Don’t fall prey to the siren song of nostalgia.

Just. Don’t.

I did. And do. And I am an addict and I need a 12-step group.

Disclaimer: I have the palate sophistication of a toddler, so keep that in mind.

Spaghettios with franks. Awesome treat when mom and dad went out on a very rare date and we had a babysitter. Now…blurgh.

Mom’s cooking. Well, her recipes, the things from my childhood I loved.

Weirdly, some of the Christmas cookies don’t taste as good as the store bakery versions (e.g., “goodie cookies,” aka Russian tea cakes/Mexican wedding cakes). At the time, they were vastly better than anything you could buy off the shelves and grocery stores didn’t have bakeries then. I have to assume that with the rise of the store bakery and their longevity, they just got better at baking. I fix some of the bland with different extracts.

That very tiny hamlet Gma and Gpa lived in where I used to go visit and thought was magical but it was really just a run-down shack in a run-down former mining town and marginal rail hub. The motel in the college town nearby was a treat, though, when we got to stay there. Midcentury modern. Two levels. Each door a different color. A kidney-shaped pool. And then there was the favorite restaurant, which was also a treat and the urban legend of its competing sister restaurant (Mary’s! No, Annie’s! No, Mary’s! Let’s fight!) Their claim to fame (besides the fried chicken) is their onion rings and their spaghetti (little more than ketchup and butter) and their potato salad is German. But what do you expect from a bunch of German immigrants? And oh, the tales of nationalism; my grandmother was not allowed to date Germans, EYEtalians, or Polacks. That left few “real” Europeans. Strangely, her people were Huguenots via Kentucky coal mines, but they didn’t know they were Huguenots; they came from somewhere very near Butcher Holler (six degrees and all that).

Now? Well, the motel’s gone marginally upscale and painted the doors a nice red. The Googie sign is gone and midcentury lobby is hidden behind a plain-Jane glamour and decorated in little ol’ country woman. The little hamlet is now half the size (pop. 234) and a meth haven. And the local chicken place, whose food I loved as a kid, is also bland and maybe even trending to crappy.

What still works for me?

Spritz cookies, which is just shortbread with an egg. I actually have a vintage cookie press just like my mom’s, only mine was NOS (new old stock) and has all the pieces hers doesn’t. In order to keep them from being blah like the Russian tea cakes/Mexican wedding cakes/goodie cookies, I throw different extracts in, peppermint, orange (not lemon; lemon’s for summer), almond. Stuff like that. But hey, you just can’t go wrong when butter is involved, with a little flour and sugar for garnish.

Creamed chicken, which is simply butter-and-sour-cream-on-baked-potatoes goodness. Nothing special about it. It was an expensive dish back then because sour cream was expensive and came in small cartons. In our house, it was a treat. I would request this about every other birthday.

Beef stroganoff, which I requested this on alternating birthdays with creamed chicken, which is also an expensive dish, but so is Hamburger Helper* when you eat it in quantities we do. XY loves this. This and my not-marinara spaghetti sauce.

Meatloaf, a poor woman’s steak tartare. I haven’t made meatloaf in a while, but last time I noted that it’s the Worcestershire sauce that makes it. Come to think of it, XY has been asking for it. That’s one of his charms, XY, is his demanding I cook for him. There’s something deeply satisfying about that, that he actually does value me for something.

Lemon sugar cookies. That’s new to me, not to Mom. Because lemons. And summer. And there is no such thing as too much lemon.

Speaking of lemons: 1 c bottled lemon juice, 1 c sugar, 6 c water. Lemonade, boom, done.

*The comment that tore a hole in a long-time, but already fraying friendship.

Next time: Toys and games

Older but no wiser.

We are torn between nostalgia for the familiar
and an urge for the foreign and strange.
As often as not, we are homesick most
for the places we have never known.