A Plantain is Not the Same Thing as a Banana: Merging Family Menus

by N. M. Cedeno

My husband got lucky in food when he married me. He didn’t have to adapt to a foreign flavor palette the way I did. When people create a new joint household, whether they like it or not, the foods they eat regularly will change depending on each family member’s culinary history. Recipes from each side of the family will get adopted, adapted, or eliminated from the household menu depending on how flexible the couple is and how palatable each finds the other’s food to be. While regional differences between couples can expose variations in traditional holiday meal dishes or recipe ingredients, cultural differences can introduce you to cooked critters you didn’t know anyone would eat.

Cultural differences can make the culinary learning curve particularly steep, a baptism by fire even. For instance, before I met my husband, I’d never had a plantain. Or seco de pollo. Or, ick, guatita. Or even weirder, cuy. If you can’t identify those items, they are traditional foods in Ecuador. My husband, on the other hand, had never had kolaches, homemade chocolate chip cookies, or Southern-style white gravy. I had to learn a lot about South American cooking. My husband, as far as I could tell, got off easy, since he’d lived in Texas for over ten years by the time we married and had been exposed to most of my cuisine.

Maduros with brown sugar

As I suspect happens in many cases, the first of my husband’s family’s dishes that got adopted in our household were the ones that I found the tastiest and that had the least ingredients. Consequently, plantain dishes were first. Plantains, despite looking like bananas, taste nothing like bananas. They must be cooked. You can eat them roasted, mashed, formed into balls, thin-cut as chips, thick-cut and fried as maduros, or fried, flattened, and refried as a tostones (also called patacones). It took me a while to learn to cook the variations.

On the next tier are foods that may take longer for the couple to adopt in their joint kitchen because they involve special techniques, or complicated recipes, or need adaptation from the original to work best in the household. Seco de pollo is one of those dishes in my house. Translated from Spanish, it sounds like it should be dry chicken. It’s not. It’s a chicken stew. It took me years before I attempted to make it because the recipe was complicated and included a few ingredients that I didn’t recognize. But, since I liked the dish, I made the effort to find the ingredients and to learn to cook it.

Two traditional Ecuadorean dishes that my husband likes were extremely outside my experience and tastes. In the melding of our family menus, these dishes got eliminated.  One was guatita, which is tripe in peanut sauce. Enough said about that. The other was cuy. Cuy got tossed because most Americans would consider eating cuy to be akin to eating your pet hamster or, well, your pet guinea pig. Cuy is, indeed, guinea pig. Any dish that I’d have to shop for in a pet store, I’m not cooking. Someone would send the SPCA after me.

{Guinea pig is a traditional food source for the indigenous tribes inhabiting the Andes Mountains. Since guinea pigs are an easily portable protein source, they were an ideal food for the environment. If you are wondering, they are roasted with the head still attached. I took this picture of cuy being cooked in Ecuador. Yes, it looks like a rat impaled on a stick.}

 

So, cohabitation forces a merging of disparate family culinary habits. What gets kept on the household menu and what gets eliminated can depend on a lot of factors. I’m sure you can all think of items that you were only served at the home of one set of grandparents (sauerkraut, anyone?). Those items didn’t make it into your parent’s family menu. What dishes did your parents toss? What items did you toss? What items did you adapt or argue over the “correct” recipe?

 

****

N. M. Cedeño writes short stories and novels that are typically set in Texas. Her stories vary from traditional mystery, to science fiction, to paranormal mystery in genre. Her début novel, All in Her Head, was published in 2014, followed by her second novel, For the Children’s Sake, in 2015. In 2016, For the Children’s Sake was selected as a finalist for the East Texas Writers Guild Book Award in the Mystery/Thriller category. Most recently, she has begun writing the Bad Vibes Removal Services Series which includes short stories and the novel The Walls Can Talk (2017).

Find her stories at www.nmcedeno.com or on her Amazon Author Page.

Inspiration, Desperation, Suspiration, Broccoli…

Posted by M. K. Waller

© David Davis, Alien Resort. Used with permission.

