Swedish meatballs! Not those served up by Ikea. I mean homemade, slaved all day for the party, Swedish meatballs. I can still recall the flavor as if it were yesterday. I refer to my mother’s bite-sized morsels of deliciousness. Once a year she rolled up a couple hundred for her annual Christmas party. Oh sure, she allowed us a measly 4 or 5 each. And we always, fruitlessly, lobbied for more.
Alas, we were marshaled off to bed as the guests began to arrive. Gripping plates of the saucy meatballs and other exotic delicacies, like tiny hot dogs speared by toothpicks, the guests were ushered downstairs to the basement where a fire crackled and spit in the hearth. My father, builder extraordinaire, had installed a bar, opposite the fireplace where the early arriving guests grabbed a stool, a front row seat for my father’s comedic act: joke-telling that grew raunchier with every cocktail.
Once the party was in full swing we tiptoed to the top of the staircase, and lay on our bellies to watch. We giggled, and mimicked the clink of glasses. But, it wasn’t long before the wafting odor of those golden brown orbs drew us away from the party, and to the holy grail, the silver chafing dish warmed by a tiny blue flame. Two of us piled meatballs onto plates and scurried upstairs. The other scavenged the salted peanuts. Salted peanuts were an unparalleled fatty luxury. Our mother never purchased such an expensive item for an everyday snack. This was party food! We emptied the bowl onto a plate and rushed upstairs. The six of us huddled on our parents’ bed in front of the television, and savored our Christmas party feast. Heaven.
Here’s the thing. Other than the expertly crafted Swedish meatballs, and spaghetti, and hamburgers, our mother was not a good cook. Her knowledge of nutrition was gleaned from the pages of Redbook, and Good Housekeeping. Her repertoire consisted of dumping a can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup, in all its slimy glory, on any number of foodstuffs. Hamburger Helper helped no one in our household. The only Campbell’s soup can I am able to view to this day without invoking a gag reflex, are the ones painted by Andy Warhol.
Fortunately, in our new millenium we have access to a boatload of nutritional information. We can shove nostalgia to the side and journey to new frontiers.
Cathryn Couch is at the vanguard of that frontier; a chef with a head for nutrition, and a heart to put that knowledge into productive action. Cathryn is the Executive Director of Ceres Community Project. Ceres, so named for the goddess of agriculture, I’ll save you a google search, prepares and serves nutrition packed meals to cancer patients who are unable to cook for themselves as they undergo debilitating treatments.
Changing your diet is a venture that begins slowly, and then mushrooms. Pun intended. As is the road to starting a non-profit. Cathryn, in the catering business for decades, received a call from a particularly persistent friend who asked if she could provide her teenage daughter with a summer job, and teach her how to cook. A chance conversation with another friend who was involved in the cancer support community, and Voila! infant Ceres was conceived. The teenager’s mother paid for the food. Cathryn, and Megan the teen, began to cook meals for two single people and a family of four who were dealing with cancer. Every afternoon they packaged the food they’d prepared and delivered it to their three families.
Four years later, and a superhuman, determined effort by Cathryn, once the concept took root, and Ceres now has the capacity to cook for 120 client families providing 80,000 life-enhancing meals. The meals are FREE to the clients. Ceres is funded entirely by donations. The teen chefs who volunteer after school develop culinary skills, as well as figure out what’s at stake to lead a team. I like to imagine better bank managers in the making.
What you eat and your health are inextricably linked. There really are Foods to fight Cancer. Sweet memories served by nostalgia deserve a place in our hearts. But tins of tiny hot dogs, and heavily salted cans of soup do not deserve a place in our pantry.
Moderation is a practice with its own rewards. So, if your mind lingers on those Swedish meatballs, if you must, here is a recipe. What I recommend instead is Kale! Yes, Kale! Try it, and huddle with your little ones and watch them gobble it up! Create some Kale nostalgia! And you may want to check out Ceres’ gorgeous cookbook!
What food memories cause you to salivate?
Thanks for listening!