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Truly Homemade

Only someone who is well prepared has the opportunity to improvise.  ~Ingmar Bergman

Little-mom-Aunt-Heather-Piper
Mom as a young’in, probably about Kyle’s age during the cracker cereal incidence. c.1950s

I think it’s safe to say, most people like homemade meals.  At least I do.  If you compare homemade to the prepackaged boxed up junk you buy in the grocery store full of preservatives, homemade is gourmet all the way.  Even some of the “homemade” items at the deli counter and on display by the bakery section doesn’t have that delicious homemade quality.  It still tastes cheap and “store bought”.  But not always.  Depending where you get your meals and depending on the item, sometimes they taste like they came straight from your mom’s kitchen.

Of course, this all is dependent on what type of meals you grew up with as a child.  If your mom or the “chef” of the household was a terrible cook or believed homemade was heating up a prepacked meal, then, you don’t know what I’m talking about.  Me?  I am very fortunate, for my mom knows her way around the kitchen.  Granted, she’s not a delicate cook with petite serving sizes nor did she ever care about visual presentation.  Nope.  Mom’s an old fashioned gal who cooks with her pallet, usually no recipes necessary.

On a side note, it baffles me with those who don’t cook, even when there’s no reason for it.  Example:  Those who purchase precooked chicken and throw it on the grill.  Why?  Raw chicken doesn’t take that much longer and it’s not hard.  You get my point.  I’m all for simplicity and for some assistance, but really?

What’s really interesting about mom, is her talent to cook for the masses.  It’s true, mom has a talent for cooking large amounts of food for any occasion.  Not everyone can handle such a challenge.

When I was in elementary school at Sacred Heart, we always had our annual booth at the Fourth of July Celebration at Legion Keener in Latrobe.  Mom was always one of the parents who made large amounts of Italian roast beef for the roast beef sandwiches we sold.  That’s just one simple example.  She doesn’t stop there, mom made all the food for each of our graduation parties, each attendance of nearly two hundred hungry celebration gatherers.  I’m not talking about purchasing food or having it catered.  Nope.  Mom made all the grub from scratch and it was awesome!  No bland generic food when mom’s in charge.

In addition to cooking for large groups, mom is a genius with making due.  I mean, not having certain ingredients to complete a dish or making it up as she goes.  Mom rocks at it!  Although, fair warning, sometimes this isn’t for the faint of heart, watching her and actually knowing what she is mixing together.  The end result is great, but getting there looks a bit sketchy.

Ok, now for the truly funny part of this story.  Last night mom and I were talking about cracker cereal.  What is cracker cereal?  Simply, it’s when you crush up Saltine crackers into milk and sometimes add a little sugar.  Yes, those crackers that are white and square and comes in a sleeve.  They usually make their appearance when someone has the stomach flu, except in our house.  We get in our kicks for the slightly salty treats every now-and-again.  My pappy LOVED Saltine crackers.  He used to pack a sleeve of them in his lunchbox everyday.  (I know because when I was staying with him, I’d wake up at 5:00 am and help him pack his lunch since my gram wouldn’t)

Nicole-Chad-Jeremy-Tim-Aunt-Heather-Piper 1976
Nicole eating with our cousins. Nicole front left, behind her is Tim, across from Tim is Jeremy & in front is Jeremy’s brother Chad. c.1976

To some, cracker cereal might sound gross and to others it might be a step back in time.  Either way, mom ate it as a kid and in turn as did Nicole, Ryan and myself.  Not a lot, but it was usually consumed when the shelves were bare and no other cereal was on hand.

Did the tradition of the cracker cereal continue on with Kyle?  Nope!  First I’ll admit, we are not a big cereal eating family, never really was.  I personally am not a fan of milk, therefore cereal was never my choice of breakfast.  In fact, I’d sooner eat dinner or lunch dishes for breakfast any day, and I do.  Even salads, chili and sandwiches have been consumed by me in the early morning hours, without issue.

How did this tradition die?  Mom, a.k.a. Gigi didn’t introduce it early enough with Kyle.

As mom and I reminisced yesterday, we laughed about the day cracker cereal was presented to Kyle for the first time.  As with most milestones, I was there, including this one.

Kyle was laying on the couch watching his Saturday morning cartoons, probably George Shrinks or Thomas the Tank Engine or Jakers!  The Adventures of Piggley Winks (which it wasn’t because I LOVED that cartoon and I’d remember)  Anyway, Kyle was about six years old or so.  He asked his Gigi for breakfast, which we’ve always made him his morning meal, to make sure he got a home cooked healthy breakfast.  This particular morning Kyle requested cereal.  I thought mom was going to make him eggs or something along those lines to feed the kid, since I knew there wasn’t a box of cereal in mom and dad’s house in close to a year if not longer.