Want to know how I think up topics for blog posts?

Of course you do.

I use several techniques:

  1. A topic comes to me about 9:00 p.m. and I write fast and then stay up all night fixing it (and hoping readers can tell it’s been fixed), finding pictures, and making pictures stay where I want them.
  2. Sometimes I forget I have a post due on Writing Wranglers and Warriors until 9:00 p.m. the night before, and I stay up all night doing the tasks listed in #1.
  3. Sometimes a topic comes to me at 9:00 p.m., and I write about it and then see what I’ve written is so horrid that I trash it and write about something else. Often the something else is a topic I’ve meandered into while writing the horrid part.
  4. Sometimes a topic comes to me while I’m driving. By 9:00 o’clock, I’ve usually forgotten it and have to think of something else.
  5. Sometimes a topic comes to me while I’m working–cooking, washing dishes, moving the refrigerator and scrubbing the floor under it. We have a dishwasher, and since my diagnosis, David has done most of the cooking and cleaning up, so those pathways have lain untrodden for a while. Letting David cook is called “Taking Advantage of a Good Husband.” I should have been cooking every night for a long time. But until recently I’ve made it through only half the preparation before wearing out, so he might as well do the whole thing. I move refrigerators at 3:00 a.m. and so usually lose those topics, too.
  6. Furthermore, David serves a lot of pizza and frozen entrees (TV dinners for the baby boomer generation), so I don’t have to eat the broccoli I’m supposed to eat. I’m happy. I was tired of broccoli before chemo, and now I find it almost intolerable. Don’t even mention lettuce in my presence. [This paragraph should follow #5 and not be numbered at all, but current formatting doesn’t allow it, and I don’t care. I could paste the list into MS Word, take out the formatting, and paste it back here; that might work. But, as I said, I don’t care.]

[The next paragraph began as part of paragraph #7, but when I changed my mind and spaced down, instead of becoming #8 or #9, the text flew clear back to the margin and didn’t number itself. Go figure.]

I repeat, I don’t care. I’ve been cooking, and I’m too tired to care.

I’m also too tired to proceed with the topic I planned to write about, which came to me while I was cooking: How to and How Not to Cook a Casserole for a 6:00 p.m. Dinner If You’re Still Doing Something Else at 5:10.

Putative Casserole. With broccoli.

And last week I promised myself I’d stop writing 1,000-word posts. The ideal is 300 to 500 words. This post will make the cut. If I stop now.

It’s only 6:40, but I have to find some pictures and properly attribute them and make them stay put, so I’ll probably be up all night.

*

522 words, not counting this line. Close.

***

M. K. Waller used to write as Kathy Waller. Then she discovered Kathy Waller is the name of the CFO of the Coca-Cola Corporation, and every Google search hit on Kathy the CFO a dozen times before it got to Kathy the writer. So the writer switched to M. K. There aren’t so many of those.

Her personal blog is M. K. Waller–Telling the Truth, Mainly. She also blogs at Austin Mystery Writers and edits HOTSHOTS!, the newsletter/blog of the Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas Chapter.

Her stories appear in the anthologies listed below. You can read her flash story, “And Justice for All,” in Mysterical-E.

 

  Lone Star Lawless (Wildside, 2017)

 Day of the Dark (Wildside, 2017)

 Murder on Wheels (Wildside, 2017)

 

Rice Pudding: A Story of Disaster

Posted by M. K. Waller

*************

Christabel’s sister Chloe, who would have done what Christabel did if she hadn’t been busy elsewhere doing who-knows-what

 

Ever had one of those days
that no matter how hard you try,
you screw up everything you do?”

My niece posted that on Facebook tonight.

Yes, I have. The Day of the Rice Pudding Fiasco.

One day back in the Ice Age, my high school faculty scheduled a potluck lunch for the day before Thanksgiving. Usually we celebrated with Tex-Mex, but burritos had become boring, so we chose a Southern theme. For me, that posed a problem.

