Just as she had a list of items, concepts and behavior that were “not done,” she also had things — sometimes counterintuitive things — that were acceptable or to be encouraged (“done”). Some of these are very telling.


Frosting in a can (my mother and health-nut sister both had the habit of eating this from the can!)

Refrigerated pre-fab pie crust (NOT the dry graham cracker crust in the aluminum pans, the one from the dairy section that comes folded)

Kentucky Fried Chicken (rarely)

Exceptionally lavish Christmases

Vanilla whipped cream made from scratch, and lots of it

Serving veggies (fresh cooked, frozen or canned) with generous real butter and salt (“Kids will eat them if they taste good.”)

Massive holiday baking projects (Meticulously crafted gingerbread houses, rolled sugar cookies with frosting and sprinkles of all kinds, pecan sandies in powdered sugar, spritz cookies, fudge)

Brownies from a box (“good enough”)

Saving tinfoil

Swimming (essential if given the opportunity, no matter how impractical)

Marathon Sunday cooking projects (I remember an excellent Bolognese she spent hours making after reading the recipe in the Sunday Boston Globe magazine)

Being a “natural athlete,” however specious a concept this might be applied to our family, especially in regard to tennis

Complaining about prices in shops, to shop workers (to my eternal shame….)

Blowout parties

Exotic cooking projects including a Korean dish in little clay pots, also homemade bread

Copious, never-ending amounts of wine (the cheaper and more generic, the better. My father used to say ruefully my mother would not need to alter her taste in wine if she were ever to become a bag lady.)

Inventive, labor-intensive table settings

Intense flavors and colors on the table, in the food and surroundings

Sweeping creative art projects like murals, batiks and knitting

Sleeping very, very late


Reading and reading and reading

Eating outside on the patio, porch or deck

Beautifully set tables

Open doors and windows, year round, regardless of mosquitos, flies and spiders

Extreme pragmatism about death (her own and others’)

Fruit salad served with the meal (never at dessert)

“Good enough”





Driving with an open coffee mug on the dashboard


“Not Done”


I’ve mentioned my mother was judgmental, notably free of the self-doubt that prevents people from making a choice. Or so it seemed to me, the entire time I knew her. Once she decided, that was it. How often I envied her certainty and lack of dithering.

SueG also had a bulletproof set of rules and principles by which she lived her life. She viewed the world in handy (though sometimes arbitrary) categories of “Done” and “Not Done.” I agree with many, but not all, of this list.

“Not Done” (meaning socially inappropriate, wasteful or in bad taste):



Kleenex (to my eternal embarrassment, she kept a roll of toilet paper on the kitchen counter to be used as tissue)

Cool Whip

Miracle Whip

Gravy in a jar

Non-dairy creamer


High-quality paper napkins (she would buy the cheapest ones for daily use or tear higher quality ones in half or else use cloth for nice occasions)


Lack of discipline

Eating in between meals

Paper plates/plasticware/plastic cups for anything other than a picnic


Going back on one’s word

Daily dessert (she did not much like sweets)

Buying a bottle of water or soda when out


Excess (unless specifically approved)

Baked goods purchased in a store (she had a point)

Gaining weight




Bare feet

Public disgrace

Making “personal comments” (which could range from something suspect like “Wow, what a haircut” to “You’ve lost so much weight!” Utter neutrality regarding one’s person was to be maintained at all times.)

Children watching TV (“dissipated”)



Girls treated as “princesses” (One of her worst put-downs: “Stop acting like a princess!”)


Physical disabilities

Marrying a Frenchman

Cheating (on anything)




Store-bought Halloween costumes

“Spending money like water”

Scandal (which could include seemingly blameless things like being in a car accident)

Thanksgiving, Cont.


