When I was cooking dinner the other night, I flashed on something. I was frying pork chops, au gratin potatoes were in the oven, and green beans were in the microwave. The perfect meal! Which got me to thinking. If I was on death row, or knew I’d die tomorrow, what would I want my last meal to be? I did get a little anxious, because I was cooking what I would want my last meal to be, so I was particularly glad when I woke up the next day. Whew!
If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know that Ed would want chicken and dumplings. His second choice would be hominy. When we first started dating, I was talking to him on the phone and he was cooking dinner. (That was during our dating period, but now he’s totally forgotten where the stove is. Men!) Anyway, he dumped the hominy in a pan, heated it up, and enjoyed it. Yuck! Don’t get me wrong, I love hominy. When cooked and not heated. In other words, hominy mixed with margarine, salt, pepper, and fried in a pan. Yummy. If I threw it in a pan and heated it up now, Ed would think our marriage was on the verge of collapse. In other words, he’s spoiled.
I think sometimes our best meals come from our life experiences. Certain foods just make you happy. Hence the term comfort food. Macaroni and cheese is considered a comfort food, and I read a recipe today where the author said that’s what she’d want for her last meal. Funny! I’ve never perfected the recipe. (Not for lack of trying!) I got close tonight. I looked up a bunch of recipes, didn’t find one I liked, and made up yet another version. Pretty yummy! I do like macaroni and cheese out of a box if I’ve mixed in a can of tuna fish and some frozen veggies, then baked it for a while. But the traditional mac ‘n cheese doesn’t make my “last meal” list.
My aunt in Oklahoma used to make the most glorious coconut cake. If she knew I was coming, she made sure there was one waiting for me. To this day, if I’m getting over a cold or feeling a little “blah” for some reason, a coconut cake fixes everything. Takes me right back to Dowlene’s kitchen, where I spent some of the happiest moments of my life. And, yes, I made one last week after the loss of my baby. It helped but not much. My last meal would end with a piece of coconut cake. Or probably the whole thing, because if I’m going to die, why should I worry about calories? At least I’ll die happy on a sugar overload.
My father’s favorite food was a one-inch thick T-bone steak. He and Ed would have gotten along great! For dessert, it was a banana cake. He’d come home with a bunch of really crappy bananas and I knew he wanted me to make him a cake. A crappy banana, btw, is one that doesn’t have any green on the outside. No green or one teeny, tiny black spot makes them inedible, IMHO. He said no one made that cake as good as I did. He was probably lying, but it made me feel good, so I happily obliged. I hadn’t made one in years, and last year I made one. It was every bit as good as I remember. I won’t make it again for quite a while, though, because it made me miss my daddy.
I don’t know what my mom’s favorite food was…she ate just about anything. She loved okra. Boiled. I told her it looked like she was eating snot. Every New Year’s Day, she cooked the meal, and she used to make okra even though she knew I wouldn’t eat it. But Ed likes it, so she’d make some. She was smart enough to know he never got it at our house. I cook by taste, so I only cook what I’ll eat. That may sound selfish, but it’s my kitchen. If Ed wants okra, he can cook it himself. Hah! That makes me chuckle.
Another thing she loved was a Burger King hamburger. I really think she could have eaten them every day. When Burger King finally came to San Antonio, I drove her to the other side of town as a surprise. A forty-minute drive so she could get a hamburger. She was thrilled! They finally got closer to where we live, but it was still a fifteen-minute drive. About a month after she died, they were building something on the street into our development. A big sign out front read, “Burger King. Comming Soon.” FYI, they have good burgers, but they can’t spell. It broke my heart to see them so close, but they didn’t last long. About a year later they went belly up and were replaced with a Mexican restaurant, which is always packed. If Mom were alive, they’d still be there.
Yes, food brings memories. Sometimes, people who love us show their love by cooking our favorite things. My great aunt in Oklahoma City used to make the best chocolate pie. I have her recipe, but it’s never quite as good as hers. If she knew I was coming, there would be one waiting for me. (Aunts are great, aren’t they?) Aunt Clara had arthritis so bad she had to walk with canes or a walker, because her legs were so bowed. When I was stationed in Omaha, I drove out to California to visit my folks, and I told her I would be stopping on the way through Oklahoma. When I got there, sure enough, a pie was waiting. She had hobbled around the kitchen to make one for me, so I left with a pie and a fork. It lasted longer than it normally would because it’s hard to eat a chocolate pie while driving, but the added danger was well worth the effort. Yep, love shows through food.
For both my weddings, I made my own wedding cake. A 3-tier and a 4-tier concoction of sheer tastiness. Bruce’s daughter, Allison, says God eats my wedding cakes because they’re so good. Since I’m cheap and did my own catering/flowers/decorating/etc. for my weddings, I never had a chance to enjoy them. I was so excited on the first anniversary of my wedding with Bruce. Finally! I was going to get to enjoy that cake, since I had carefully saved the top tier. Evidently not carefully enough, because it was freezer burnt and tasted horrible. Bruce and I both spit it out. I’m pretty sure God wouldn’t have enjoyed it, either. When Ed and I got married, I preserved that tier so well it could have gone in a time capsule and still come out tasty. Sure enough, it was pretty darn good. I am now a master of top tier wedding cake preservation. But why bother saving it? Tradition? Maybe. Memories? Absolutely.
As you get older, memories fade and some days it’s almost impossible to remember simple stuff, like your name or address. But some stay firmly implanted in our memory cells and it doesn’t take much to have them come flooding out. I can’t drive by a Burger King without thinking of mom. I saw a picture a few weeks ago of a chocolate pie and I smiled. Not because it looked good, but because I remembered how much I loved Aunt Clara. I bought some crappy bananas to make a Hummingbird Cake, and I thought of Daddy. That’s not “his” cake, but it does use bad bananas. When I see a pecan cookie, I always think of my surrogate grandmother, Katherine. Every CHRISTmas, she would make me pecan cookies. I looked forward to them all year.
Some people consider food to be the language of love. Hmmm Perhaps that’s why I have a weight problem. People need to stop loving me with food! Maybe it is the language of love, but I also think food is the language of memories. Certain foods, certain smells, all bring back memories of people we love, people we’ve lost, and times in our lives that really mattered. So, it should come as no surprise that Jesus held the last supper. The Bible doesn’t specify exactly what they ate, but one meal left the disciples with memories and a feeling of being loved. It doesn’t get much better than that, even if those memories might make you fat.
Your turn! What about you? What would be your last meal and why?