For several years, I’d been depending on a local grocery store’s rotisserie chicken and Chinese buffet and several restaurants for meals, and I’d forgotten how to cook. I’d also forgotten what to cook. I needed something that wouldn’t tax my vestigial culinary skills. Fruit salad was the obvious choice, but I wanted a dish that would look like I’d done more than peel bananas and open a few cans.

The easiest thing I could think of was rice pudding: Cook rice (leftover is fine). Mix beaten eggs, milk, and sugar together. Add rice. Set a large shallow pan containing about a half-inch of water in the oven. Pour pudding mixture into baking dish; sprinkle with cinnamon. Set baking dish in pan of water (I don’t know why) in the oven. When the blade of a case knife stuck in the center comes out clean, remove from oven. Serve hot or cold (it’s better cold).

I’d watched my mother make it–without a recipe–dozens of times. It was always delicious. It also qualified as Southern.

Granted, certain details had escaped me. Like how many eggs and how much sugar, milk, and vanilla. And whether vanilla was an ingredient at all. And how high to set the oven temperature.

Minor details.

I set to work boiling and beating. I slid a large, low-sided pan into the oven, filled it with a half-inch of water, and closed the door. Then I set an enormous flat CorningWare dish on the table, near the oven, and poured in the mixture of pre-rice pudding.

As usual, I had made almost more than the dish would hold. Sweet, eggy milk lapped at the sides. The CorningWare was heavy, and its contents made it heavier. I steeled myself for the task of getting it into the oven without slopping liquid onto the floor.

I turned and opened the oven. I turned back.

That’s when I saw Christabel.

Christabel LaMotte, named for the poet in A. S. Byatt’s Possession, a big, black, velvety, green-eyed hussy of a cat, heavy as lead. She had an agile mind and a healthy sense of entitlement.

And she was sitting on the floor, eyes trained on the edge of the table, calculating the distance, the angle, the thrust required to launch her to that higher plane.

“Don’t. You. Dare.”

She dared. Before I could grab her, she achieved liftoff.

But she’d forgotten to factor in the CorningWare dish. Landing off balance, she belly-flopped into the eggy mess. Again before I could grab her, she scrambled off the other side of the table and ran out of the kitchen, down the hall, through my bedroom, and into the living room. I followed, yelling, “Stop,” and, “Come back here,” and, “You’re ruining the carpet.” Things like that.

I finally caught her in the dining room–about three feet from the kitchen door; she’d made a whole circuit–carried her back to the kitchen, closed both doors, set her down, and said, “Bathe!”

Then I went to the living room, flopped into a rocking chair, listened to Dan Rather, and let milk, eggs, sugar, and a trace of vanilla and cinnamon dry and stick to a stretch of long leaf pine and three rooms of carpet.

After Mr. Rather reminded me to count my blessings, I returned to the kitchen and found Christabel sitting just where I’d left her, staring straight ahead, eyes gleaming with repressed rage and resentment, ebony underside covered with goop.

I fetched damp cloths and a towel and joined her on the floor. She didn’t like the bath much more than she liked the goop, but she tolerated it.

Damp but clean, she retired to hunt for her misplaced dignity. I cleaned up gunk. The carpet came out in fine condition, but I my Southern dish was gone with the wind.

Still, the makings of rice pudding remained. A miracle–except for a thin film the size of cat paws plus belly, it was all there, in a CorningWare dish. The oven was hot.

No one would ever know. Christabel was meticulous about personal hygiene. Heat would kill any kitty germs she’d left.

I had only to roll back the clock to the second before Christabel became airborne.

But I did not yield to temptation. The stakes were too high. One black hair on one fork, and my pristine reputation would have been history. Nearly a dozen eggs, no telling how much sugar and milk, several cups of rice–I scrapped it all.

The next morning on the way to work, I stopped at the grocery store and picked up a package of Oreos. Good old Southern food.

