Wednesday, May 9, 2012

(Secret) Family Recipes

One of the greatest obstacles I face in taking on this challenge is our wacky, ever-changing schedule and the havoc it wreaks on our meals. With a pilot for a husband, there are some days I'm sure about, some days I'm not, and a whole lot of "maybe" in between. J's schedule takes him away more often than not, so the time we do have together is precious -- but that doesn't stop life from happening. All efforts to the contrary, we can't always eat dinner at home (or together, for that matter) and we have learned to celebrate holidays and life events when it's convenient, not when they're supposed to happen.

This is the second year in a row that J has been away for both of our birthdays. Happily, I was lucky enough to spend mine with both of my parents this year, a rare treat indeed. They certainly know how to brighten my day (food and shopping are pretty safe bets).

A lovely birthday bouquet. Thanks, guys!

I thought I'd take advantage of my cooking lull to mention the influence my parents have had on my relationship with food and cooking. I know I already discussed  my mother (and her apron) here, but I neglected to show off my little treasure chest of the classic family recipes I learned while growing up.

There's something special about the notion of a family recipe -- or better yet, the secret family recipe. It sounds so mysterious, lending an otherwise simple dish a status it wouldn't normally enjoy. I'm fortunate to have a number of these little gems in my make-it-in-my-sleep arsenal, and have made many of them with great success. I do play favorites, however, and I have one from each parent that I make with pride to share -- but never share the recipe.

The treasure chest

From my mother: Sour Cream Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake. Now I admit, the very first time I made this on my own, something went wrong and I ended up with a rather sorry-looking, squished mess. It was still edible, I suppose, but it looked so wrong I couldn't bring myself to try it. I've made it many times since, and haven't had any more trouble. Friends and family request it, I whip it up, and usually it disappears after only a day or two (we eat it for breakfast, lunch, snack, and occasionally breakfast-for-dinner). The sour cream makes the cake texture smooth and light, and the right proportion of chocolate to, well, certain other ingredients keeps the cake sweet but not overly so. I'm sure I'll make it again soon.

From my father: Sangria. Okay, it doesn't involve any actual cooking, but his recipe is precise and utterly perfect. It's the standard I hold all other sangrias to, and rarely do they stand up against such a pillar of drinkable excellence. I usually make a batch for parties or group gatherings, and  have yet to find any left over by the time our guests head home. His recipe makes for a refreshing warm-weather drink that never fails, and I am bound by strict secrecy never to reveal the secrets to its success. 

Obviously there are many recipes and traditions I carry with me from home, and I plan to make and explore each of them as often as possible. Part of this food challenge, for me at least, is the opportunity (and incentive) to mesh the old traditions with the new, and create memorable meals for my own little family. The fresh food season is finally upon us here in the north, the farmers markets are open, and my kitchen is ready and waiting. Now all I need is someone to cook for!


  1. Im very proud of your kitchen accomplishment. Save me a piece of your next coffeecake!