often with leftover rice from the previous night's dinner. That's still one of my favorite comfort foods.

  5. Ileana

    It sounds like your mom was making a quick version of Arroz con leche (rice with milk). Arroz con leche is extremely popular in central america. Growing up Costa Rican-American I was served many wonderful fresh fruits veggies and dishes that seemed odd to my school mates.

    Arroz con leche is considered a rare treat for me, but the meal itself is a meal of necessity like Gallo Pinto (black rice with beans)by necessity I mean, what does a poor person do with leftover white rice from dinner the night before? Hankering for something hearty to hold up in your stomach while you work on the farm that day – well then Gallopinto it is, but if you came into a bit more cash and can splurge on the milk, cinnamon sticks and sweetened condensed milk well then Arroz con leche might be the thing for you.

    And you’re right, it is a wonderful treat that brings back memories and always makes everything perfectly all right.

  6. Hannah

    Thinking about food all the time…it’s so nice to hear it from someone else. Especially when you are allergy challenged you have to put that extra layer of thought in or you won’t be prepared. I am about to give birth any day, starving all the time and now I’m wanting some rice pudding. YUMMY!

  7. Anonymous

    sometimes i take leftover rice from the night before, heat it with some milk and add honey, raisins and cinnamon. mmmmmmmmm!

  8. Zoomie

    What a lovely tribute to your mother! I’ll bet she has tears in her eyes when she reads it! I’m going to try the rice as a morning cereal – sounds delicious and I happen to have lots of fresh peaches from my tree on my counter right now!

  9. Dana

    that warm rice recipe sounds so delicious and comforting I almost can’t wait for a cold snowy morning so I can try it out….almost. 🙂

  10. Sho

    When I think of my mother’s recipes that are comfort food to me, I think of pound cake, noodle pudding, pot roast, duck, pork chops paonessa, and chopped liver, for starters.


  11. Lauren

    I just made a easy rice pudding about 2 weeks ago. Very easy I just made white rice per direction on the bag and then when done placed in a big bowl with cinnamon and brown sugar on the bottom. Then just mix up and chill. I then when ever I wanted the rice pudding I would spoon some rice in a bowl and poured milk in till it covered the rice or almost covered. then microwaved it till it was almost to the thickness I wanted and took it out. It would thicken more as it got colder. I also would add some frozen or fresh blueberries on top and let the warmth heat the blueberries.

  12. Magpie Ima

    We had rice with milk all the time growing up and I still make it for my kids, tossing in a little cardamom and ginger for that vaguely subcontinental flair.

    Thanks for a lovely post.

  13. Liz

    My mom used to make rice and milk with cinnamon and sugar when we were sick. I still often have it when I have a queasy stomach.


    I’ve never enjoyed rice as a hot cereal. I’ll give it a try! My grandmother used to mix leftover white rice with an egg, and fry it like a pancake in butter until it was a little browned on both sides. Served with maple syrup – it’s a lovely breakfast!

  15. laura

    I love this post, you must be a great friend. You write so enthusiastically that I felt as if I happened to be sitting next to you and listening to you rave uncensored about my favorite topic…food!

    I got a huge kick out of the sugar cereal wars…My brother and I were never allowed any sugar, so when we visited my grandmother we each got our very own box for the visit..I always chose Fruit Loops, he always chose Apple Jacks…For one week every summer, we felt like “normal kids” eating a “good breakfast” instead of the grapenuts and oatmeal(no sugar ever) we had the rest of the year.

    Thanks for the great read.

  16. Meghan

    My mom made us rice with milk for breakfast too! She was from South Dakota, and all of my friends in Missouri thought our family was weird, because my mom didn’t do processed food and actually cooked everything we ate. In my mind warm milk with rice and raisins has always been a de facto South Dakota thing! Thanks for these beautiful memories.

  17. Tea

    Sharon! Oh you make me laugh–in real life as well as on the page. Now I have to go find something to eat…

    Wonderfully done, my dear. Now, when are you moving to Seattle?