Now. I started this piece with a question about a day spent getting everything wrong. But then I wrote about one little culinary disaster spanning less than a half-hour out of twenty-four. An English teacher would say I didn’t follow instructions.

But believe you me, the five seconds it takes for a cat to make a hard landing in uncooked rice pudding is equal to a whole week of screw-ups.

And speaking of rice pudding, a while back, I posted about a 1000-word scene I wrote and then scrapped because it wasn’t right. Several people complimented me on my willingness to let it go.

What I didn’t make clear is that the 1000 words, taken as a whole, were pretty bad. They were first-draft, just-get-it-onto-the-page-quality words that resulted in a very bad scene.

They weren’t words I could have revised and revised and turned into a high-quality scene. There was cat hair all over them. They had to go.

But they didn’t go very far. In my documents folder there’s a file labeled Excisions. That’s where the hairy words live.

Because I never know when they might start to shed.

*****

I first posted about rice pudding on Whiskertips. This seemed a good time to share it again. Christabel and Chloe aren’t with us any more, but they’ll never be forgotten.

I blog now at Telling the Truth, Mainly, and occasionally (about cats) at Whiskertips.

Hey Good Lookin’, Whatcha Got Cookin’ by Cher’ley

 

 This Blog  by Cher’ley Grogg

Food is an important part of our lives and we all have favorite recipes we have been raised with. There were 5 kids and two adults in our family and often we children would bring in visitors and Mom would always say, “Stay to eat. We’ll throw another potato in the pot.” Some of my favorite foods were the soups that Mom made. She had many different kinds of soups, and one of my favorites was hamburger soup.

INGREDIENTS

1 finely chopped onion
1 pound lean ground beef
4 celery stalks, chopped
4 carrots, chopped
2 cups potatoes, cleaned, peeled, chopped
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes (we always had home-canned)
1 6-oz can tomato paste (to thicken quicker)
Pepper and salt to taste

DIRECTIONS

Brown hamburger and drain. Transfer to a pot, add chopped carrots, celery and potatoes.  Continue cooking over medium heat for about 5 -8 minutes.  Add diced tomatoes and tomato paste (do not drain the diced tomatoes).  Blend. Simmer for about 30 minutes or until potatoes and carrots are cooked. Bigger families, “Just throw another potato in the pot.”

My mom could create something that tasted good from practically nothing. When my children were younger, I too picked up some cheap and far-reaching dishes. When times were tight, the cook would always find ways to stretch the budget just a bit. I discovered many things that made good gravy, even a bit of flour and bacon grease tasted good over biscuits fresh from the oven. But, I find that I miss my mom’s simple recipes and since my children and grandchildreI remember n aren’t around much for meals, I’m still trying to learn to not cook for an army, but most of the older recipes tend to taste better when “super-sized”.

Aunt Linda is the main cook in “Stamp Out Murder”, people visiting McKeel’s Bed and Breakfast want good old-fashioned, West Virginia style food and Linda doesn’t disappoint them. In fact, many of the return guests do so because of her wonderful, mouth-watering recipes.

***Do you miss your Mom’s or Grandma’s cooking? What was your favorite dish? Do you have a favorite dish that you fix?***

Cher’ley’s Books are listed below and on sale at Amazon and local bookstores. Her newest book is an Advanced Coloring Book and she has one that is freshly published with 11 other authors.

Stamp Out Murder”.
 The Secret in Grandma’s Trunk” This is an especially good book for your Tween Children and Grandchildren
The JourneyBack 3The Journey Back-One Joy at a Time and the B&W Edition of The Journey Back
Boys Will Be Boys   The Joys and Terrors of Raising Boys-An Anthology
 Cowboys, Creatures, and Calico 

All About the Girls 5(3)

Four Moons and Fair Ladies Four Moons and Fair Maidens

Memories from Maple Street U.S.A: Pawprints on My Heartlink coming soon

Wonders of Water      Advanced Coloring Book

And please join me on my Facebook Fanpage, that’s managed by one of my most faithful fans: Cindy Ferrell
Here’s a link to Cher’ley’s WEBSITE

Recipe for Fun

This post by Jennifer Flaten

I have a condition (completely made up) that prevents me from reading a  recipe from start to finish. I don’t know why, but I’ll start reading the ingredient list, and if it is more than 7 items long I start to skim the rest of the ingredients. And, you have no idea how much trouble 2 column recipes have caused. My eyes/attention just don’t last long enough for 2 columns!

