My Past, Present, and Future Through the Eyes of Food

by Maile on October 19, 2011

Thinking back through my life, I’ve realized I can categorize each major phase of my past based upon the ethnic foods I ate or cooked during that time. Strange, but true:

Childhood- Hawaiian/Chinese– My dad was born and raised in Hawaii so most of my childhood years were spent eating meals of my dad’s homemade teriyaki and rice, chicken curry stew, and char sui. Even after my parents split up, we’d spend many week nights at my dad’s apartment slurping up saimin while my mom worked 2nd shift at the airport. To this day, the first thing that signals I’ve arrived at my parents’ house is the wafting aroma of soy sauce and garlic I smell with the first step I take through their front door.

CollegeItalian– I don’t know that it’s really fair to label the pizza served at the Messiah College Falcon Express as truly “Italian” but I did eat an exorbitant amount of pepperoni pies and deliveries with “The Works” during my college years. Whenever I smell a Papa John’s Pizza, I’m immediately transported back to the fluorescent-lighted halls of the Miller/Hess dorm in Grantham, PA.

Early MarriageSouthern American– As a young domestic goddess, I really cut my “cooking” teeth by preparing the traditional American/Southern dishes that inspired me through the pages of magazines like “Taste of Home” and “Quick Cooking”. Shawn and I ate lots of casseroles back then: meat, cheese, and rice combos with cheap ingredients and lots of leftovers. Nothing exotic or even that flavorful, but I took great pride in the fact that “I cooked it!”

EnglandIndian– When we moved to England, my culinary eyes were finally and fully opened to the vast array of flavors that existed out there in the great big world. And my love (and sometimes obsession) with Indian food began. The New Akash in Great Missenden drew me in with their pristine silver serving dishes, coddling wait staff, and Lamb Tikka Bhuna with Saag Aloo that convinced me I must have lived in the city of Bombay in another life.

And now I’ve hit a phase where there seems to be no dominant theme, either in the food or the purposes of my life. It’s a crossroads, I’m realizing, and it’s exciting, seeing my past mesh beautifully with my present, creating my future:

On Monday I am a girl again, marinating long slices of cold, marbled beef in my dad’s rich teriyaki sauce.

On Tuesday, I feel the care-free naivete of my college self as I roll out the soft, fragrant dough for my cheese pizza.

On Wednesday, I adopt the thrift and carefulness of my young married self, tears gliding down my cheeks as I chop candy-sweet onions for my chicken and rice casserole.

On Thursday, I feel adventurous yet wise, grinding the spices of my Lamb Vindaloo in my mortar and pestle, fragrances of cumin and ginger swirling through my kitchen.

And on Friday, I can be something altogether new…

Mai’s Mexican Casserole

1 lb. ground beef, cooked and drained
1 recipe of Mai’s crockpot refried beans, (but don’t mash up the beans once you’ve cooked and drained them and there’s no need to save the liquid. The beans in their natural, cooked state are all you’re after here.)
2, 10 oz. cans enchilada sauce (or by all means, use your own. If anyone out there has a good enchilada sauce recipe, I’d love to have it!)
1, 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1, 16 oz. pkg. of corn tortillas, torn into bite-size pieces
1 lb. of Mexican blend cheese
salsa, sour cream, and green onions for toppings

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9×13 inch pan.

Combine first 4 ingredients in a large saucepan and bring to a simmer, just to warm all the ingredients through. Meanwhile, layer half of torn tortillas in the bottom of the prepared pan. Spread half of meat/bean mixture over top of tortillas. Sprinkle half of cheese on top of meat/bean mixture. Repeat layers, ending with cheese.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until casserole is bubbly and cheese is melted. Serve with salsa, sour cream, and green onions.

So what about you? Can you categorize phases of your life the same way? What phase are you in now?

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