My Mema was a hard-working grandmother with very little time on her hands. But that didn’t stop her from teaching me important life skills. From Mema, I learned how to bargain shop. I learned which fruits were ripe for picking and how to part my hair. Most importantly, I learned how to cook eggs — and, along with that, I learned the importance of patience and persistence.
Text by Sarah Vice
A Mess of Eggs
I was six years old the first time I attempted to make eggs. Mema set out two bowls and a carton of eggs on the kitchen counter. Then, she handed me an egg and let me watch her crack one on the edge of her bowl. I tried to mimic her movements, but ended up with half the egg on my shoes and the other half in the bowl — shell included.
I impatiently pulled her bowl down to see what her eggs looked like on the inside, and ended up spilling more egg on my shoes. She just laughed. She had the most memorable wheezing laugh I had ever heard. Later, I realized with delight that she and I shared the same laugh.
Don’t Give Up
Mema helped me clean up my mess and took the remaining eggs over to a skillet on the stove. Glass top ovens weren’t common yet, so the skillet sat on a black cage with a blue flame underneath. The flame hissed and clicked, reminding me not to get too close without permission.
Mema whisked the eggs together in one bowl before pouring them into the heavily buttered skillet. Her hands moved so quickly that I was convinced I’d never be as good as her. She said someday, with practice, I would be just as fast. It reminded me of my lack of patience, a trait she assured me came from my grandad. But really it came from her.
Cooking and Life Require Patience
She pulled up a chair near the stove for me to reach the skillet. I watched her move a spatula back and forth through the eggs. This broke them up and scrambled them. She handed the spatula to me, then added more butter and some salt. A few times, the yokes spilled over onto the eye, but Mema never took the spatula away from me.
I ended up making half-burnt (but still somehow delicious) eggs that we shared. After that, she let me help her make eggs very morning that I stayed with her. She never got upset with me, no matter how many messes I made or how long it took to finish cooking. Memories of making eggs with her remind me that sometimes love is shown through expressions of kindness and patience. And I also can cook a mean scrambled egg to this day, thanks to Mema.
Every year for Mother’s Day, my dad brought home yellow roses and cooked dinner while my siblings and I cleaned house. At least, that’s how things were until I decided to try to cook — emphasis on try. I wanted to do something more than just folding laundry. The meal I made may have been a disaster, but the memories — and laughter — we shared will last a lifetime.
Text by Sarah Vice
Making the Menu
I had no clue what I wanted to make. Pasta would be simple, but didn’t my hard-working mom deserve a little more effort? Tacos sounded good, but I didn’t feel like my cooking could rival my mom’s tacos. In fact, anything I tried to cook would have been sad in comparison to my mom’s home-cooked meals.
Finding Family Recipes
I shuffled through a tin box of family recipe cards until I found two that looked good. One was old and written entirely in cursive. It was a recipe for “French Potatoes,” which are very similar to scalloped potatoes. The other recipe card was newer and had my mom’s handwriting all over. It was a recipe for “Italian Chicken” — and it seemed fairly simple.
Time to Spare
I wanted everything to be perfect. I followed the instructions closely. And I only cut my hand once while slicing the potatoes into thin pieces. I considered that a good sign. Finally, I put the food in the oven and set the timer for thirty minutes. Then I decided to take advantage of the break by laying on the living room couch. It was right next to the kitchen and, I told myself, I wasn’t tired enough to fall completely asleep. And so I took the risk.
That was the wrong move. I awoke to the fire alarm and the smell of burnt chicken. My mom had apparently been in the shower. She rushed into the kitchen, wearing a towel. Smoke filled the kitchen, but thankfully, there was no fire. With my mom’s help, I salvaged what little of the charred chicken I could.
She laughed once the smoke cleared and the oven was empty. I watched her take a bite of the blackened meat and then she swallowed. She actually ingested that poison. Then she thanked me and told me how grateful she was that I even tried. And so, I thanked her for being the best mom.
Thankfully, now I know where to turn if I want to make a delicious meal for Mother’s Day: Market Table. Check out our catering options, or swing by to see our fresh, delicious, and, most importantly, fully prepared take-home meals.
I’m grateful to my mother for so many things. She taught me how to do laundry and showed me how to coupon. Most importantly, she let me experiment in the kitchen. My mother regularly cooked for our family while I was growing up. She was a master of quick dinners and improvised casseroles. Her uncanny ability to combine raw ingredients to create a flavorful meal is one I’m glad I’ve inherited. When I think about what I learned in my mother’s kitchen, I realize she taught me more than how to follow a recipe. She taught me how to find joy.
Text by Annika Bastian
Learning Means Making Mistakes
During summer breaks in high school, I developed a love for food-themed television. Soon, I couldn’t stop flipping through food magazines and fancy cookbooks. I started cooking with several disastrous attempts at desserts. Early adventures included cookies that were hard little rocks, pecan pie with salt instead of sugar, and pudding congealed so thickly it was nearly inedible.
Practice Makes (Almost) Perfect
Thankfully, even after these less-than-successful attempts, my mother still let me back in the kitchen. She gave me pointers on where I went wrong and tips on how to improve. After mastering the art of boiling pasta and making béchamel sauce, I felt invincible. Thanks to her guiding hand, I now feel comfortable handling fresh vegetables and raw meat. And I even know how to make cookies that actually look like cookies, not rocks.
How to Help Newcomers Learn and Love to Cook
If you’re an experienced home cook, I hope you’ll pass on your love of cooking. I encourage you to give new cooks the same freedom my mother gave me. Let newcomers experience the basic cooking techniques offered in many simple dishes. You can even buy a pre-prepared main dish and teach them how to make simple sides. New cooks can sharpen their skills by making roasted broccoli, glazed carrots, or mashed potatoes. If they manage nothing but making a mess of the kitchen, offer up encouragement and a dish rag. They’ll figure it out soon, and, with your help, they’ll learn that cooking really can be a joy.
