My mom made the best cookies. I told everyone about them constantly.
“There is a chocolate chip in every bite!”
“She only makes them when I am out of the room to keep the recipe secret!”
“She NEVER makes a bad batch!”
How did my mother get the cookies she baked to such store product value? To their uniform shape with a chocolate chip in every bite? Easy. She didn’t make them. Chips Ahoy made my mothers’ cookies. She just heated them up in the oven and passed them off as homemade. The cookies still contained every bit of love, they just weren’t hand kneaded into the dough. I always felt kind of disjointed when I have a school assignment asking about food and culture of my family.
My grandmother came from a poor family, her mother was deep Americana and her father had jumped onto the working ship of god-knows-where and snuck his way into America under the name John Schmitt. I don’t hear much about that side of the family outside of the main facts which were: 1) they were dirt poor and 2) PawPaw( Mr. John Schmitt wastername) was a terrible father. For that reason my grandmother ran away at 16 into the arms of my grandfather, whom she never claims to have loved but thought she could grow to love him. He took her to Colorado ( a place she hated) and they had my mother and uncle in Littleton. My Grandfather hailed from Telluride where he fancied himself to be a cowboy of some sort. He collected arrowheads and knew how to work on cars and grow good tomatoes. His tomatoes would always be prominently featured in his homemade salad ( which he also grew) doused heavily in vinegar and a little bit of olive oil, coated in pepper and meat seasoning sauce. The salad would be so acidic it would leave little sores where your teeth met your cheek. We ate this very acidic salad because that’s how Real Italians eat their vegetables. My grandfather came from a family tree that was mixed up in who was Austrian and who was Italian, but in a time when being Italian was a better gamble. At some indeterminable point, my grandfather quit guessing and just decided to be Italian. Being Italian meant pasta at every meal and very acidic salads, and calling parmesan cheese “cheezo.” He also came from a poor family, in the middle of Colorado farmland– from removed from any real tradition of being Italian.
My family history brings about funny tall tales and weird quirks that don’t really relate to any reality of culture. Where other people have sitcom families with classic food dishes and nuclear families I have Gilmore Girls. Hell, I am even missing out on an entire other side of my family culture/history. What we have always had is the “four pack”: My grandmother, myself, my sister, and my mother– our own self-appointed gang of misfits. We don’t have any solid idea where our roots are, but we know for damn sure we are a tree.
Zebra cakes for birthdays ( I also thought these were homemade), spaghetti for every meal at my grandfathers, and red beans and rice cooked in a big crockpot. These are my family recipes, and they aren’t even half ours, we just stole them or made them up. I come from a culture of commodity at the lowest rungs, and the food we eat is reflective of it.
In some nostalgia and forever longing for Louisianna ( where my mother and grandmother claim we are actually ourselves, as if we are only actualized in the deep south), my mother often makes red beans and rice in a big vat. The dish is classically for “laundry days,”a.k.a days where you couldn’t be bothered to really make up a big meal because the workload was too overbearing. Red beans and rice is a peasant dish- it sustains you and keeps you going. When I was young we ate the meal twice a week, if not more. Food in my family has always been more about sustaining oneself, survival, rather than flavors or cooking together.
What follows is a crock pot recipe my mom uses, it isn’t a real recipe or even creole in a true sense. She usually cooks a batch and then sets aside tubs of the stuff for the next couple of weeks to live off of.
The “trinity” — onions, bell peppers, and celery — which is kind of the Creole version of mirepoix, or sofrito, etc, tons of garlic, Creole seasoning, and bay leaves. And yes, an entire pound of dried red beans. You are supposed to add in pork bone left over from Suandays meal, but mom started cooking a batch vegetarian for me when I started refusing to eat meat at age 8. Additionally, my mom has refused to actually use the “trinity” of onions/bell pepper/celery for some reason or other. Her verison is Creole seasoning, bay leaves, red beans, and rice.
Her verison is Creole seasoning, bay leaves, red beans, and rice. It is simple, simple, simple- as most of the cooking in our family tends to be.
Soak beans in water to cover overnight, drain, and rinse OR in a large pot, cover beans with 3 times their volume of water and bring to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 1 hour. Discard water.Just put the beans in some water in a crock pot and cook them until the texture gets stewish. Cook on low for 10 to 12 hours or on high for 5 to 6 hours. Stir once or twice.
- Serve over hot cooked rice.
In a small family that is oriented around moving about and not hassling yourself too much with food, the meal is the perfect mix of simple, unmessy, cheap, and effective substance. I actually see the reasoning why we eat the meal so much to be more of a reflection of the fragmented culture we are trying to piece together, a kind of reaching into our own non-history and making it ours. I always get bashful about these kinds of things because my
I always get bashful about these kinds of things because my family seemingly exists in a void of “normal” family culture and care. We aren’t alternative by any means, we are just not rich or proud of our heritage like everyone else seems to be.