  18. princessmama

    I really enjoyed reading this post, aren’t food memories great? I think about the food when I think of holidays too, lol! My hubby’s grandmas stuffing, my great-grandmas peanut butter balls, breakfast casserole for christmas. . . It’s funny everyone seems to remember some version of rice and milk:) For us it’s kind of a simplified rice pudding, and so easy to make dairy- and sugar- free. When we have leftover brown rice from dinner I make what my kids call “sweet rice” for breakfast. Mix in some rice or coconut milk, honey, cinnamon, sometimes raisins or apples. They devour it:) Recently my little sis made rice pudding with coconut milk and peaches for our food-allergic kids at a b-day party. The adults liked it better than the kids:)

    I love to make apple pie with a parmesan crumble topping–super yummy! I don’t tell anyone what’s in it till after they’ve tasted so no one can say it’s weird cause they’ve aready said yum lol. Slices of sharp cheddar and granny smith apples makes a perfect summer supper:)

    Thanks for such a great blog, I love reading it:)

  19. princessmama

    Food memories are so fun:) I love holidays for the food too, hee hee. It’s harder now that the kiddos and I are restricted in our diet, I have do a lot of planning ahead if we are eating anywhere but home.

    Funny, most everyone seems to have a memory of rice and milk. We also have it for breakfast sometimes. The kids call it “sweet rice”. For us it began as a simplified version of rice pudding. It is so easy to do dairy- and sugar-free too. We use rice or coconut milk and honey.

  20. momcan'tdance

    Oh man! Now I’m hungry too! Fresh peaches AND rice “cereal”? Too good!

    Thanks for the yummy post!


  21. chandler

    What a fantastic post! My mother was also one of those who did most of it from scratch, thank goodness. Good, fresh, homemade food was a financial priority for my parents even tho they barely had any money while raising three children. I honestly don’t know how they did it. Crazy…

  22. Joanna

    I had rice with milk for breakfast almost everyday (80’s in estern europe) and I hated it then, after reading your post I kind of miss it, propably will have some for breakfast

  23. Anonymous

    I grew up in that kind of home as well. My dad never wanted to eat out … why pay the price when the menu was so special at home. I can remember as a pre-teen having my first bite of Hostess Twinkies at a friends house. The memory of it holds a lot more delight than eating Twinkies now! When the man who was to be my husband joined us for meals, he ate vegetables he had never heard of before. Mom! You want to try one of her chocolate chip cookies!!

  24. Summer

    I always changed the names of the foods that my mom made because my friends didn’t know, for example, what a muffin was–so it became a cupcake, without icing, of course.

    I am so grateful for all the exotic food that my mom introduced me to. Her example has led me to share all kinds of food with my son.

    Last night we took him to a Thai restaurant where he was so excited about the food he was exclaiming: Yummy! Mmmmmm! Delicious! He was so loud, I was afraid that he was disturbing the other diners, but I was also pleased that he liked it so much.

  25. Shirley

    Sharon–When Shauna told her tale at the GIG conference summer before last, you were right there with her most of the time … traveling and eating! LOL It’s great to hear someone admit their great love of food and it’s neat to see you posting here. 🙂

    Artichokes. We steam them every single weekend that we go camping during the summer and as often as possible at home when they are in season. Most people only know artichoke hearts from jars or dips and that’s a shame. They are the best!

    Tomato soup with milk–yes! Can’t have most canned tomato soup any more because of the gluten, but I found a recipe online using V-8 and milk that’s pretty good!

    Rice pudding … my son would kill for it. His babysitter who he considers his third grandmother would always make it to comfort him.

    Thanks for posting!

  26. La Niña

    You did a beautiful job, Sharon!

    My mother could not cook rice. It was Uncle Ben’s Instant, and it was usually hard and dry, or it contained hair. The mashed potatoes were worse.

    The good news was that my father’s father loved to cook breakfast, and one of his specialties was “Cream of Rice” cereal, to which we added sugar, raisins and milk.