Thanksgiving was always a fun time for us. Most years we would eat (on Friday) with our great Manhattanite friends the McCullochs on the Cape, at their house in Dennis or ours in West Falmouth. Our families met when their five-year-old girls (Keitt and I) began swimming lessons together at the redoubtable Mr. Tyler’s in East Dennis. (I read that Mr. Tyler retired in 2010 after an incredible 47 years in the business!)

The meal was simple and elegant, accompanied by linen, silver and candles at both houses. Lots of wine, lots of chatter. Occasionally, songs, as both Dads played guitar and loved to sing.

Yesterday I outlined the SueG principles of preparing turkey, stuffing and gravy. Today we will discuss the rest of the meal. It won’t take long.

Cranberry-Orange Sauce 

Simply the only way to do cranberries — the recipe and slight variants can be found everywhere on the Internet. Don’t even dream about serving the canned stuff, it is not done. Copious orange zest gives this cranberry sauce lovely texture. SueG served this in a beautiful silver Paul Revere bowl, so I do, too.

1 bag of cranberries

1 cup orange juice (or juice from one orange)

1 cup sugar (you could reduce this as far down as 1/2 cup if you wish — SueG always used 1 cup)

Grated orange zest from one orange

Combine the above in a saucepan (the grating of orange zest is the pain on this one, be careful of your tender knuckles). Stir. Let boil and then reduce heat, simmering over low heat for an hour or until all the cranberries have popped and merged together.


SueG might vary her Thanksgiving veggies from year to year.  Suffice to say, homemade mashed potatoes were essential (secret ingredient cream cheese along with lots of butter, salt, pepper and a bit of milk), the ultimate platform for gravy, maybe a baked sweet potato or yam or two, often frozen green peas (the bright green that does not quit) but more likely: fresh green beans, done al dente. Likely absent:Rolls (she would consider these excessive carbohydrates). Pickles (we didn’t do pickles). Butternut squash (I suspect she didn’t like it). Salad. (SueG did not approve of salad on Thanksgiving.)

She also did not believe in excessive numbers of side dishes. A greater than average number on Thanksgiving, to be sure, but not an endless array as one sees on some holiday tables. She liked to keep things manageable and there was always more than enough to stuff everyone. And it was OK to gorge on holidays.


Always pies (sans ice cream), always homemade, always with whipped cream. (For the purposes of this blog, whenever I mention whipped cream, it is the homemade variety.)

SueG would make the classic pumpkin pie recipe from the back of the can of pumpkin. Into the pumpkin mixture, she would add an incredible amount of crushed cloves, nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon on top, so much so that the pumpkin mixture would end up an odd color (kind of brown). Not to worry — she deemed that dark orange/brown color acceptable — even welcome — for Thanksgiving so no paint was added to adjust the hue.

A note about pie crusts. Nowadays there has been a surge of home cooks who labor to make pie crust from scratch with the chopped up chunks of cold butter and using that weird tool to cut the butter into the flour. (Don’t try this if you are on the hook for the rest of the meal, too.) More power to them, at least if the result tastes good and the guests are appropriately impressed. Not SueG.

This was an area where a modern convenience –the prepared Pillsbury pie crusts that come in the red box in the dairy section (NOT frozen pie crust and NOT the graham cracker ones in the aluminum shells…God no) were perfectly tasty — as good as homemade, and therefore to be used. I heartily endorse this shortcut. I can make two pies in a fraction of the time it would take to make one with homemade crust. I make pumpkin pie (the only occasion on which I eat it) and something called Derby pie, which is basically a brown-sugar-heavy chocolate chip cookie with a crust. (Heaven with a generous dollop of vanilla-scented whipped cream!)

I never make apple pie as I don’t like it. I exercise my SueG-given right not to make things I don’t like.

TIP: When using a prepared pie crust, keep it in the freezer (though you do not buy it frozen) until you’re ready to use it. These crusts warm up very quickly and you want them to be a bit stiff when you delicately unfold them to line the pie dish. Don’t forget the cute fork imprints around the edge. If they are a little uneven, your crust will look plausibly homemade, and there is absolutely no reason to confess it isn’t.

