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THE FAMILY COOKBOOK
10 September 2012
We're having Joe Special for dinner tonight. It's a recipe I first learned from my mother, who liked it when she had it at Original Joe's restaurant in San Francisco. (I wonder how many "Original Joe"s there are in the country!). It's very simple. You brown 1 lb ground beef, onion and garlic (in deference to Walt's hatred of onions, I usually leave those out), then you add 1 package of cooked and well drained chopped spinach (it's best to put it in cloth and wring it out to get as much water as you can out). When that's all mixed well, pour in 4-6 eggs, beaten and as they cook, add about a cup of Parmesan cheese.
This is my "go to" dinner when I'm uninspired and happen to have both ground beef and spinach in the house.
My mother kept all of her recipes in her one cookbook. It was a thick book, pages well worn and all those "extra" recipes she collected through the years stuck in among the pages. And then in her frustrating Virgo way, when she reached a point where she realized she would not be cooking for guests any more, she just threw it away. It was years before I realized that she no longer had it.
All those things I hoped to recreate some day when I inherited her cookbook will never be recreated because her bookshelf had to be neat and tidy and it never occurred to her that I might like the right of first refusal. It's the same way she threw out my "childhood" when I moved out of the house and she cleaned everything off of all the shelves without asking me first if I wanted to keep anything. How I would love to have my high school diaries to read today.
I'm a decent cook and I have recipes that I make over and over again, but, unlike my mother, I don't have special recipes that people look forward to my cooking. My mother made the best pot roast and potato pancakes that, though I have attempted many times, I have never managed to recreate. And she can't remember ever cooking it now. The bittersweet chocolate frosting that coated her famous choclate cream roll is now just a memory and I have been unable to recreate that either. My father made incredible calzones that bear no resemblance to any recipe I have been able to find anywhere.
Fortunately I did manage to have my mother make her famous enchiladas so I could copy down what she did, but she was already starting to forget by the time she showed me and they don't taste the way hers did.
I have often thought it would be fun to put together a family cookbook to give to the kids for some gift-giving occasion, but the problem is that if I were to print the things they remember and enjoy and talk about, it would be only a handful of pages long...maybe only clam dip and Mexican won ton.
The closest we have to a family cookbook was the book that Char and I (and others) put together as a fund raiser for Tiny Tots Nursery school. Char and I headed the project, I think, and decided that what we would do was to use it to put all of our special recipes in it, along with all those donated by others in the school, so that whenever we wanted to make anything, it would all be in "Trifles from Tiny Tots."
My Joe Special is in there, as is Mexican Won Ton. My herb-flavored Rock Cornish game hens recipe is there, which is a good thing because I don't have a clue where I first found the recipe (a personal favorite of mine) and would never be able to find it again. Likewise the banana whip recipe, which originally came from a neighbor of my parents in San Francisco could not be made without the Tiny Tots cookbook (puree 6 ripe bananas with 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup orange juice. Whip 1 pint of whipping cream stiff, fold into banana mixture and chill. Serve in 6 sherbet glasses, topped with a dollop of whipped cream and chocolate shavings).
Char's blueberry buckle recipe is there, as are her bourbon balls and her lethal Velvet Hammer punch. She also added the "stuffing bread" which she invented to use for stuffing a turkey (too long to print the recipe here) and her famous "jello ring" (with embedded cream cheese balls)
The pumpkin pie recipe (which is really just what is on the can of Libby's pumpkin) is credited to both Char and me, which seems only fitting.
Walt's mother added her recipe for beef teriyaki (which I used just last week) and the 7 layer casserole she used to make now and then.
Walt himself included his recipe for Lamb Chops with Beer, which he makes once every year or so.
Even my grandmother's recipe for mayonnaise-cheese appetizers, which is always a huge hit when I serve them, is on the pages of the Tiny Tots cookbook (mix 1 cup Best Foods--or Hellman's--mayonnaise, 1 cup of Parmesan cheese and 1 bunch of chopped scallions. Refrigerate several hours to blend flavors. Spread on thinly sliced rounds of French bread, crackers, etc. and broil until lightly browned)
When I posted a picture the other day of Walt eating a spaghetti sandwich, it prompted suggestions from folks on Facebook for other things he could do with leftover spaghetti, one of them was to use it in a fritata. "What's a fritata?" he asked. I remember fondly that my mother used to make fritatas for dinner on nights when my father was at work, but wasn't sure I remembered how she did it. Fortunately, I got the recipe from her for the Tiny Tots cookbook:
melt butter in a skillet
Come to think of it, if you add ground beef and substitute spinach for the zucchini and stir instead of letting it set, you'd have what we're having for dinner tonight. Spaghetti optional.
Maybe I don't need to print a family cookbook after all...I should just find the master for the TT cookbook (which I still HAVE somewhere, by the way) and reprint a new copy for all the kids.
I'd love it if you'd leave a comment!
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