It is the same with the actual steps to make the recipe. If they are long an complicated, or over max 5 steps long. I simply stop reading. Which means I miss crucial steps like say “chill for X amount of time”.

I have apparently passed this trait on to my daughter. Yesterday, I planned on making pancakes for supper, but my daughter wanted to do it. She had a recipe for cinnamon roll pancakes that she wanted to try out.

It was a basic pancake recipe (flour, sugar, wet stuff) but it had a “filling” of brown sugar, cinnamon and butter, that needed to chill for at least 20 min. Kid started making pancakes 15min before we wanted to eat them. She’d missed this step completely. OOPS!

It turned out okay, we simply made a cinnamon brown sugar mixture to sprinkle on the pancakes before we flipped them. They turned out absolutely delicious. A happy accident to be sure.

Has this ever happened to you?

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We’re having pancakes

This post by Jennifer Flaten

Early Sunday morning I awoke to the sound of rustling. The noise was coming from the kitchen. As comfortable as I was I decided I better get in there and see what was going on.

It turns out that our oldest daughter decided she felt like making everyone pancakes. Now, if I would have asked her to cook breakfast she wouldn’t have wanted to, but since it was her idea she was all for it.00714

By the time, I got out there she had it well in hand. I didn’t need to assist at all. The funny thing is I have tons of cookbooks and cooking magazines, yet she couldn’t find a pancake recipe she liked so she turned on her school issued Chromebook and googled the perfect recipe. I have to admit, that recipe made a perfectly fluffy pancake.

Of course, everything tastes wonderful when you don’t have to make it, especially breakfast.

This particular kid is always leaving her dishes for me to do after she goes on a baking spree, but this time I felt like doing the dishes to say ‘Thank you’ for a wonderful breakfast.

What a wonderful way to start the day!

Browse my jewelry on etsy

 

 

Food for Thought

This post by Jennifer Flaten

 

What is your go to meal when you just can think of anything to cook/eat? For me it is cereal. Really. Sometimes, nothing appeals to me but a big bowl of cereal. It doesn’t matter what type of cereal it is, as long as it’s in the cabinet I’ll eat it. It doesn’t matter if it’s Fruit Loops or Special K, although the Special K makes me feel like I’m more adult.

 

Of course, when the kids were little I wanted to model better eating habits so I tried to cook as much as possible, even on the days when I didn’t want to eat.  On those days, I went with kid friendly meals like eggs, pancakes, mac and cheese, and hot dogs.

 

Now, I have one kid doesn’t like boxed mac & cheese, one kid who won’t eat eggs and another kid who is suspicious of hot dogs. So, now on the nights when I don’t feel like cooking or eating much of anything I feel free to turn the kids loose on leftovers/sandwiches and I make myself a nice big bowl of cereal.

Even the kids sometimes go with just a bowl (or 3) of cereal or oatmeal. Although, we try not to do that too often, but sometimes after a really tough day nothing is better. I think it is the fact there is hardly any clean up.

DSCN7278What’s your go to meal?

 

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Rarin’ to go

 

This post by Jennifer Flaten

 

Another food based holiday has passed and I managed not to poison anyone. I am, I think, a competent cook, but there is just something about the holidays; or more specifically cooking for a large (and by large I mean anything over 5 people) crowd that throws me off my game.

 

On any other day of the week, I can bake a chicken and be 100% (okay, maybe 98% because you just never know) certain that my cooking won’t forever doom the event to be known as “The day I got so sick I thought I was going to die”.