The Festive — Thanksgiving


That’s my Thanksgiving table 2013, above, complete with my late mother-in-law’s silver and china.

I inherited my mother’s belief that holidays and special occasions should be as festive as possible, with all the trimmings (and suspension of the regular austerity rules). That meant, among other things, the best china, linens, crystal and silver were used. Silver was polished the day before. Linens were ironed the morning of. And then there is the main attraction: The food.

Although SueG was a proponent of quick, economical, (mostly) tasteless weeknight dinners, she was a truly gifted cook and hostess for holidays and special occasions. And there were few nights (always night, none of this eating at 2PM for her) in the year that she would shine more brightly than Thanksgiving. As one quirk, for at least a dozen years of my childhood we had Thanksgiving with our dear friends the McCullochs — always on the Friday rather than Thursday (I have no idea why). If it was our year to go to their house in East Dennis, we would cook our own Thanksgiving meal later that week (SueG was not about to let a good meat bargain go by the wayside, and we all loved the leftovers.)

SueG would not support the current mania for over thinking Thanksgiving. As she used to say (and I agree), what could be easier than sticking a turkey in the oven, adding some root vegetables and a green veggie of some sort and serving it a few hours later? People love to do totally unnecessary fancy things to turkey (I’m looking at you, brining) because then they feel particularly entitled to their dinner. This was not the case with SueG, who believed in making an effort when it was time, but did not believe in doing things that would not affect the taste in a positive way.

Turkey with Stuffing and Gravy

SueG was an authority on turkey. She instinctively knew how to roast a turkey to perfection, using a perfectly regular turkey (frozen or fresh) from the grocery store and an ordinary oven – no 24-hour brining, spatchcocking or deep-frying for her. I am solidly in her camp. She believed one needs a gravy “gene” in order to make good gravy, and that my sister and I were in possession of same. Her stuffing is simple and decadent in its reliance on butter. It tastes delicious.

Without further ado, SueG’s principles on turkey. First concept: The modern turkeys we buy at the grocery store are injected with lots of water, for a variety of reasons (including bumping up the price). As such, despite the universal belief to the contrary, it is very difficult to dry out a turkey – or, phrased more positively – it is quite easy to cook a moist and delicious turkey. Unless you are buying a fresh, homegrown (or, God forbid, live) turkey from Martha Stewart’s farm or the equivalent, there is simply no reason at all to either baste or inject or brine. You can do these things if you are experimental and have lots of extra time on your hands. SueG was highly experimental, but not when it came to Thanksgiving, a day on which she most definitely did not have extra time, and neither do I.

So the first guiding principle: Be confident, and your turkey will not be dry.

 Second guiding principle of turkey acquisition and preparation: Buy the biggest one you can get your hands on. As SueG liked to say, there is no cheaper meat (at least at Thanksgiving) and there are so many fantastic things to do with the meat (which can be frozen) and carcass. So go big. (Big does not equal dry.)

A third guiding turkey principle– my addition. I have discovered (due to my always being late to put the turkey in the oven on the big day) that one can roast the turkey at a fairly high temperature, even 375 degrees – GASP – for an hour or two to speed things along and you will still not dry it out. Really. Try my technique this year. I start out my large turkey (at least 18 pounds) on 375 topped by a folded tinfoil hat for two or three hours, then I turn the heat down to 325 or 350 for the rest of the time. No one has died (other than our turkey friend) and the turkey is not dry as a result. A great time-saving device of which I believe SueG would have approved heartily, prizing efficiency almost above all as she did.

Fourth guiding principle: If you buy your bird frozen, plan on a lot of defrosting time (i.e., at least a full day sitting on the counter or as much as a week in the fridge followed by 12 hours on the counter). If you buy it fresh, plan to sit the bird on the counter for at least 12 hours prior to cooking as fresh ones seem to need quite a bit of warming up, too.

