"the dinner hour is the summer of the day, full of sunshine"
- herman melville
There's been so much serious stuff going on in the world lately, I thought this might be a nice time for a feel good piece. A couple years back I wrote a post called Whus Fa Dinnuh?
It was a piece that attempted to explain how, as a kid, you could correlate what was going on in the family, socially and economically by what you had for dinner. So I ran down a bunch of stand out meals, and what they said about my family. It seems a lot of people could relate. Over time, I kept remembering more meals, or I kept getting emails saying "how could you forget" such and such. So by request, definitely read part 1 first
, here's part two.TUNA FISH
Tuna fish is one of those easy breezy meals my mom would make for one reason: TO KEEP THE HOUSE COOL. In the summer time, when the temp started to creep up past the mid nineties towards one hundred degrees, my mom did everything she could to keep from having to turn on the oven. Either the folks were trying to keep the energy bill down and weren't running the air yet, so it was hot as southern hell. OR, the air conditioning was running over time and nobody wanted to make it have to work any harder than it already had. That meant a lot of quickie meals. Tuna fish was one of them. She'd boil eggs, cut them up, and crack open a few big cans of tuna. She'd start seasoning it with all kinds of stuff, until there was this big bowl of tuna. (She always sprinkled Paprika on top to give it some color.) We usually ate it with white bread, Premium crackers, or Ritz crackers. I liked to eat it with just Ruffle potato chips, but that usually got me yelled at. So Ritz crackers it was.FRIED PORK CHOPS
This was definitely one of my top two or three meals as a kid. It was a semi-celebratory meal. We usually had it mid-week, or top of the week, always Monday or Wednesday. My sister and I were latch key kids, so when my mom walked in with a few grocery bags after work, I'd perk up because that was a good sign. I'd slide across the kitchen floor in my socks and ask my mom "what you bout to cook." And that's when I'd here those two magical words, pork chops! ( as a kid I called them "poke chops") I'd fist pump and jump up and down, "yes". She always made pork chops with mashed potatoes and gravy, green snow peas, and maybe some cream corn. Cream corn has to be one of the worst things ever created, but with pork chops, even that tasted good. Pork chops meant my old man would be getting home on time, six thirty sharp. My mother would never go through all the trouble of cooking that if he was going to be late. Just as the evening news would go off, he'd be pulling up. And just after the family introductions on Family Feud, I'd be climbing into my chair ready to get my grub on. KENTUCKY FRIED CHICKEN
The minute I'd see a bucket or two of chicken come through the door, I already knew, we were about to have some impromptu company. Not only that, but it was probably the kind of company we weren't that close to. If it were family, my mom would be cooking "a real meal", and if they did buy some chicken, it'd be Popeye's. So KFC meant some people, my folks weren't expecting, had phoned ahead, and were about to pop up. And I could always tell how much my parents didn't really like them by whether there were side items to go with the chicken. If it was really annoying company, there'd be one kind of chicken, original recipe. If my folks liked them somewhat, there'd be a mix of original and crispy, and there would be side items like corn, baked beans, and mashed potatoes. Sometimes I'd luck out, and the people coming over didn't have kids, which gave me plenty of chances to raid those chicken buckets for left overs while my folks put on their best faces and pretended to enjoy the people who had messed up their evening. SLOPPY JOE'S AND FRENCH FRIES
Sloppy Joe's meant kids were in the house. It meant one of my friends or cousins had talked their folks into letting them spend the night, and my folks were just trying to keep us happy and out of their hair. This was one of the few times I can remember when my folks ate something different than we ate for dinner. If we were eating Sloppy Joes, my mom would make some cornbread and throw some crowder peas and okra on for her and my old man. Meanwhile, us kids would try to stuff ourselves and eat as many Sloppy Joes as possible, which was always one and a half, and a whole lot of french fries.HOMEMADE SOUP AKA POT LUCK STEW
Nah, don't even think chicken noodle soup. This was one of those broke meals. When it was served up, we were usually over due for groceries, do to the lack of time or money. I'd frown the minute that big silver pot was pulled out of the cabinet. I didn't hate this soup, it just wasn't my thing. If we were lucky, there was some ground chuck in the freezer to throw into the soup. If not, cut up hot dogs or polish sausages. The soup always started out simple. Some potatoes, some green beans, some kind of meat. My mom loved tomatoes and tomato paste, so that pretty much made up the stock. But somewhere along the way, maybe because it was a throw together meal, she's just start throwing anything in that soup. Corn, chopped up okra, pasta. And please believe, this kind of meal made for perfect left overs.ROAST AND POTATOES
