Kitchen becomes popular spot while at home in isolation

Lynne Cope Hummell

We continue to hear from friends and family that our collective isolation at home due to COVID-19 has brought about new hobbies, discovery of untapped talents, and renewed interest in former pastimes.

At the top of the list in our household - as in many others - has been a resurgence in cooking, baking and general creation of all sorts of interesting treats. Some of us are spending a lot of time in the kitchen.

Beyond the several loaves of bread that my husband now makes each week - whether sandwich loaf in a legit loaf pan or rosemary focaccia in an iron skillet - we have reignited our interest in dinner.

For a while, even before lockdown, we used one of those "straight to your doorstep" meal prep services that sends every ingredient needed, including a tablespoon of some exotic spice. Though we canceled the service, our home chef finds ways to use some of the ingredients we discovered in our current meals. Our new favorite is Israeli couscous with asparagus, seasoned with a bit of lemon and whatever that spice is.

He has been the chef for a while, meaning a couple of decades, and he seems to enjoy cooking our meals day in and day out. I imagine he must want a break occasionally, especially since we haven't ventured out to a restaurant for dinner since, well, you know.

As Father's Day approached last month, I thought perhaps I should offer to make dinner. After all, I do know HOW to cook; I just don't LIKE to cook.

So, I fetched my mother's old recipe box that I had re-found in the spare bedroom. Inside were dozens of index cards on which a few of her own recipes were recorded - some of them in her own hand, some typed.

I think I was hoping for a taste of my childhood as much as I was looking for dinner ideas. I found that when I saw three copies of her famous Dump Cake. (I can hear her saying, "Yes, you just dump the flour and the sugar in the pan!")

I also found recipes cut from now-yellowed newspapers, others jotted down on an electrical supply store's notepad from 1972, and others - many others - cut from the wrappers, box tops and cardboard side panels of various products. Who knew one could make Apple Harvest Cake from Quaker 100% Natural Cereal? Or Apple Cobbler with Wheat and Raisin Chex? Or Instant Barbecue Glaze from Lipton Cup-A-Soup?

I don't know how I had missed them before, but also in the box were about 40 printed cards, uniform in size, type size and font - a complete set, if you will. The recipe titles were just a bit off-beat and I chuckled as I flipped through: Grapefruit Novelty Salad, Cranberry Lettuce Rings, Shrimpello, Googly Eyed Goldfish, Kid Stuffer, Black Cloud Pie, Hula Ham.

And then, there it was. Not a dinner idea, but the one outstanding title that I could not forget: Pineapple-Cucumber Chablis Cooler.

The more I thought about it, the more my taste buds struggled to imagine the flavor profile of pineapple and cucumber mingling together with Chablis. (Do real people even drink that anymore?)

I was so taken by the title that I had to read the whole recipe. The first ingredient was one package of lemon Jello.

This tasty concoction was meant to be crafted into a congealed ring mold, plopped onto a bed of lettuce - and served with mayonnaise. (Gag along with me here.)

I looked at the other recipes and sure enough, every one featured Jello.

Though I don't eat it now, I loved it back then. Mom must have used enough of it in the 70s to send off the box tops in exchange for dozens of free recipes.

So, I didn't find an exciting dish to make for dinner, but I did enjoy my visit back to simpler times.

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