Fifth guiding principle: Absolutely stuff the bird (see recipe below), This nonsense about stuffing the bird itself being somehow dangerous does not deserve another thought.

Roast your Thanksgiving turkey and make incredible homemade gravy in five simple steps:

  1. Remove the plastic. Remove the packages with the neck and internal organs from the turkey’s cavity and discard. (We used to cook the liver in tinfoil for our cats and dog.) Rinse off the turkey, pat dry with paper towels.
  2. Arrange the turkey in your roasting pan (we like one with a rack that keeps the turkey from sitting in its grease while roasting). Stuff both the fore and aft cavities (more on that below). Tie the legs together for minimum stuffing escape. Generously season the turkey with salt and pepper on all sides.
  3. Top with a tent of folded tinfoil and set into your preheated oven (see note above). There are instructions, very easily obtained, regarding how long to cook a turkey of particular weight. I don’t follow those because I roast at a much higher temperature for the beginning part. We use the pop-up indicator as a sign the turkey is done, along with the jiggling the leg (looseness indicates doneness). We have been known to use a meat thermometer though you know for sure SueG did not.
  4. When the turkey is done, take it out. Lift the rack containing the turkey out of the pan, which will have a nice accumulation of drippings you will use to make the gravy. Cover the turkey with a sheet of tinfoil and then stick an old coat on it (really!) and let it rest on a platter until you’re ready to scoop out the stuffing and carve the meat. Our resting period tends to be about an hour.
  5. As noted, you should have lots and lots of yummy drippings from the turkey in the bottom of the pan, along with a lot of grease and water. Scrape/spoon all of it into a large measuring cup (or any glass cup you can see through). Spoon off or pour off as much of the straight grease as you can (it should be easy as this will be on the top). Return the rest of the yummy drippings, including browned bits and juices, to the pan in which you roasted the turkey. Put it on the the burner over med heat. Add a few tablespoons of flour. (If you have a HUGE turkey, maybe a half cup.) Use a wire whisk and cook the flour and drippings for a minute over med heat. (If you do this step right there will be no flour lumps.) Then pour in 2-3 cups of water (it will thicken) and season liberally with salt and pepper. Cook and stir it bubbling for a few minutes. (SueG’s saying: “What’s the difference between gravy and grease water? SALT.”) After a few minutes, you should have smooth, beautifully golden brown gravy. If there are chunky bits that you don’t like simply spoon them out. Do this right before you’re about to sit down. Serve in old-fashioned gravy boat. (I use one without foil trim as that cannot go in the microwave.) Gloat over possessing a gravy gene.

Stuffing 101

This is one of the most basic stuffing recipes imaginable but we love it so much I have never been moved to try something more adventurous. This is basically the recipe on the back of the Bell’s seasoning box.

1. The day before Thanksgiving, lay out an entire large loaf of Pepperidge Farm white bread, one slice deep, on cookie sheets to dry out. NEVER, EVER use bagged stuffing crumbs. Just NO. You may need to turn the slices over at some point to ensure the bread dries out evenly. In a pinch, I have discovered, you can toast the bread very briefly in the oven (you don’t want it to get brown, just dry). On Thursday, cut up the dried bread into medium-sized squares (not those tiny breadcrumbs you would buy. Absolute no-no of mine and SueG’s).

2. On the day of, chop equal amounts of onion and celery fairly finely. Get one or two frying pans going. I use one stick of butter per frying pan (I know), and between the two pans I guess that would be about 4-5 onions’ worth and lots of celery. (SueG’s quantities were never exact, and mine aren’t either.) Two frying pans’ worth will go into a large turkey of 18 pounds or so. Cook up the celery-onion mix in copious amounts of butter. Do not add salt at this point if you are using salted butter.