This was a Sunday meal, make no mistake about it. I knew what the roast pan looked like. It was this big oval discolored light brown pan, with burn marks and a hole right on the top where the handle used to go. Made for the ultimate steam releaser. Whenever I saw that pan being pulled out, I started dancing. Then I started humming, then I started started to smile. One of my favorite meals was on it's way, roast and potatoes. The blessing and the curse of a roast is, it takes forever to cook. The blessing is, all that while its cooking, it fills the house with the warm happy smells of what was manifesting in the oven. The curse was, it smelled so good, you wanted it NOW! First two hours were heaven. The next two hours you'd feel your stomach eating through your skin. The next two hours, you'd be agitated and angry. And that final hour when the whole meal came together, your hate reached the point of exhaustion and you felt like "whatever, i ain't even hungry no more". Yet the minute the words, "it's ready" hit your ears, you were back to singing and grinning. Thick beef gravy. Soft potatoes and carrots, with green beans and a soft roll. Lawd-ham-mercy. Roast made for great convo, and instant itis. A PLATE FROM SO & SO's HOUSE
You know that event/get together/party that was for grown ups only? Well, there was always a bunch of food at those, and that became dinner. My mom would call home to ask if we were doing okay, and then she'd say, "I'm bringing you a plate". Now, those words could be heaven or hell depending on where they were. If they were at a stranger's house, my mom wasn't bringing us a plate unless it was some catered food. (Mom didn't trust strangers on the cleanliness tip) And if it were family or friends, it totally depended on whose house they were at. With a plate from someone's house, you know it's going to be good the minute you look at it. BBQ and spaghetti makes for great plates. Cold roast beef and fried chicken, or turkey and dressings make for a doable plate too. But once you start getting into more specific type foods, especially vegetables like greens, they tend to be pretty sorry on the reheat. I'd always end up diving right in, or turning up my nose quickly. Sometimes that got you yelled at. Other times, it got you a free trip to Mickey D's. FRIED FISH FROM THE FISH HOUSE
I love fried fish as a kid. It was usually a Saturday or Friday evening meal. Things were pretty easy and comfortable when we had this meal. My old man would leave the house, and about twenty minutes later, he'd show up with these brown bags full of aroma. Then he'd start pulling these bundles of news paper out of the bags. He'd pull the bundle out and unwrap it, and in the bundle would be a paper plate with another one on top. He'd lift the paper plate off the top, and underneath there'd be two pieces of white bread, and four of five pieces of smoking hot fish, with sliced pickle and raw onions on the side. Ewwwweeeee, now that's some good eating. My mom and dad would split a plate of catfish, and a plate of buffalo. My sis usually ate the catfish too. But I loved the jack salmon. It was white fish that came one one long big bone. Whenever we ate fish, without fail, my folks would start talking about all the horror stories about folks who got fish bones stuck in there throats. "There was a boy name Arthur Lee Kinley, boy had a catfish bone stuck in his throat for two years. Had to learn sign language cause he couldn't talk, then one day he ate some white bread and it just popped out". Mind you, these were absolutely the biggest tall tales you ever did want to hear, but I was a kid, so they scared the hell out of me. I think my folks knew what they were doing. They didn't trust us with fish, and told those stories to make sure we never got careless with it. Note to reader: Ghetto fish doesn't come de-boned. lolTV DINNERS
As a latch-key kid of the 80's, I definitely ate my share of frozen dinners aka TV dinners. Mind you, TV dinners were totally a luxury item, and were the one excuse my sister and I EVER had to turn on the oven. My parents were on some "don't be messing with the gas eyes when we aren't home" shit. But we WERE allowed to crank up the oven to pop in a TV dinner. So for those late work days, or those days when my parents would be gone, when money was right, we had an array of frozen pot pies, pizzas, and various Swanson meals. You open the box to the meal, and then you peel back the tin foil on it and slide that bad boy in the oven. About a half hour to 45 minutes later, you had you something. I started off on those small dinners. The meat would be on one side, and the accompanying side dish would be on the other side. The meatballs and mashed potatoes quickly come to mind, as well as the veal and pasta, and the fish and mac n' cheese. Somewhere around ten, I developed an appetite, and I had to move up to the HUNGRY MAN size. The only thing better than one frozen fried chicken breast, are three. lol Bigger dishes, multiple sides, hell yeah. But what really stands out are the shows I remember watching as we ate those meals. Various syndicated shows that included, Gomer Pyle, Good Times, The Munsters, My Three Sons, What's Happening, Leave It To Beaver, etc. While making those meals myself taught me independence, those shows became the backdrop to my childhood. Weird thing about a TV dinner, no matter how much you ate, chances are, your ass was hungry about fifteen minutes later.