I made myself a cup of hot chocolate today. Not any fancy homemade stuff. I’m a first time mom with a newborn at home here. Like I have time to do that! No, it was just one of those packets that I added to milk after microwaving it. I thought it would bring back the nostalgia of my youth. But then I realized it was all wrong. It tasted fine enough but brought back a flurry of memories that had me left wanting.
I remembered my grandfather (“Opa”) sitting in front of the stove when he’d make me hot chocolate. I’d watch him pour the cold milk into the pot and bring it just to hot enough that it steamed but didn’t boil. Then he’d add the mix. Oh sure, he’d buy the packets of hot cocoa mix too but he would never dream of dumping it all into a cup and nuking it. He’d always take the time and add love to it so that it was the best ever. It was that way with everything. I remember watching him butter my toast with such care and pride at a perfectly covered piece of bread that it made every single bite seem like a fine caviar to a rich old snoot. And boy did I think I was living the high life. Come to think of it, what use their microwave ever got I don’t know…
Breakfast was Opa’s thing. When I was a little girl I would always sleep with Oma at night. Her and my grandfather slept in separate bedrooms by this time. “Because he/she snores” was both of their excuse. She always woke and went downstairs before dawn (years of going to work at 4:00 am she says…though I don’t know many old schoolers that don’t rise with the sun). Before I was able to maneuver the stairs by myself she would wake and put me in bed with Opa on the first floor so that when I woke up I could join them without risking falling down the stairs. Again, that is. I had a bad introduction to stairs when I was nine months old…but that’s a different story. Back to breakfast routines. Opa would always sleep in a little bit to give Oma time to put on the coffee and get their paper from the porch.
Once I was old enough to manage the stairs on my own and a little too big for her to carry downstairs she would just leave me sleeping upstairs. In the morning our game was me sneaking downstairs and making some noise. Not a lot of calamity. Just enough to tip him off that I was awake. That was his cue. Opa would stir from his newspaper and coffee and then wonder out loud if I was waking up as he headed to the kitchen to begin my breakfast. I would hide at the bottom of the stairs and wait, listening to the clanking of pots and pans. Then a few minutes later he would announce loudly that my breakfast was ready and that he hoped I’d be up soon. That was my cue and I’d come bounding in as if I had just woken up.
When I was little it was usually a “dippie egg” – a soft boiled egg sitting like Humpty Dumpty on an egg cup surrounded below by all the king’s men (sausage links) that all got dipped into the yolk. With a teeny tiny silver baby soon we’d break into Humpty perfectly at the top so it cradled the yolk like a soup bowl filled with sunshine and I would proceed to dig in. As I got older and developed different tastes Opa changed it up a bit for me. He’d take pride in every omelette he’d make for me. Every morning he’d ask what fillings we’d have that day – bacon and cheese? Just cheese? They were always simple but he prided himself on perfectly crisped bacon sitting next to a perfectly folded, cheesy omelette. They never ate with me. They had already eaten sometimes hours before I woke but he never hesitated to dirty the pots and pans again making breakfast a second time and he always spent the time to stay near so he could watch me enjoy his labor and make sure it was all perfect. Everything else he had planned for the day had to wait.
Just as breakfast was Opa’s territory, supper and dinner were much more Oma’s domain. My memories of her were potato salad in the summer and a big pot of soup every week in the winter. She’d fill a huge stock pot with loads of goodies and let it cook until it was the perfect harmony of goodness. There was never a “recipe” and no two soups were ever the same. When we were done she’d sit that huge soup pot of leftover soup outside in the winter cold to keep because the pot was too big for the fridge. But you’d never microwave a bowl at a time after that. Every day until the soup was gone that big pot would be brought in from the cold and brought back up to the temperature on the stovetop. Add some crackers and Maggie and it was lunch that way for a week. Oma always slow cooked dinners. But not with a Crock Pot. She did it right on the stove – the real old fashioned way. She’d brown her meat and then simmer it slow in her gravy all afternoon. By dinner you’d have a perfectly tender piece of meat that melted like butter on your tongue paired, of course, with mashed potatoes. The “meat and potato life”. Oma’s meats were cooked to such perfection. She could take the toughest cut of meat and cook it to submission into the most tender, juicy dish you’ve ever had.
Oma and Opa never really rushed through anything. When they went to the grocery every week it consisted of several trips. And they always brought home lunch meats that weren’t usually popular with the kids. It was never just ham or turkey breast. They bought leona, dutch loaf, german bologna, braunschweiger, HEAD CHEESE! Opa would always go to the baker to get hard rolls and fresh bread – never buying it from the regular grocery. It didn’t matter that it took an extra 15 minutes to stop at another store to get bread. That was just how it was and the time spent doing it paid off in the deliciousness of everything that got paired with that bread. I could eat a dozen of those hard rolls if they’d have let me.
I went through a phase when I was younger of making deli sandwiches for us all with the good bakery bread. It became a pretty big deal because, who knew? I was quite a sandwich maker. I think for Opa it was more the pride in watching me take the time to create something more than anything – even if it was just food to be devoured in five minutes. Heck, even as a small child he’d watch me paint the stones in the garden with a paintbrush and not paint, but water. Even those masterpieces didn’t last very long but he would be so proud of each of them and would sit and wait until they had totally disappeared being absorbed into the stone under the hot summer sun.