3. Put your dried bread cubes into a large bowl (I use a really huge one). Dump the cooked onion-celery mix (should be dripping with melted butter) along with any extra melted butter onto the bread. Add tons and tons of Bell’s seasoning. (You can’t overdo it. Do not be shy.) Toss the bowl’s contents with clean hands or two spoons to blend. Taste some. Now is the time to tweak the seasoning. It should taste good! You will almost certainly need a lot of black pepper, and you may need some salt. Make sure you taste.

4. Stuff both sides of the turkey. I do this in the sink, and it is a two-person job when you have a large bird. Be careful not to pack it in too tightly. If you have some left over that will not fit into the bird, you can put it along with the gizzard (if you’re not too grossed out) in some tinfoil and roast for an hour. It’s easy to forget the extra stuffing is in there so make sure you remember. (I have pulled out charred tinfoil packages more than once.)

The rest of the Thanksgiving meal will follow.

SueG Weeknight Meals — The Ugly


SueG’s (in)famous pea soup with paint

Make pea soup. Add paint to it as needed to adjust the color.

Now, this is family folklore but there are three living people (including me) who can attest that it happened. My sister Shannon was the eyewitness to my mother adding paint (I believe it was green paint and we don’t know if it was acrylic or oil-based, could have been either as our mother was a painter) to soup in order to improve its color. (SueG apparently thought the soup had turned out too pale.) This episode is primary evidence for my theory that all mothers go crazy at some point in their mothering years. Not all mothers use food as a weapon as ours did, but all have some form of insanity perpetrated upon their families.

This phenomenon can take more benign (or at least more conventional) forms – my mother-in-law said she kept such a clean house while her three boys were young that she made life difficult for everyone. Or it can be self-destructive (over eating or drinking, affairs, flying the coop – all things SueG prophesied in our neighbors). My own insanity takes the form of obsessive online shopping, which gives me that chemical boost and lets me escape the drudgery of family life temporarily. (The thought of a nice box waiting on my doorstep gives me peace when I am tired or bored, though the reality of it induces much more stress than serenity.)

My mother was a great one for testing people’s stupidity, and she had a mean playful streak. She loved to do something impulsive and see what would happen as a result. (as in “If I climb the tree in that stranger’s front yard while they are eating dinner, what will they do?” “If I shimmy up the mast of a sailboat parked at the dock, will I be able to get down from there?” “If I pull out this neighborhood kid’s slightly loose tooth, will he be smart enough not to let me wiggle his tooth next time?” “What will happen if we put these dogs together?”) And in the case of this dinner, “If I add paint to my soup, will anyone be dumb enough to eat it?”

In fact, we were not dumb enough to eat it. Shannon tipped off my father and me, silently, and we steered clear (this may have turned into a pizza night). For her part, SueG was certainly not going to eat paint-laced soup. Even at her wildest and most unglued, she was deeply practical and specialized in knowing exactly what she could and couldn’t get away with (which of course changes with the times. She would never have attempted to pull out a child’s tooth in her grandchildren’s era, that could have landed her in jail. All the same, Shannon and I separately warned our kids never to let Mima wiggle a loose tooth).

I think maternal insanity — whether benign, malignant or something in between — is one’s way of staking out something for oneself, when all available resources have been used up already. From the distance of time and, without my mother here to vet my theories about her, I feel I understand her impulses so much better now (I didn’t understand them at all then and didn’t try). The fact is, serving a family dinner seven nights a week (as most mothers did then) is hard work. It can be boring, it usually is. It can be soul-deadening. This is true no matter what kind of dinner is served or how much money can be brought to bear. Most families don’t give the cook a standing ovation every night just for having achieved the herculean task of assembling a meal and getting it on the table.

Inspired, ironically enough, by SueG’s dazzling cooking ability when she was trying (more on that later), I love to cook. I don’t cook dinner nearly seven nights in a row (that really would send me around the bend). Most nights I make speedy standbys, many based on convenient foods. But a few times a week I like to make a more ambitious meal, by which I mean one with nice ingredients that my husband and I would like to eat.

