I didn’t always cook “al dente” or “to the tooth,” as the Italians call it. I was born in Louisiana, a place where if the cooks didn’t boil it to a mush, they fried it within an inch of its life. My family tree is full of these cooks, who also are quite liberal with the bacon drippings and the salt. It is no wonder that high blood pressure, diabetes, and effects of obesity also are written in our family history. Imagine my surprise when my younger sibling emailed me with “Guess how I spent my Memorial Day weekend? Four days in the hospital, bunch of tests, and congestive heart failure.” I picked up the phone.
We all come to a crossroads in our lives. Four years ago, I went on disability leave. My doctors said my seizure disorder wouldn’t get better, but I could manage to live by myself if I changed my lifestyle. They were more concerned about my heart and weight, for I had metabolic syndrome. If I didn’t change my whole lifestyle, (what I ate, my exercise, how I reacted to stress, my work situation, and my attitude toward responsibility), I wasn’t going to have a good prognosis. To be a whole person, I needed to make a whole life makeover. When a pastor is assigned to a church, they are sent to “a charge.” My appointment was to “disability leave,” so my “charge” was my body, my mind, and my spirit. I was to pastor ME. I can do that, for I’ve had three churches at one time or one church and multiple county ministries with I’ve served. One person will be a piece of cake!
I’m not one to sit in front of talking heads screaming at each other or what passes for the news today. I believe if we have a brain, a computer connection and the ability to reason, we can discover what we need to know. This is why CORNIE’S KITCHEN on facebook links to professional pages that are accessible to lay persons. I don’t subscribe to pages that claim that a “certain diet will protect you from disease.” There is so much junk and impurity in our air and water, not to mention the mechanical and technological tools we use, that we will get sick from something in our lifetimes! I think we are trusting in our “good works to save us” or “our purity of life to save us” when we lift this shibboleth of “diet is our salvation from all things.”
Having said that, I stand as a firm believer that the modern American diet bears no relation to the food my Mother cooked, and certainly not to the food my Nanny cooked. When I was a child, I was thoroughly amazed by the grinder that Mom used to shred the block of cheddar cheese. She had a pot boiling the macaroni elbows and another saucepan over medium heat that had 1/2 a stick of butter, 1/4 chopped onion very fine, 1 Tbs flour and 1/2 cup milk. When the butter had melted, she stirred the cheese into the sauce until smooth. That pan came off the burner. The elbows were poured into a colander to drain. Then they were poured into a greased baking pan. The sauce was poured over it. She baked the casserole in a 325 degree oven until it thickened (about 30 minutes) and the cheese got just a little toasty on Top. Mom always added a bit of salt and pepper to the sauce, but you can leave this off and let each person touch up the taste to suit them.
Visiting my Nanny’s home was always a treat because we could pick fresh greens from the garden behind her garage. This was always fun because butterflies flew their crazy loop de loos from plant to plant, there were bugs of every kind and every number of legs and my Nanny would let us put them in mason jars. We took a hammer and a nail to punch holes in the used canning lids so our trophies would have air. We budding entomologists had long discussions and debates about our respective specimens. We would be drawn away by the fragrances coming from the kitchen. As dinner time neared, I would often be sent to get the sweet mint growing in the shady corner of their old white frame house. There behind the antique rose, if I bent down just so, I could avoid getting scratched as I snapped the stems for the family meal. When I washed the mint at the kitchen sink, then it was time to also wash my hands for the meal.
Most every meal I remember there was fried chicken, rice, chicken gravy, a vegetable of the day, and the famous jello fruit salad mould, always on lettuce and always with mayo on top. I am surprised at the number of people that can’t make good gravy! But then they didn’t have the privilege of knowing my Nanny. Once you fry the chicken, pour off all but about 1 1/2 Tbs of the grease. Sprinkle 2Tbs flour into the pan and begin to stir this around. I use a wire whisk, but the old fashioned way is to keep a fork or spoon moving constantly. This is best done over medium heat in a cast iron pan (what? You cook in anything else?) or any other heavy pan. Light weight pans and nonstick pans don’t work so well. Technically, you are making a ROUX, so if you want a light gravy, pour some boiling water (1 cup at a time, then 1/4 cup more) over the light base. Stir the grease and flour a bit longer to make a darker color, then add your water. A Dark Roux will taste burnt. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour into gravy boat and serve at table.
When you consider that Kraft Mac and Cheese has 380 calories, 47 g of carbs and 580 mg sodium per serving, it isn’t a healthy choice. It also won’t fill you up, besides being 33% of the recommended sodium allowance for an adult (it is probably overkill for a child, which is why we have increasing levels of high blood pressure and obesity in our kids).
So what’s different about this plate in my blog? Notice that it is divided into fourths: 1/4 is chicken breast, a lean meat. 1/4 is corn on the cob, as close to natural as possible. It’s not creamed, fried, and while I did rub a pat of butter on it for flavor, it isn’t cooked to a mush. My teeth will have to spend some time chewing it, so this will slow down the time it takes to finish dinner. By then, I might even hit my satiety point! The other 1/2 is for veggies that were cooked just enough to heat them, but not enough to make them into baby food. We grow ups can chew while we still have our teeth! The carb count on this plate is 47 grams and the protein is 30 grams (Parmesan cheese is hiding in this meal).
My plate used to be pasta, cheese, meat, a few veggies and a lot of cheesecake for desert with a beer or wine to wash it down. I could eat the same way and live a short, brutal life. Or I could choose a good life and learn to love a new way of cooking, discover some new tastes, and take my favorite family recipes into “rehab land.” I’ve been changing the old recipe box, so that I leave a heritage of life and health for the next generation.