    If it weren’t for my two sets of grandparents I wouldn’t know what a fresh ingredient was… but I did get rice pudding for dessert at Greek diners while growing up in Queens, New York. I could make rice pudding now, but alas, Booth won’t eat it. Something about the lumpy texture bugs him. Flan, yes. Rice pudding, no way José.

  27. Anonymous

    My mom always made rice with milk and brown sugar for breakfast when we had leftover rice! I always snuck a little extra brown sugar in when she wasn’t looking to sweeten the milk even more- Yummy! My sister-in-law is coming this weekend and this would be a perfect gluten-free breakfast for her!

  28. Devi

    yes the rice is lovely anytime of the day. My grandfather had a slight variation, he used to eat great big serving bowls of day old cornbread fixed this way. i find it especially good with most GF ones because they tend to be a bit dry and sweet.

  29. Cactus Jack Splash

    I grew up with rice, butter, sugar, and chinese five spice for breakfast on occasion. It is something my great grandmother made for us. I still eat it at least once a week and will often use it for an evening treat. It is great to see that it is something others do.

  30. pokettiger

    My mom used to serve rice with milk, sugar, cinammon and raisins too. I was surprised to discover while in Morocco that they also made this same type of dish.

  31. Anonymous

    what a beautiful story! i too share your passion and love of food! and i do attribute it to my mom as well – she used to make the rice dish that you spoke of too :)i think we’ve led some kind of parallel life or something! lol thanks again for your post and happy eating my friend 🙂

    tami in cali

  32. Dogmama13

    Sounds like we had the same mom! Only we did not get the sugar cereal unless we were are grandma’s house. The kids did think we were weird but they always wanted to be the one invited to dinner, lol!

  33. Stephanie

    We ALL remember the homemade things more than the ‘from the box’…. THIS is the real reason I make our meals from scratch. I want the kids to always feel like I tried to make a meal ‘the best I could possibly make it’. I think one day they will look back and remember our ‘boring’ meals with fondness….

    I KNOW that my grandma made everything from scratch. Not sure she had a ‘box’ of anything in her cupboard. When I was first married (more than 25 years ago!) I was embarrassed to tell her that Hamburger Helper tasted terrible *after I had made it for my poor husband* ! Hahahahaha – so I didn’t tell her…. She probably knew I ‘resorted to preparing from a box’, but I never admitted it! Of course with my dietary restrictions I CAN’T eat packaged food, and wouldn’t want to, anyway!

  34. Wheatless Foodie

    Thanks for helping me start my day laughing about loving food in a creapy, unhealthy way with absolute joy…always thinking of the next meal….
    I can relate to this food love so thoroughly that I just had to laugh at myself.
    I wonderful post.

  35. tonya

    I grew up in Henderson,KY in the late 1960’s and my grandmother introduced me to the wonderful combination of white rice with sugar and milk. It was a sometimes breakfast treat and has always remained a comfort food for me. Now as an adult who has developed celiac spru and diabetes, I use soy milk on my rice and honey with a touch of cinnamon. I love food and I love Gluten Girl. t.mabrey@insightbb.com

  36. AndreaC

    My mom made the most awesome rice pudding when I was a kid, as did my fiance’s mom according to him! Now that I am gluten intolerant we have home made rice pudding once a week and it ALWAYS feels like a treat – how can such few simple ingredients come together in such delicious harmony always impresses me. And on the rare occasions there is some leftover, it is the most delicious treat for breakfast the next morning.

  37. Kristin

    As with everyone else that has commented, I too remember having rice "pudding" as a child. I'm 22 now and am beginning my career into holistic nutrition. I believe that the from-scratch meals growing up are a contributing factor to my career path. I too have a borderline unhealthy obsession with food, and probably always will. I can recall my father bringing home kumquats and various other exotic fruit to us as a child, and the other kids at school commenting that I always had some kind of nuts & seeds with my lunch. Not a typical Canadian girl's diet at all.

    This was my first visit to this website, and I am SO glad to see so many people on the same page as I. I believe that my battles with gluten intolerance and various other food issues have just began, but its nice knowing I'm not alone…


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