6 p.m. The convergence of our lives at the dinner table was a central element of family living in the ‘70s. We were never with want as we were blessed with the makings and the maker of a good meal. Our mother could collaborate with the meekest of ingredients to create a more perfect union.
It was a time of predominantly “meat and potatoes!” Haute cuisine was a decade or two in the future. Our meals were predominantly traditional American…meat, starch, vegetable and occasionally something to fill the fourth slot on the plate. No complaints.
OK…just a few. My brother was not fond of onions. This fact converged with another fact…my mother was a master at dicing. She could dice onions so small that they were not visible to human eyes…except my brother’s. It was his superpower! At the end of an onion-infested meal, my brother’s plate would include a pile of diced onions in the typically empty fourth slot. His tenacity was extraordinary. On occasions when dinner included the “fourth something”, the onions …well, they just disappeared…we’ll leave it at that!
My issues were simpler, with no basis in psychoanalytic theory. Reasonable requests; let me elaborate.
- Scalloped potatoes and SPAM. Nothing deserves to be “scalloped!” As for SPAM, the war is over…any remaining stockpiles should be reserved for the next conflict…it’s just good military planning.
- Ham. Don’t serve it to me (which my mom continued to do with a smile).
- Chicken. These were the days when chickens had not yet evolved to become boneless. Chicken would turn me into a chipmunk. In those days, we didn’t leave the table until we were done with our meal…it was a Golden Rule! I found a loophole in the lack of a “swallowing clause.” I would store the half chewed chicken in my chipmunk pouch, mumble “May I be excused?” and head toward the bathroom. Sometimes the whole “starving kids in China” thing would come up and I would say, “Well, give me some names and addresses, envelopes and stamps and, when it comes to chicken, I’ll do my part!” Time served at the dinner table often lead to time served in my bedroom! If I was smart, I would have said something that imprisoned me in my room without dinner; hindsight is 20/20!
- Beets. God hid them in the ground for a reason!
I also enjoyed visits by my grandmother. During these trying times, she would remain with me at the dinner table and undesirable food would gradually disappear. Thanks for having my back, Nan! Over the years I have resolved my issues with scalloped potatoes, ham, and chicken. As for beets, that rule still applies!
Every now and then, our dinner table would be presented with an ethnic twist. Mind you, our family background was an agglomeration of European and Anglo-Saxon ancestry…German, Scottish, Irish, and English. But when it came to food, my parents were Polish Epicurious! As a hungry and growing kid, I never inquired about the back story behind such delights as halupki, kolaczki cookies or City Chicken (patycki). You eat the food set before you (with due consideration to the four previously mentioned exceptions). In my 50’s I questioned the polish theme and learned that, early in their marriage, my parents resided in an ethnic polish neighborhood. Recipes and conversations were traded over the fence. Neat!
My mother’s kitchen was also a place of experimentation and we were her test subjects! Four kids, which allowed for three test and one control subject…consistent with the “scientific method!” I fondly recall one of the experiments (probably because I was the control subject; ask my siblings about any lasting side effects).
In 1975, a TV dinner (food wrapped in foil) cost 85 cents and was oven cooked in a few minutes. It was (and still is) a frugal and time saving alternative to a home cooked meal. Why my mom felt the need to create her own TV dinners is between her and her Maker. Here’s what I know.
Once in a blue moon, my parents would go on a day excursion without us kids. Occasionally, this occurred around dinner time. My mom’s babysitter dinner of choice involved taking hamburger, formed into patties, placed in aluminum foil and surrounded by frozen vegetables, a powdered gravy mix, and a little water. Wrap it up and stick it in the oven. (Where did that come from?!)
Thanks for asking. It does have an origin…I looked it up! They are called “hobo dinners.” Hmmmm! Recalling the polish food origins of our past, I can only surmise that there was a time (likely before I was born or I most certainly would recall) that my parents rode the rails! Making hobo dinners, licking their spoons, tossing the foil and hitting the trail; moving ever northward from the southern tier of New York to the northern blue skies of here. Then again…maybe not.
Our pantry was almost always full. Almost always. Occasionally, my mom would serve pancakes for dinner. Pancakes for dinner. In support of the sanctity of breakfast, I would ask my Mom, “Hey Mom, why are we having pancakes for dinner?” Her response, every time, was “WE ARE OUT OF FOOD.” I never checked the pantry, but in my mind’s eye I would envision a pantry with dusty shelves cloaked in cobwebs; no food with the exception of perhaps a can of creamed corn or beets (a situation equivalent to no food)!
Pancakes are not for dinner! There are people (including family members) that do not agree with me. They will eat pancakes for dinner. For me, the mere idea causes me to fill the bathtub with water, check the bomb shelter, and standby to await the coming apocalypse! Pancakes are not for dinner! Maybe I should have done more food experimentation with my kids when they were growing up!
In the meantime, bring your family together at the dinner table. Watch out for onions, obey the rules, and know that grandma has your back. Once in awhile, go out on a date night…your kids won’t mind. Here’s a babysitter recipe they’ll grow to love.
- 6 (18 x12 inch) pieces of heavy duty foil
- 1 1/2 Ib. ground beef
- 1 pkg. brown gravy mix
- salt and pepper
- 1 pkg. (10 oz.) frozen mixed vegetables, partially thawed
- 1 pkg. (10 oz.) frozen french fries
- Divide the ground beef into 6 parts, flatten to 1/2 inch patties.
- On each piece of foil, arrange the following: hamburger, sprinkled with 2 tsp. dry gravy mix, salt and pepper; approximately 1-3 cups mixed vegetables and french fries.
- Wrap each foil dinner, folding edges over twice.
- Refrigerate until ready to use.
- To cook, place on rack over hot coals; roast about 30 minutes or until done. Or bake packets on a cookie sheet in 400 degree oven for 35-45 minutes or until meat is at desired doneness.
Makes 6 Meals