I have never believed that my father, depicted in pastels as a chef holding a knife, ever baked a London broil in his life. If he was in the kitchen he was likely pouring himself a glass of scotch from the cabinet over the fridge.
My mother was the cook. When we were kids, the pay cheques didn't always stretch from one Friday to the next. That's when we'd have fried Bung bologna and eggs or soup from a can that my mom dressed up with available root vegetables.
The food of my childhood tended to be heavy on the classics of Winnipeg's North End: Perogies, cabbage rolls, homemade chicken soup and, on very lean days, pinches.
I remember pinches as a treat, the sort of meal made to reward good little boys and girls. Here's the recipe:
To three lightly beaten eggs add enough flour to make a soft dough. Pinch
off small pieces and drop into a rapidly boiling water .... they float when
cooked. Drain, add two tablespoons of butter. Stir in half carton of uncreamed
cottage cheese. Serve with sour cream and seasoned salt.
I made these for my ex and our daughter years ago. They gagged.
But something (and I swear it wasn't Julie and Julia) made me drag out What We Ate a few weeks ago. I was depressed. I didn't want to work. I wanted to sleep. It had been a summer of coping with my father's stroke, the need to sell the family home, their move into an assisted living place, the garage sales and the instant expertise in electric wheelchairs and home care.
I was tired. I was sad. I needed the comfort of my mom and she needed me to be the one in charge.
And so I set out to cook the meals of my childhood. I started with the bread, a staple in our house. We'd run home from school and smell it before we were in the door. It was the smell of caring, of a mom who wanted us to have a hot snack, a mom who could sew our clothes and help with homework. This was a mother who used to smoke as she talked on the kitchen phone, her ashes piling up on the aborite table, the boredom of a housewife's life writ clear on her face.
I don't smoke anymore.
But I cook. That's how I show love and caring. I cook to nurture and I cook to show off. I was married to a man with perfect culinary pitch, a man who could eat and dish and identify every ingredient and replicate the result.
I'm not that good.
But I cook with enthusiasm and swearing, throw fits when the dishes don't get done and sulk when no one appreciates my efforts.
I began my quest with my mother's recipe for perogies.
Let us begin by using Aunt Lee's perogy dough recipe:
5 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup warm water
4 tablespoons oil
2 eggs well beaten
Mix water, oil and eggs. Sift salt and flour. Add liquids to flour. Cover
and let rest for one hour.
Now prepare the filling: to hot mashed potatoes (about one-half of a 2
quart potful) add one diced onion, sauteed in butter, 2 cups of grated cheese.
Using flour liberally, roll out dough. Cut rounds, place filling on one
half, fold over, pinch closed securely. Drop a couple of dozen into boiling
water ... perogies float to the top as they cook ... takes about 5 minutes.
Drain. Pour sauteed onions and melted butter over. Serve with sour cream.
Make 24 perogies in 4 easy steps by using Hunky Bill's Little Perogie
Maker*, following instructions, makes 8-9 dozen.
Place cooked and cooled perogies on oiled sheets** and place in freezer.
Pack into plastic bags, tie and store. Shake out, fry in butter (or zap in
micro) and enjoy!
* If you've never heard of Hunky Bill's perogy maker you likely didn't grow
in Western Canada. It's a round plastic disk that you layer with a circle of
dough, then press in the filling and toss on another layer of dough. Use a
rolling pin to form the perogies. It's a pain in the neck.
** The oil is important. I froze my last batch on wax paper. Bad
Tomorrow? The world's best salade Nicoise.