EVMg3X3E

Thanksgiving, on the other hand, with all that thawing and basting, not to mention working with a gargantuan bird that just barely fits in the oven cause me to have heart palpitations.

 

Part of my anxiety could stem from growing up with my grandmother. For her there was only one way to cook meat. There was either (over) done or OMG we’re going to die of Ptomaine poisoning.

 

She was the queen of well done. I can’t imagine what she would think about sushi or some of the other wacky gastronomical creations they have Food Network. She cooked everything on extremely high heat for the maximum amount of time.

 

I didn’t realize there was any other style of steak besides over-done until I moved in with my mother and then it took some time for me to actually try my steak that way. I still haven’t tried sushi with actual raw fish, I go for the tame rice and veggie version of sushi. I don’t even eat raw cookie batter for cryin’ out loud.

 

How about you? Do you dare to go medium rare?

 

Browse my jewelry on Esty

 

Cupcake Catastrophe

This post by Jennifer Flaten

While we were at the grocery store, my daughter asked if she could make cupcakes to take to her drama class. I said it was okay and she ran off to find a box mix.

Later when it came time to make the cupcakes I found her pouring over a cookbook. I asked her why and she told me she didn’t want to take just the box mix cupcakes, because then they weren’t homemade.

Personally, I thought it was silly to make a batch of box mix and a batch of from scratch, but either way I got a cupcake so who was I to argue.

She settled on the boxed chocolate cupcakes and a from scratch yellow cupcake. Halfway through making the yellow cupcakes, she realized she needed sour cream. That is something I don’t keep on hand, so the mixing stopped and we made a special trip to the corner market.

Now my kid loves to talk while she bakes, I see a future for her as a cooking show host, because she can measure and mix while keeping up a running patter. She mixed and chatted her way through the recipe. Finally, she popped both batches in the oven.

2014-01-29 00.53.45When the time rang she eagerly opened the oven door and took out her cupcakes. The chocolate box mix batch looked picture perfect. The from scratch batch, not so much. They didn’t look “cupcakey enough” according to the baker.

 

We tried them, and discovered they weren’t cupcakey enough for everyone. Instead of cakey, they were muffiny. After talking about what could possibly have gone wrong we figured out she didn’t add enough sugar. She tried to salvage it by adding some into the remaining batter, but didn’t help.

 

She was extremely disappointed. The only thing that prevented her from making another batch was lack of time. She frosted the chocolate cupcakes but ultimately they didn’t go to drama class because there were not enough, so the family got to eat them.

 

The moral of the story is measure out your ingredients first!

 

Browse my jewelry on Etsy.

 

Dinner’s on Me

This post by Jennifer Flaten

 

Twin number two decided she wanted to make dinner for us on Monday. She likes to cook, but I think her motivation was more sibling rivalry in nature.i3Vp5BGS

 

Her sister took a travel & restaurant this past semester and one of the final projects was a recipe for Hawaiian Fried Rice. What makes it Hawaiin, you ask? Spam. Yep, spam fried rice. Now I had spam often as a child, but I’ve never made it for my kids.

 

I figured the closest they would ever come to Spam is the cute yellow sunsuits that they got from their grandma when they were two. At that time we were living in Minnesota (home to the Spam factory) and on a trip to visit us my mother made a detour to Spamville and arrived with the cutest outfits emblazoned with the word Spam.

 

Well, it seems I was wrong, they do like Spam, but only when made by one of their own. I can guarantee if I plopped Hawaiian fried rice down for dinner one night no one would have touched it, prepared by a kid though everyone had seconds.

 

So, kid #2 set off to best Spam fried rice. She turned to her trust Summer School cookbook, put together during a six week summer school session. The recipes are extremely kid friendly (think pancakes, pigs in a blanket, and strawberry shortcake).

 

She chose chicken chimichangas. We bought all the ingredients and she spent some time talking up her dinner making debut. When the time came she eagerly went to work in the kitchen. Soon we were all dining on tasty chimis.

 

I like this sibling rivalry thing if it means I don’t have to cook.

 

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