My sons generally complain bitterly about these “nice” meals and usually don’t eat them. It’s just not worth the effort, even if I enjoy making and eating these meals. These experiences almost always leave me asking why I would even attempt to make something good for my family. They underline everything dysfunctional about our family. They make me wonder why I ever had a family in the first place. They tap into a well of existential despair. Yes, the humble weeknight meal can do that.

I think that’s what was going on with SueG’s weeknight meals. It just wasn’t worth it. And she needed an outlet to express her frustration and boredom – even anger –at being saddled with such a thankless task, at being a mother. It just wasn’t worth it to try to do more. To my embarrassment and shame I remember complaining regularly about her meals – I was the most vocal of the three of us, probably the only one to voice dissent. There is only so much negative feedback one can take and continue on.

And she did not continue on. SueG quit cooking daily dinners when my sister and I were in high school. We subsisted on cereal and, as mentioned, at the end of the week when my father returned to the Cape from his job in New Hampshire, the occasional take-out pizza. I’m not sure what my mother herself ate for dinner during that period. She would retire to her room with an air of general disgust, crossword puzzle in hand, to lie in bed with her coat on (she was cold 12 months a year in those days) and watch the latest in an endless stream of M*A*S*H reruns. We made extremely rare pilgrimages to McDonald’s, where she would give my sister and me each $1 to spend on dinner (insufficient to purchase a meal even then, even there). I liked the French fries so would go without a drink in order to have a small order with my cheeseburger. Pressed, she would buy my sister a shake or dessert in addition to the meager hamburger because she wanted her to eat more.

SueG Weeknight Meals — The Bad, Cont.

Minute Steak Another shudder-inducer. My mother would buy super-thin rectangular steaks she would then fry up in some margarine, leaving them an unappealing gray inside and out. I could not get through a minute steak, not in 60 seconds, not in an hour.  These would be served with frozen french fries, the highlight of the meal, and maybe a canned veg of some kind. foxy I’ve mentioned my mother required a green vegetable at every dinner. Once a week or so, that veggie took the form of the lowest possible salad, to wit: icy white iceberg lettuce leaves with sugary bottled dressing. Bright orange Kraft “Catalina” was a favorite. It is still on the market, though one wonders why.

In those days, produce sections did not stock everything from butter lettuce to radicchio to arugula to baby kale to organic chard. The selection ran pretty much to cellophane-wrapped heads of iceberg. (It could be said today’s bagged greens are the iceberg lettuce of today.) I do remember one year we had delicious fresh lettuce from our garden, and what a revelation that was, but so fleeting. (After spending several hundred words harping on the bad SueG meals, I feel I should add that in later life, she had a gift with veggies and salads — and with most types of food.) Notice what is missing from her weeknight meals, whether good or bad: Pasta and rice (other than Rice-a-Roni). SueG did not like pasta or rice and her stated presumption was that no one else liked them, either. Protestations to the contrary fell on deaf ears.

SueG Weeknight Meals — The Bad

Sloppy Joe

Sloppy Joes on cut-rate hamburger buns

This one makes me shudder, too. The incandescent orange of the Hunt’s Manwich sloppy joe sauce (came in a can, still does) mixed with high-fat hamburger on a limp insubstantial bun. The sweetness of that sauce, like ketchup on steroids, the dripping orange grease, gives me the creeps, then as now. The silver lining of this meal was it was likely to come with a side of tater tots, carefully parceled out according to whomever had the most need for carbohydrates (that would be my sister). (I enjoyed my few, especially the burnt ones.) Since an element of green was required, frozen or canned peas went along for the ride.

Baked chicken breasts with Rice-A-Roni and canned French green beans

I can’t recall if SueG would put anything on these chicken breasts before baking them in the glass casserole. Possibly she might have shrouded them in Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup or something along those lines. But it is just as possible they would sit naked in their roasting dish. [More shudders.]

