Food, glorious food,
Hot sausage and mustard!
While we’re in the mood —
Cold jelly and custard!
My dad used to sing this song from Oliver! to my siblings and me when we were young. I don’t know why, and at the time, I didn’t have any idea where the song originated from. But it all seemed fitting because good food was something integral to my family and our culture.
It’s no surprise that when I asked for an Easy Bake Oven one Christmas, I instead unwrapped a wooden spoon and cookbook accompanied by my parents essentially saying, “Here, you have permission to use the real oven now.”
I needed to learn how to make good food, not brownies cooked under a light-bulb.
In my family of six, each person was always on the run. We had sports practices, part-time jobs, and after-school clubs to attend. My dad often worked nights, and my mom had a job and ran her business while simultaneously holding us all together. But there was one element of our family life that managed to get us all into the same room at once, and that was good food.I often Facetime my parents to get advice on how to salvage a culinary disaster. Click To Tweet
We’re black Americans, so our diet was served up from a melting pot of cultures. Everything we ate had a twist of our family mixed in.
Each of my siblings and I watched our parents cook and learned skills that we carried into our adulthoods. I often Facetime my parents to get advice on how to execute a dish or salvage a culinary disaster.
Growing up, Mom made meatloaf, pork chops, and a dish called Chicken Broccoli Divan with rice. She baked Texas Sheet Cake for my siblings’ birthdays, spice cake for my dad’s birthday, and even created a homemade Oreo ice cream cake for one of mine.
Not to mention the mornings when she got up early and made muffins from scratch—the smell would bring us downstairs.
Every recipe she hadn’t committed to memory came out of one of two handwritten books. The pages had food stains and were sometimes faded and hard to read, but for just about anything I wondered how to make, my mom had likely written down a recipe.
Now, my dad, he wasn’t one to follow instructions.
He eyed half cups and teaspoons and tasted his creation every few minutes to ensure it had the right flavor. He made his famous buffalo wings, grape leaves, junk pasta, and even the occasional batch of fried frog legs (I didn’t touch those). When he baked, he would come up with the most interesting combinations. I’d bite in with apprehension, but be met with delight—such as pancakes stuffed with cookie crumbles. And when I swore there was nothing in the house to eat, my dad would approach me with a full plate of food no less than 20 minutes later.
I pride myself on having become a vegetarian because I think I’ve only made him more creative.
On those weeks when it seemed like everyone was in and out of the house, Sunday would arrive. Sunday meant a big breakfast, one where each dish competed for room to fit on our kitchen table. We’d rest and digest until dinnertime and then return to our assigned seats around the table. After prayer, there would be jokes and laughs, catching up, and storytelling from my dad. We would each rave over how good one of many elements of dinner was.
But whoever was responsible would simply shrug it off, as if it were no big deal to make.
It was in those moments that I would appreciate having such a rich family culture, one with love and good food sitting at the heads of the table.