By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
I fell off the diet wagon last weekend – and, oh, what a spectacular, delicious fall it was. I know I should take responsibility for it. After all, no one had a gun to my head, forcing me to go for that second or third helping. But I did have an accomplice in the crime, so let me just say this: “My mother made me do it.”
Okay, maybe she didn’t “make” me do it, but she did make the food during her visit last weekend, and that’s what triggered the fall from grace.
Before they arrived, I’d been doing pretty well on my pledge to eat right and stop pretending I still have the metabolism of my teens and twenties. Because I don’t. To stay accountable, I’ve been keeping a daily running total of my calorie intake by jotting the number down in my cell phone, and I’ve lost nearly five pounds since Christmas. Pretty good, huh?
You know what else is pretty good? My mother’s food. In fact, it’s REALLY good. If you grab your Webster’s dictionary right now and look up the words “Southern cook,” you’ll see a photo of my mother holding a skillet in one hand and a can of Crisco in the other. Once you spot her, close the book quickly before she has a chance to ask if you want some fried potatoes and cornbread. Because trust me, nobody can turn down an offer like that. Nobody.
Mom is the kind of cook who makes enough food for about 12 people, without even intending to. And she doesn’t trust ingredients that are labeled “light” or “fat-free.” She swears it messes up the recipe.
Before the kids got home from school on Friday, she’d already whipped up a pan of rice crispy treats, which are 5-year-old Jack’s favorite. Later that day, she made a cheesy potato casserole because she knows how much 3-year-old Kate loves it. The next morning, before I was even awake, she was downstairs frying blueberry pancakes and crispy bacon for 8-year-old Adam.
Then Tom got a creamy batch of chicken and noodles, and I got a huge pot of boiled cabbage with polish sausage. Did I mention the Reuben sandwiches? Yes, those were incredible, too. Everyone got a big helping of their favorite foods.
And when all the food was prepared, she used her magic skillet to warm up the scraps and drippings as a special treat for our backyard dogs, who truly love her visits. (If my dogs had to choose who to defend in a home invasion, I have no doubt they’d protect my mother before me. I give them dry dog food. She gives them warm chicken liver. There’s really no contest.)
Of course, the obvious thing to do would be to ask my mother not to cook during her visit. But that’s ridiculous. It would be like asking her not to love us for a few days. It’s impossible. It’s what she does. And we like it that way.
The problem is me – my own weakness for all those foods that not only taste wonderful but also bring back good memories of home and childhood. I can say “no” to a lot of junk food and fast-food and even chocolate treats. But my mother’s sweet tea and cheesy potato casserole is like dieting kryptonite. It breaks my will. I crumble under its powerful smell. And I end up eating way too much and telling myself I’ll just exercise it off later.
Of course, to burn off the extra calories I ate last weekend, I’d probably have to swim the full length of the Mississippi River. Then I’d have to run to Alaska wearing ankle weights. Then I’d have to ride my stationary bike to the moon and back. And you know what? It’d be totally worth it.
Long live the Southern cooks!