Sunday, September 27, 2009

Mom's Cooking

I had a mom who worked "outside the home" while I was growing up. She didn't have much choice, being a single parent, but she worked three days a week until I was ten or so and four days a week until I was in eighth grade, at which point she went full-time.

When we were younger, Jindi was at the house when we got home if Mom wasn't there, or the Stay At Home Dad (who was in junior high then) and Dimpi (his sister) took us on the bus back to their house. When I was in the Upper Form at CSH, I wore my house key on an orange yarn hair ribbon under my uniform, and ate graham crackers with milk while watching The Brady Bunch in the afternoon.

No and I always called Mom when we got home. Sometimes she asked us to put the potatoes in the little oven and turn it on, since they took so long to bake. Mom would come home and turn on The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour and put together the meat and vegetable parts of dinner. We had a lot of three-part dinners, often a potato (baked or boiled, or very occasionally frozen french fries), a piece of chicken or beef, and a vegetable. We often had broccoli, but in the spring had asparagus or artichokes. Mom would garnish our 60's modern plastic dinner plates with a piece of parsley, which we never had to eat (thank goodness, I don't like parsley to this day!). For dessert, which we ate at least half an hour later, we usually had fruit cocktail or ice cream.

Mom made one casserole, which she called Irish-Hungarian Goulash. From my friends who grew up in the Midwest, I understand versions of this are called Hot Dish, though one friend told me that if it doesn't include cream of mushroom soup it isn't Hot Dish. We hardly ever had this casserole, probably because Mom wasn't the make-on-Sunday type and she got home from work after 5pm. Of course, I love it, and consider it comfort food. Maybe you do too.

Mom's Irish-Hungarian Goulash

1 pound ground beef
1 onion, chopped up
1 can stewed tomatoes
oregano, basil, and salt
cooked elbow macaroni
grated cheese for the top

Brown beef with onion until cooked through. Add the can of stewed tomatoes and the herbs and stir. Combine in deep casserole pan with macaroni. Sprinkle cheese on top and bake at 350F until heated through. Serve with broccoli to happy children.

I am thinking about all this because recently I have been eating the way I ate when I was a kid. KT had a baby two weeks ago, and Mom and I have been spending a lot of time at my brother's house. Mom has been cooking for the new parents, and a lot of it is tried and true classics from back in the day. They're also relatively fast meals so Mom can hang out with the new parents and the grandchild. It's been fabulous.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Quizzical Fitness

Arnold Schwarzenegger came on the scene about the same time that I started 7th grade. With his support,The President's Council on Physical Fitness mandated a new program in schools, which had the requisite Physical Fitness Test. It was something that you could fail, but would never result in your being flunked out of PE.

Every day we dressed down for PE, wearing our uniform shorts and shirts and changing into sneakers from our saddle shoes and Oxfords. From what I remember, the Test was a battery of events we had to complete, and it consisted of what seemed like days of different events: The 50-yard dash, the 1000-yard (or some distance) run/walk, the long jump, and timed push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups. There was a chart showing how many of what you should be able to complete for your age and size, which made it very clear to all who was failing and who wasn't.

I knew that I would fail the test. I didn't have what it took to meet any of the benchmarks, and I told myself that I didn't care to. I liked the long jump, which we did on the sidewalk outside the art building, because I was more successful at that than I was at any of the other events. I don't remember even trying to run the run/walk, which at my school was six revolutions around the lower playground. I knew I would never come close to the speeds of any of the bullies, so with a "screw you" attitude, I started out walking and kept walking. I had the slowest time of anyone in the class, of course.

At the time, I hated the PE teacher. This may have been simply because she was the PE teacher, and in retrospect I'm sure she was frustrated by my attitude. But she allowed team captains to pick their teams, allowed girls to say nasty things to other girls at bat or when serving, and allowed the playing of Dodgeball. These are all things that the Famous Irishman, an elementary school PE teacher, has told me he doesn't allow in his classes, and that these days are generally frowned upon among PE teachers he knows.

Years later when I signed up at the gym after the car wreck, I felt pretty intimidated by all the people there. I knew it was something I wanted to do, in fact, felt like I needed to do, if I was going to have the strength to dance at the level I wanted to dance. For the first four years at the gym I never spoke to anyone who wasn't staff, other than to ask if someone was done with a particular piece of equipment. I kept my eyes to myself, never looking directly at anyone else working out. I figured if I didn't watch anyone, no one would watch me - which is to say no one would judge me, my shape, or the weights I was lifting or pushing.

The Famous Irishman has said that bad memories of PE classes can turn people off to physical activity for the rest of their lives. I approached each workout, particularly those I did on my own and not with the trainer, with that ostrich attitude because I had body memory of those awful middle school PE classes. On the other hand, though I am still slow and would still fail the Phsyical Fitness Test as it was administered in middle school, sometimes I smile at how far I've come.