Next thing I knew, here comes mom with a bowl of what looked like cereal?  That was strange, but then again, perhaps mom purchased the disguised box of pure sugar and garbage for Kyle who might have requested it on the grocery list.  Now don’t get me wrong, there are some cereals I LOVE like Cinnamon Toast Crunch, but there’s no real nutritional value.  As mom helped Kyle get situated to eat and watch television, I saw the contents of the bowl.  It was cracker cereal!  No sooner after I realized this, did Kyle question the white monotone material floating in the milk.  His face turned up and I started to die inside, trying not to laugh myself off of the couch.  He ask, “Gigi, Gigi, what is this?”  I’m still trying to hold back the laughter.  Mom responds with a very straight face, as if the kid is uncultured and unsophisticated for never having this type of breakfast.  The conversation went something like this:

Mom:  “It’s cracker cereal.”
Kyle:  Still making this face.  “What’s cracker cereal?”
Mom:  Still holding a straight face.  “It’s crackers smashed up in milk.  It’s good.”
Kyle:  Still making this face grabs the spoon to push around the contents of the bowl.
Me:  Dying inside!
Mom:  Trying to sweeten the deal.  “Try it, I even put some sugar on top.”
Kyle:  Intrigued by the idea of sugar, which I never allowed him to have too much of.  He sniffs the soggy crackers and proceeds to taste it, ever so gently.
Mom:  Knowing this was going to end badly, gave it another effort to convince the kid to eat it.  “It’s good.  I used to eat it all the time as a kid.”
Kyle:  Making an even worse face.  “Umm Gigi, I don’t really like it.”
Me:  Now the bouts of giggles are erupting out my throat.
Mom:  Now is excusing Kyle from having to eat the contents, yet tries reverse psychology.  “Here, give it to me.  I’ll eat it, it’s good.”
Kyle:  Never fell for the trick and gladly handed over the bowl to see if mom was indeed going to eat it.
Mom:  Not wanting to back down and to prove her point, shovels in large bites.
Me:  Gagging
Kyle:  Watched mom, didn’t care and proceeded to ask what else is there to eat.
Me:  Completely lost it and started laughing uncontrollably.  Even mom joined in on the humor.  Kyle didn’t get it.

It was seriously one of those funny moments that can never be recreated, but will be and have been talked about since.  Last night, mom and I were still cracking up hysterically over that story.  While the interaction between mom and Kyle was unfolding, I felt like the reader of a book, knowing the outcome of the story and past chapters leading up until this point and knowing what the main character (Kyle) didn’t, and that’s cracker cereal wasn’t really cereal.  It was great!

Pap-11-1959-Aunt-Heather-Piper
This is a rare photo I’ve never personally witnessed, pap with hair, walking with both of his real legs (no prosthetics) without canes. Miss you pap! 11/1959

Mom still shamefully admits she introduced cracker cereal to Kyle too late in life.  She says, “If I would have had him eating it when he was really little like you kids, then he wouldn’t know no better and wouldn’t put his nose up to it.”  Believe it or not, I think that’s mom’s greatest regret, not giving Kyle cracker cereal young enough.  I’m dying!

As we were talking last night, I also brought up the salad dressing.  You see I’ve always loved salads, yes even when I was younger, especially with the vegetables fresh out of the garden.  One summer day, unbeknownst to me, salad dressings where going to change forever.

You see, we were all out of, you guessed it, salad dressing.  So mom suggested making our own.  Most people would assume making your own would involve olive oil and spices and such, nope!  Mom had me mix, ketchup, squeeze ripe tomatoes, mixed with a little salt and pepper and a dash of vinegar together.  Yep!  That was mom’s version of salad dressing with the items we had on hand.

As we talked about this, we both were cracking up, yet I can’t deny it was pretty tasty.  My version was mostly made with the freshly squeezed tomato juice, which I still do to this day.

Gigi’s a crafty one.  They don’t make ’em like her anymore, although when cooking I do find myself exuding some of her same characteristics, as does Kyle.  Look out next generation, Kyle and I are going Gigi style with cooking!

Published inBooks, Movies, ShowsCommon SenseCooking with KyleEducation & LearningFamilyFarming & PlantingObservation & ImaginationPatienceReminiscing

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