This is the most important part of a good meal

For someone who really doesn’t enjoy cooking, I spend a ridiculous amount of time thinking about food.  Maybe it goes with the territory of being a mom; most days I’m figuring out what’s for dinner before I’ve finished my first cup of coffee. More likely, I’m not very pleasant when I’m hungry.

Although I cook from scratch virtually every night, Food Network is not knocking on my door anytime soon.  I don’t have the same gift as my sister (a chef) or as my daughter.

True story…my daughter was around 5 years old when she asked to get up during dinner (yes, I’m that kind of mom), she just wanted to get something to go with her asperagus.  I watched as she pulled mayo & lemon from the fridge, added some olive oil and created a hollandaise?/aioli? sauce with little thought.

When I asked her where she came up with the idea, she answered “I don’t know, the flavors just sounded right together.”

Yeah, I don’t have that gift.

“There are things you do because they feel right & they may make no sense & they may make no money & it may be the real reason we are here: to love each other & to eat each other’s cooking & say it was good.”
-print hanging in my kitchen, can’t read the artist’s name!

My daughter is my go-to when I want to know “what’s missing” and I’ve exhausted cooking for dummy’s questions for my sister.

Just because I can’t tell you if a recipe needs more salt or a little extra thyme, I do know when I eat something fantastic.  There are foods I dream about & wish could instantaneously appear on my plate, yet I’m never able to recreate the recipe myself.

In 42 years, which 6 foods top my unforgettable list?  In no particular order…

Duck quesadillas at Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe, NM.  I’d never had duck before, had never heard of Coyote Cafe (apparently it’s pretty well-known), we just stumbled on it after a long day of wandering the city.

Fried Green Tomatoes on the beach in Santorini, Greece.  Have never liked tomatoes, but I think I ate about a dozen of these that day.  The restaurant was hardly fancy, I don’t think it was more than a little shack. Even though my husband-then boyfriend- and I were on a shoestring budget as we backpacked through Europe, it tasted entirely decadent. Bang Shrimp at Cafe Tu Tu Tango in  Orlando, Florida.  I knew the second we walked in that this place was going to rock.  By far one of the most unique restaurants I’ve been to, and the food didn’t disappoint.  If I were giving a top 10 list, their Pork Cubra Libra would make the cut too.  Side note: my son was crabby for some forgotten reason & refused to eat anything at dinner.  He still brings it up…”their food was really good wasn’t it, I really wish I would have eaten.”

Angel Hair Pasta with Chicken cooked in parchment at Zephyrs (closed) in Naperville, IL.  When I was in high school my family owned a deli/gift store.  Zephyrs was the “fancy” restaurant below ours.  On the nights I wasn’t eating at our deli, I’d order from them.  Unwrapping the parchment was like opening a gift…a gift of rich butter, cream, and tied up with delicate pasta.

Roast beef sandwiches at Barnicle Bills in Englewood, Florida. After playing in the sand and jumping in the waves for hours, we’d walk down the beach to the sandwich shack on the beach. Sandwiches pilled way too high to be remotely close to healthy served with crisp potato chips. I was probably 10 the last time I had one, I don’t even know if they’re still in business.

Fried Catfish & bread dumplings at my moms. This is my comfort food. Of any of the meals, I obviously have the best chance of learning the recipe. But I don’t want to. It’s sort of like learning how an illusionist did the trick: like you’re in on the secret, but now some of the magic is gone. I know I would make changes to the recipe, try to make it healthier, and it would never taste the same.

imageSo, what do all of these meals have in common? They all have a story.

Maybe what makes these meals stand out is the memory: the where, the when, the with whom.

Dinner is not about creating Pinterest snapshots of food shaped like animals.
It’s not about expensive ingredients.

It’s knowing that who’s at your table is sometimes just as important as what’s on it.

As we head into Labor Day weekend, add creating memories to your menu. Ignore the voice that says “We can’t have people over! The house is mess, the yard needs to be weeded.”

Laughter and love…that’s what makes a great meal.

Where & what was your most memorable meal?


Bang Bang Shrimp photo credit


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