It is likely wrong to put this in the “bad” category, as it was not so much bad as totally bland and just not good. For one of SueG’s weeknight repertoire, this was fairly unobjectionable. I have to admit I always tried to get more than my fair share of the Rice-a-Roni. (It always smelled so good when you cooked the vermicelli in margarine as the first step.) SueG did try to keep me away from carbs as much as possible, bless her heart, but my father and I had our ways of getting them. The canned green beans really were awful, watery and gray and utterly devoid of flavor, though my mother supported our putting a large dollop of margarine on them, and salt. (“Children will eat vegetables if they taste good, and butter makes them taste good,” she would say, and the fact it wasn’t butter was beside the point.) (Whatever happened to margarine? Why was it ubiquitous in this era? Does anyone below the age of 80 buy it now? If so, why?)


SueG meals – even the humble ones — were required to have a green element, and these beans met that at the lowest threshold. Frozen peas were often substituted, and were more appealing with their other-worldly neon hue. The chicken breasts, by the way, were skinless but rather thick (not the slim cutlets one can easily find today). Their girth gave rise to the common SueG occurrence of meats with under-cooked middles. (I still have residual horror for thick chicken breasts — any kind of meat, really — and always buy tenderloins or thin cutlets.)

One bad and frequent meal was Hamburger Helper with some canned or frozen vegetable. I am amazed to find this still on the market. One of the original convenience foods of the 60s and 70s, it is fast and cheap if you have a coupon, especially, but with few other redeeming qualities (unless you’re out for a long list of unpronounceable chemical ingredients, vast empty calories and sky-high sodium counts). From the vantage point of today’s emphasis on fresh, in-season, ideally local produce and “whole,” less processed foods, Hamburger Helper is anathema. But people still buy it, testimony – to me – of the drudgery of the weeknight meal. HH reduces the need to choose and speeds things along nicely, getting mothers that much closer to that blissful quiet hour after the dishes are done and before bedtime rituals begin.

While we’re at it, let’s call out some particularly miserable side dishes, shall we? My son was complaining just tonight that he did not like the taste of some prepared mashed potatoes that I bought with some pre-fab fried chicken at the grocery store. (Full disclosure: I make the best mashed potatoes in the world and I had no intention of eating the prepared ones — or the chicken for that matter — tonight.) Hey, I thought, at least they were identifiably potato-based. Could that be said about one staple of the SueG pantry: Instant mashed potatoes?

A cursory Internet search has not turned up a picture of the box that we used. As I remember it, there was a picture of a giant potato and the box was red and white. At any rate, these mysterious flakes would show up, mixed with skim milk and topped off — you guessed it — with margarine, next to the baked chicken or perhaps the scorched pork chops. Unfortunately, before the days of the microwave, it was difficult to get these warm enough. And they had a curious texture that could turn treacherously liquid if just a bit too much milk was used. Instant mashed potatoes had the virtue of being instant. And people did not come roaring back for more, both good things to SG. On the other hand, they were without taste and …odd… in texture. Not good things, to me.

On Dissipation.


One of SueG’s core principles was that “dissipation” was to be avoided at all costs. The term seems quaint today. We don’t have much of a collective concept now of promoting discipline, assuming responsibility, avoiding excess, actively seeking moderation if not austerity.

One of her worst insults was “That’s dissipated,” which basically meant weak, sloppy and immoral.

Dissipation lurked everywhere in the corners of SueG’s world when I was a child.  How much she would hate its recent escalation. Dissipation was anything that my mother determined – in her instant and infallible judgment – to be wasteful and without redeeming quality. “Dissipation” ranged from calling in sick to work, snacking in between meals and being hungover to overspending, malingering, coddling and “letting oneself go.” (Conversely, overdrinking and overeating could be indulged for a special occasion, just not their after effects.)