They stock piled lunch meat in the house for a few months after that and I remember every day or two Opa would ask me to make one of my “special deli sandwiches” for everyone. I’d stack meats just like they did on the commercial with perfect curled edges and the best breads ever as their bed. Chopped lettuce, onions, tomato, pickles, hard boiled eggs, you name it all followed to the party. I would take time to spread ingredients and the mayo and mustard just like Opa making sure it was perfectly covered so that every bite was guaranteed to be deliciously the same. Then I’d deliver them out to my grandmother, grandfather (and uncle occasionally) on a tray and they’d all go crazy about how great they were. It became quite the staple around the house. To this day Oma still makes smaller finger sandwich versions every week when her dutch girlfriends come over.
Cakes were also special because they were always made from scratch. There were never any boxed cake mixes or brownies or cookies in the house. They’d buy little dutch windmill cookies for the cookie jar but wouldn’t bother to buy cookies and cakes that had to be cooked if they weren’t actually being “cooked”. Oma made a bundt cake every week or so from scratch. Usually raisin with powdered sugar on top of it. Iced tea would go by the pitchers in that house. (She still to this day with my uncle living there will go through two or three pitchers of it a day). But in the winter we’d drink warm tea with a little milk and her bundt cake would be so buttery and delicious with it. It would melt together and form a whole new flavor of its own. Buttery bundt cake tea – the best there is.
Nothing made was ever made quickly or half assed in that house. Everything was made with patience and love and everything tasted so good. Being home during the day since having the baby I have spent more time cooking than I did when I was working. I surprised my husband with a slow fully cooked meal every day for an entire week even! He couldn’t believe it. I made a roast the other day that was so perfectly my grandmother’s I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t need a dozen different exotic spices either. It was so simple. All it needed was time. Time and love…okay, and butter too of course.
Being off work these past six weeks I started remembering these simpler times and the amazing food. The food itself wasn’t high dollar or anything fancy but it can’t be recreated by any five star restaurant. It was the simplest of foods prepared with the most expensive two ingredients – time and love. Maybe it is so fondly remembered because it was when I was young and things weren’t so chaotic. Before work and bills and schedules and appointments all took over. We always joke with kids not to wish they were older too soon because they’ll miss being a kid when it happens. It’s so true. But it’s not just the ideal of being a kid again that I miss. It’s other things that I remember about the good old days that make me just miss taking the time to do things. To do things the way they were intended. The way they matter. The way they should be done. We’re always so rushed around that we don’t get to just enjoy simple little things like that anymore.
I spend extra money in the store every time we go trying to buy the freshest best ingredients, special breads, fine cheeses and meats. I realize now I’m just trying to buy that happy life back and give it to my family. But that kind of happiness can’t be bought and thrown into a crock pot. That kind of life doesn’t get added to a 30 minute recipe book. That kind of life takes time and love. It doesn’t matter how much money you spend on fancy ingredients. I want to create the freshest, most home cooked dinners for my husband to show him how much I love him and even though I make such elaborate plans, I realize we wouldn’t eat until 10:00 every night if I cooked like that all the time. It’s too hard to balance.
Back then it was really “homemaking”. It was a full time job. Giving your loved ones the proper attention for every detail of their life took time. Cooking that kind of love took time. Time is love and everything tastes better with love. I miss the “meat and potato” slow cooker life. And not the slow cooker life where you dump everything in a Crock Pot and go to work and forget about it until you come home and dish it out to everyone in a hurry before your show comes on. I miss the stove simmering something all day while memories were being made. House work was done while meat was slow cooked into perfection. Details weren’t forgotten and little things weren’t overlooked – they were the important things. Breakfast happened twice sometimes and both times were special. Dinner was served earlier in the day and enjoyed as long as it took. Leftovers were reheated the long way because it tasted better and showed you cared.
Time. It was time. I miss time. I’ve been teased with a little bit of it these past six weeks. I would say I wish I’d have managed it better so that I could have gotten more done during this time but that would be a lie. I did exactly what I wanted to do spending time staring at my baby and taking care of her the way it should be. What I really mean to say is that I just wish I had more of it. Time, that is.
I go back to work next week and I know it’s going to be difficult. I’ll go back to wanting to make fine meals for my family every night and settling for what I can get done around a working schedule. I’ll go back to rushing and getting aggravated about things that don’t matter and now i’ll be sidetracked by wondering what my baby is doing at that moment and then getting angry that I have to spend my time away from her doing things that only aggravate me. My separation anxiety started the moment she was born. Being so close we shared my body for nine months makes it hard to even be in a separate room from her now. Forget the child birth and breastfeeding – dropping her off at the sitter is going to be the hardest thing i’ve ever done.
I can’t expect to be some super-mom who does it all without fail. Truth is, those are also the “crash and burn moms”. I don’t want to fail in a colossal train wreck or be so meticulous about everything being done perfectly and quickly enough so it doesn’t interfere with what’s next on the agenda. I just hope that knowing now what I know and having a child of my own that maybe I’ll be able to work in the things that are so important so that my daughter remembers these types of things when she’s grown too. I hope she can look back and say I did everything with love and gave her the time she needed…And also that she’ll be able to recall enjoying that roast that melted like butter a few times in her life at least! 🙂