January 21st, 2015:


I have a theory that the foods you enjoy during your childhood stay favorites all your life, whether they are the healthiest choices or not. My kids retain their love of certain cereals: Captain Crunch and Count Chocula. I don’t know how they acquired the taste since I didn’t buy sweet cereals when they were younger. Perhaps they sneaked it in when they had some of their own money as teenagers. I once had to break up a fight because my son Hans had eaten the last bowl of Captain Crunch. Heidi came after him and they wrestled on the couch. At that time they were both tall and strong. Since they were acting like fighting cats, I filled a large glass with water and threw it on them. It stopped the fight and we’ve laughed about it ever since.

Some of my earliest food preferences that I remember date back to Tripoli when I was a teenager. Mom bought most of our food from the Wheelus Air Force Base Commissary, and it was American food. I remember eating Cheerios for breakfast almost every day and never lost my taste for it. Lunch (I recall brown-bagging it in high school) was generally a bologna sandwich on white bread with mayonnaise, mustard and pickle relish. I have a vague memory of eating cereal in Germany right after WWII, but we had to make do with evaporated milk in cans shipped from the States. I was too young to protest the odd taste. The photo below is the young me watching over my baby sister, Tupper, in Bavaria (the house was posted last Sunday). I wonder if she had to drink the evaporated milk as she got older.

Tup & Vic#1

My mother was a Virginian and cooked Southern food all her life, although she did explore a few more exotic dishes, occasionally, like Beef Stroganoff, which was her favorite for company. In Tripoli, she didn’t want to try or make the traditional Couscous because it usually had lamb in it and my dad hated lamb. I remember Mom’s fried chicken particularly. The chicken pieces were put into small paper bags full of seasoned flour (usually only salt and pepper) and shaken. They were then fried in Crisco in an old iron skillet and it was delicious. Green beans were a Southern staple, and it wasn’t a short process, like the French with their crunchy beans. The ideal way was to boil and simmer for what seemed like hours, in a heavy pot with a ham hock, unless you had a pressure cooker.

Iron skillets, like other old implements, are now back in style. Years ago, they usually ended up encrusted with old grease but lasted forever. I learned to make the best baked beans in our skillet by starting with bacon grease, adding a can of beans, then ketchup, brown sugar, mustard and Worcestershire sauce. I was taught to estimate how much you needed and pour or sprinkle. Bacon was a necessity for a more complete breakfast. When you bought your set of canisters for flour and sugar years ago, the set usually had a special canister for bacon grease. Southerners used bacon grease instead of oil or butter for the most part, so that container was a must since you wouldn’t want to pour bacon grease down the sink drain, and there was nothing wrong with leftover bacon grease.

My parents were a little ahead of the “health” game in some ways. We usually had a salad with dinner—iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, celery and an oil and vinegar dressing. I was in charge of all the chopping and mixing.

Mom made spaghetti but it was fairly basic and bland—there were no Italians in her family. Her idea of lasagna didn’t resemble what we eat today. Maybe it was because whatever commissary she was using didn’t carry the right noodles!

The homemade sweets I remember most were were chocolate chip cookies, pecan pie (another Southern tradition), and icebox cookies (thin chocolate wafers stacked with whipped cream between them and around them). At Christmas time Mom made chocolate bourbon balls. Yes, they actually had bourbon added for an extra kick. My favorite store-bought candy bar would definitely be Snickers and Oreos are still on the top of my cookie list. These days I favor the Belgian chocolate bars at Trader Joe’s.



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