Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - November 13, 2020


What's for dinner?

Some time in the past, I mentioned how different our two girls are when it comes to cooking. Mariya has stated that the extent of her skills is limited to boiling water to make pasta. In contrast, Katie has experimented with different combinations of food since she was a girl. During one phase, she dearly loved Cheetos. She even made sandwiches with the yellow-orange snack tucked inside the way some fast food places today put french fries inside the bun. Another "invention" occurred during one of our family's summers at our Wisconsin cottage. Freshly-picked raspberries and blackberries were coming out our ears. Katie mixed them with Grape Nuts and put them on top of vanilla ice cream, rendering a quite tasty dessert that was a lovely combination of crunchy and smooth.

Now grown up, her culinary skills have certainly moved on. In just the past few months, she has baked several types of bread, including baguettes, and made gnocchi, pastry crusts and quiche - which she proudly stated had "no soggy bottom!" Looking to the winter, she's also blanched cut-up vegetables, such as bell peppers, carrots, celery and onions, and frozen them for later use in salsas and other dishes. She and husband Matt have harvested some of these items from their own garden, providing extra-fresh tomatoes, potatoes, bell peppers, carrots, rosemary and strawberries.

Matt has made homemade chicken and beef broths, and experimented with an ostrich egg by making it into frittatas that filled two nine-by-13-inch baking pans. Katie said "it yielded many breakfasts." Matt also tried his hand at brewing beer and made several that husband Art really liked.

When Art's mother Donna died, he figured he'd never have her Christmas pfeffernüsse - peppernuts -again, but Katie took up the challenge. Art now parcels out over the entire year the contents of the two tins she makes at Christmas.

In regard to her expanding cooking efforts, Katie said:

I've enjoyed learning how to make things from scratch, because it usually tastes better and it means we don't have to rely on/need to go to the grocery store as often. It feels good to be slightly more self-reliant and gain practical skills that will extend beyond the pandemic.

But while Mariya has little interest in cooking, she does love to eat and is fortunate that her wife Miriam is a whiz in the kitchen. We're lucky we're close enough that we get occasional samples of her creations. Recent examples include salmon bowls made with baked salmon, rice, seaweed and avocados; homemade pretzels with beer-cheese soup; ice cream cake; key lime pie and peach cobbler.

Mariya said Miriam "makes a lot of 'delish' things - enchiladas, entomatadas, pozole, ceviche, pot roast, eggs benedict, mushroom, onion and spinach pasta, orzo with asparagus, various kinds of hamburgers and homemade fries. She made a blue cheese burger with fig jam sauce the other day ..."

Niece Larisa is similar to Katie in that she has seemed to enjoy cooking ever since she was a young girl. Recently, she and her sister Gabriela got into the baking spirit, making various items for All Saints Day, a holiday from their native Bolivia that they've replicated in their homes here in the States. Gabriela and her husband Bernie made empanadas, and Larisa made breads into different people shapes to represent loved ones who have died; a cat shape to remember Oreo, whom Larisa adopted after Mom died; a dove-shaped bread to bring peace to the household; and a ladder to help the deceased come down to earth to be with family and to return to heaven.

I confess that I tend to think of the younger generation as being fast-food fans who are unlikely to take time to cook. But perhaps it was my generation that got away from "home cooking." Convenience foods helped us balance outside work with caring for our families and homes. Throughout my nearly four decades at Kansas State University, Art and I ate lunch at local restaurants almost every work day. It was convenient and a way to have some uninterrupted time together. Dinners tended to be slap-dash affairs - put together after long days of work for us and school for our daughters. Art joked that my go-tos were spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, hamburgers, and roasts and vegetables thrown into a crock pot - all easy and quick.

But with my retirement coinciding with the pandemic onset, we've been eating only at home with groceries we purchase every two weeks. I've been somewhat surprised that I've actually enjoyed trying new recipes or resurrecting old favorites. We've recently had maple-glazed salmon, chicken and biscuits, barbecued chicken and stir-fry with shrimp or pork. I've even baked loaves of homemade bread - something I hadn’t done for probably 30 years or more. Within the past two weeks, Art has made a Chinese dish, a ham with mashed potatoes and a boiled-cabbage supper that really hit the spot for both of us.

This return to home cooking seems more than just producing something to keep us alive. It is also a way to engage our senses and nourish our souls. An April 2020 article on eatingwell.com said experimenting with new recipes provides a way to relieve stress and make us happy. It also activates memories - perhaps reminding us of the smell of Grandma’s apple pie or the taste of the fluffy Quiche Lorraine we had on a trip to France.

In the article, Kiera Carter quoted Michael M. Kocet, professor at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Kocet, who teaches a course on culinary therapy, said, "We're feeling a loss of control as our routines are thrown out the window. Cooking can center people, offering the emotional grounding of a task and a sense of accomplishment."

That "sense of accomplishment" could be heard in Katie's words and I feel it as well.

However, all this writing about food does make me hungry.

"Art, what's for dinner tonight?"


Clockwise from upper-left: Katie with her raspberry-blackberry-Grape Nuts creation; Art with a blackberry pie I recently made for him; a baking pan of Gabriela's and Bernie's empanadas; Art said my homemade bread photo looked as if it was for an advertising layout; a slice of Katie's quiche; Miriam frosting her cake; an example of my "Full English Breakfast;" Larisa's All Saints Day display



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