Dissipation was buying a can of soda while doing errands. In fact, a request to buy a can of soda (the bottled water mania hit after my childhood) while doing errands was dissipation enough, since the soda was never going to materialize. When there was no water fountain – and SueG did love a water fountain – ever practical, she would remove the plastic wrap from her package of Larks, fill it with water from the sink of a public bathroom and offer it to my sister or me for a drink. The floating particles of tobacco – quite poisonous, I later discovered – did nothing to make this option more palatable.

I developed in childhood a habit of immediately dispatching my disposable cash the moment I had it in hand. This habit, sadly, carried on into my young adulthood and has if anything gotten worse the older I have gotten. If I had only listened to SueG’s dark warnings about the evil that befalls anyone who “spends money like water” (an assessment leveled at me dozens of times, accurately) I would be much better for it.

That was true for most of SueG’s injunctions and pronouncements. She was very often politically incorrect and could be quite unfair and, much more rarely, wrong. But most of her prejudices hold up over time. People would in fact be better off if they steered clear of debt, buying bottled water for daily use and overeating. Those are hard to argue. The national character long ago misplaced its element of steel. But SueG did not lose hers,  had it right up to the day she died, without fear, in July 2006.

SueG Weeknight Meals — The Good, Cont.


As I’ve said, my mother (SueG) did not serve dessert on weeknights as a rule. (In fact it surprised me when I learned later in life a lot of people grew up eating dessert every day.) I believe there were two chief reasons for this: First, she did not approve of daily indulgences. Second, she was trying to minimize calories for my father and me. We did not have junk food or cookies around on a regular basis.

In the later years of my childhood, she would buy dreadful fake Oreos (almost too bad to eat — almost) and really inedible gingerbread cookies, which came in brown paper sacks. She was the only person who liked the gingersnaps, so they would tend to stick around for weeks at a time, which was fine with her.

Every so often, though, a weeknight dinner would warrant a special treat –fruit Jell-o for dessert.  This took some planning ahead (the Jell-o needs to set). On the other hand the execution could not have been simpler:

Fruit Jell-o

Prepare fruit-flavored Jell-o (ours would have been cherry, most often) according to package directions in a glass bowl.

Before putting the bowl in the fridge to set, dump in a can of mixed fruit (ideally with cherries).

There you have it, pure weeknight elegance. Note: SueG would NOT serve this dessert with topping of any kind (Cool-Whip being one of her forbidden foods and real whipped cream reserved for true occasions).

SueG Weeknight Meals — The Good, Cont.


It’s almost unfair to include this as it is so similar to the chili recipe previously posted. But this was one of our staples, and a good one.

Before the days of taco-dinner kits, SueG would buy, separately, taco shells (no flat bottoms here), taco seasoning, hamburger, cheese (likely cheddar, which she would grate), the ever-present iceburg lettuce (a SueG staple) and tomatoes, which she would slice. We did not have salsa in those days (at least, not at our grocery store) and we didn’t add anything fancy like sour cream (calories and extra expense, two SueG no-nos) or guacamole (also not in mainstream usage in the 1960s and 1970s, at least not on relatively homogeneous Cape Cod).

Cook meat, drain. Add taco seasoning. Let everyone assemble his or her own taco, repeating as desired. SueG did not heat up the taco shells first, but you really should.

Irish Pizza (courtesy of my father, employed when other efforts had failed and the cupboard was nearly bare, an excellent lunch).

Round Pilot crackers (late, lamented huge thick round unsalted crackers)

Hunks of sharp cheddar cheese

Heat oven to 375 and place crackers with cheese on top on a cookie sheet or directly on the oven rack, if you dare. Toast until cheese is bubbly. If you value the tender skin on the roof of your mouth, wait the requisite five minutes for them to cool enough to eat. Much easier and more convenient to make in the age of toaster ovens. I continue to marvel at how much more difficult it must have been to cook without aid of a microwave or toaster oven, so taken for granted today.