Unfortunately for my food-loving mother, my Daddy was an old-fashioned meat-and-potatoes Texan. Every night for dinner, he wanted meat and potatoes and more meat and more potatoes and even more meat and even more potatoes. He ascribed to the three rules of Southern cooking -
- Deep fry it.
- Cook it in a pot with a bunch of pork.
- Smother it with cream gravy.
Mama did her damnedest to work in as many non-fried vegetables as possible and the occasional fish dish, but Daddy would greet these offerings with begrudging acceptance at best, and outright hostility on occasion. He would, however, eat whatever she gave him, because she was an excellent cook, and her food was delicious, even if it was too gourmet for Daddy.
Mama had spent many years living in Chicago during and just after World War II, so before moving to Texas she had experienced a bit of big city life. She loved going to fancy restaurants and trying new and exotic cuisines. I'm afraid going to cafeterias with Daddy and feeding him the same old/same old was a bit tragic for her.
Luckily, she birthed me. I was her gourmand cohort. We delighted in sneaking off for secret fancy dining experiences - what Daddy didn't know wouldn't hurt him. Unfortunately, Mama's tastes were a bit expensive, and we were not wealthy people. So Mama would save up her grocery money on the sly to finance our foodie experiences.
Occasionally, we'd go to restaurants. Mama loved to go with Daddy on business trips to bigger cities so that we could sneak off for lunch at glamorous spots with white linens and fine china. I distinctly remember going to The Adolphus Hotel in Dallas and having filet mignon (prepared medium-rare, the only civilized way to eat meat in Mama's mind, as opposed to Daddy's bourgeois choice - well-done) and a salad with Roquefort dressing. Fancy. I also remember going to Maxim's in Houston and having my very first lobster.
But getting away to a restaurant was rare. Mama and my favorite food-sharing experience was the after school treat. About once a week, I would get home from school in the afternoon to discover that Mama had prepared us something special. Just for us. I loved it more than I can express. She spent quite a bit of time making it wonderful and filling it with love. It was our special time.
Sometimes it was something simple. A popular snack was a cheese tray. In the land/time of Velveeta, Mama would buy Baby Swiss, imported Bleu or maybe even Brie. She would cut the cheeses into tiny cubes, stick in toothpicks and serve them on a silver tray.
But our very most favorite indulgence was seafood. Mama loved seafood more than anything in the world. I am happy to say that when she passed away, we found a lobster shell in the sink. Yes, her last meal was a lobster tail she had prepared for herself - I can't think of anything more fitting.
In those days, there used to be a guy who would catch fresh seafood down at the Gulf of Mexico in the morning, then drive up to Austin and park on the side of the road and sell it out of the back of his truck. Mama was his best customer.
Mama would make us raw oysters on the half-shell, which we'd slurp up with homemade cocktail sauce and Ritz crackers. She would fry up crab cakes with tartar sauce. She would steam mussels and clams and serve them with tiny silver cocktail forks and drawn butter. She'd serve shrimp cocktail in special shrimp cocktail glasses which had a compartment on the bottom for ice to keep it chilled. She would lay it all out on the coffee table, and we would sit on the floor around it and stuff ourselves silly.
But our very most favorite treat, was Mama's Crab Dip, something that became one of her signature dishes. If I was VERY lucky, she would whip up a batch just for the two of us, and we would gobble up the whole bowl, shoveling it in with Ruffles potato chips.
Mama's Crab Dip
Cream together 8 oz. softened cream cheese and one cup of mayonnaise. Mix in as much fresh crab meat as you can afford. Season with lemon juice, garlic powder, salt and a bunch of Worcestershire sauce.
I would be a very happy and spoiled little girl when I then went to do my homework and watch Star Trek reruns, my belly full of tasty treats and love.
Nowadays, I am lucky to have Jimmy, a husband who is also an omnivore, and loves sitting around the coffee table slurping up treats. I've often written about our elaborate holiday meals, but it's only just now that I realized that the reason I love eating around the coffee table in the living room is because of Mama's after school treats. It just seems like the ultimate indulgence.
It would have made Mama SO happy that Jimmy and Jude both love seafood. I desperately wish she had lived long enough to make them both some crab dip and love. I guess I'll just have to keep up the tradition as well as I can.
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