Childhood Revisited

Food is not about impressing people. It's about making them feel comfortable.
-Ina Garten

When I was little, I found myself with the type of mother whom at the time I considered a curse – the type of mother that cooked dinner every night. My mom didn’t go to work until I was almost a teenager, so she was always around at the end of each school day. That part I didn’t mind – it was the inevitable displeasure I’d often feel once she answered the daily question of “What’s for dinner?” Looking back now, I’d give anything to be able to have her there at the end of a bad day, where all I’d have to do would be unwind and await the call to the table. Of course, my palate has changed considerably since then and I find myself craving the types of meals I loathed in those days.

There were occasional days, however, that made my eyes light up in joy as soon as I saw the signs – covered dishes being removed from the refrigerator, the spice rack being brought out and the pantry being ransacked. These could only mean one thing – a smorgasboard.

Smorgasboards hail from Swedish cuisine and consist of a buffet-style setup full of a range of items, both hot and cold. Historically, they would be comprised of specific types of dishes – but throughout the years, tradition and translation has led them to be any combination of entrees, sides, and desserts.

In our house, it was very important to elbow your way to the head of the line, lest you miss out on the most appealing items – the entrees that had fewer leftovers, due to their relative popularity in our family. I remember looking down at a plate filled with chicken enchiladas, meatloaf, pear salad (canned halved pears filled to the brim with mayonnaise, shredded cheese and lettuce), and a slice of cinnamon toast. It never dawned on me then that my mother was simply getting rid of leftovers while simultaneously allowing herself a night off of cooking. In my mind, it was a magical occurrence that allowed us to sample different types of cuisines and made for an exciting dinner filled with interesting flavor combinations.

Even to this day, whenever my husband asks me what I think we should have for dinner, and the idea of a smorgasboard pops into my head, I am automatically taken back to a time when dinner was fun – and was about seeing what you could come up with. I do sometimes take the time to create a smorgasboard instead of just using leftovers, usually when we can’t decide what we want or can’t agree on just one thing. Otherwise, it’s childhood revisited – leftover roasted sweet potatoes, a fried green tomato blt (when the green tomatoes are on the verge of ripening, the lettuce is running the risk of wilting, and we’re almost out of bread), chicken and waffles. It’s certainly not gourmet, and I’ve felt a twinge of guilt at feeding my loving husband such a mishmash of foods, but then I remember my mother doing it for us, and how happy it made me – and I dive in.

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