When it comes to cooking, everyone starts out not knowing what they’re doing, but somehow we figure it out along the way. With lots of tasty ups and bitter downs, every dish shows a beginner how to better their techniques.
When you’re in need of comfort, there’s nothing better than delicious Southern soul food. And sometimes we need comfort from life-altering events like natural disasters. For my town, April 27, 2011 was one of those times.
Text by Sarah Vice
Most Alabamians know by now what happened on that date. A large EF4 tornado ripped through half of Alabama. But what you may not know is how the communities pulled together directly after the storm. A neighborhood beside my high school was flattened, but thankfully no lives were lost there. In the days after the tragedy, I witnessed how people show love through food, and how a meal can heal in the most necessary of ways.
The National Guard had brought in aluminum bags of prepared foods. Residents also donated all the canned goods they could offer. These weren’t exactly the kinds of comfort foods that we look forward to, but no one was complaining.
Volunteer Servers and Chefs
Within a few days, however, the local restaurants that remained unaffected were able to pull together enough volunteer employees to reopen. But they weren’t just reopening for business. They were reopening to provide meals to those who needed them the most.
These restaurant owners were members of this town. They lived with the people affected by the tornado and were set on doing as much as they could to help. The employees and owners worked hard making hamburgers, biscuits, BBQ sandwiches, key lime pies, tacos, and so much more. They piled the food into trucks to drive to a community center. There, they welcomed all to a warm, free meal.
People were visibly in tears. They ate hungrily. For many, it was the first full, hot meal they’d had in almost a week. But the restaurants didn’t stop at serving these delicious dishes. They also opened up fundraisers in unaffected nearby towns in hopes of bringing more supplies to the victims.
Neighbors who still had a home joined in. They baked several meals a day and brought the food to the community center. For weeks to come, their food, kindness, and generosity nourished my small town. It’s in these moments that we grow to appreciate the little things like comfort foods and the bigger things, like our communities, that become our support systems.
Fewer meals sound more hearty than a fresh lasagna. Melted cheese and sauce combine with layers of noodles and ricotta, making a meal many of us know and love. However, it’s a meal few of us have time to make from scratch. It’s true that when you’re making dinner, you’re making memories. But in our busy lives, how do we keep making dinner a time to gather with friends and family? Thankfully, it’s not laboring over the meals themselves that matters but the memories surrounding them.
Text by Annika Bastian
A Childhood Favorite
Lasagna holds a special place in both my heart and my appetite. As a child, the meal felt festive. When lasagna was on the menu, I knew it was going to be a good day.
My mother would devote an entire Sunday afternoon to making her lasagna. She’d get home from church a little after noon and have dinner on the table by four. It was a weekend treat we enjoyed with family and friends for as long as I can remember. She often served lasagna when report cards went out, when birthdays came around, or when loved ones visited town. To me, lasagna is the meal that brings together family and food.
Making My Own Lasagna (Sort Of)
Once lasagna’s in the oven, the hard part is over, but assembling that Italian goodness is enough to make most of us choose a different dinner option. I haven’t made a lasagna by hand in years, not when lots of delicious pre-prepared options exist. From fresh to frozen, I’ve tried all kinds of pre-made lasagnas. I find it’s worth the extra penny to get fresh, pre-prepared options. When I’m near Homewood, I make sure to stop at Market Table and pick up their hearty and healthy family-sized veggie lasagna. It’s the perfect meal to share with kids who’ve come home from college, friends on board game night, or with your spouse for candle-lit alone time.
Bringing Friends and Family Back Together
With the main dish taken care of, all you have to do is steam broccoli or whip up a simple salad and some buttery garlic bread for tasty side dishes. They’ll be ready in so little time you can set the table for a hassle-free dinner. Then, you can enjoy being with your friends and family, making memories instead of washing dishes in the kitchen.
There’s something comforting about a warm vegetable soup when you’re feeling down, especially when it’s made with love and cornbread. That’s just how my mother always makes it — and how her mother made it before her.
Text by Sarah Vice
Me Against the Tree
When I was six years old, I mistakenly targeted a tree with my bike and tumbled off. I had a bruise the size of Alabama on my chin — and three less teeth in my mouth. When I finally got out of the dentist’s office, my mother prepared some of her famous vegetable soup. I stuck around the kitchen while she washed the vegetables and peeled off their skins. She then poured buttermilk into a bowl of cornmeal and stirred. Despite the numbness in my mouth and the drool dripping onto my shirt, I was at peace watching her work.
First Love = First Broken Heart
When I was twelve, I had my first real crush. A boy name Kelvin confessed his feelings for me. By the next day, he started dating someone else. I cried to my mother about the boy who broke my heart. She marched straight to the kitchen to see if we had any vegetables. This time, I helped her peel the skins and mix the cornmeal and buttermilk.
Loss and Love
When I was eighteen, I realized I didn’t have the money to pay for college. My parents were taking care of my three brothers so they couldn’t help financially. My mom made our special soup for dinner that night. I asked her why she always chose soup instead of ice cream, because it seemed like frozen treats were the go-to comfort food for most people. She just smiled and said it was to bring warmth to my heart and nutrients to my soul. The cornbread was just a bonus.
Now, whenever I’m unsettled, I go home and fill a pot with cleaned vegetables and beef stock. I mix up a batter of cornbread and place it in the oven. The simple motions of making the hearty meal reminds me of my mother’s love and patience.
Vegetable soup heals me, without fail. It reminds me that even the simplest of things can make a positive difference in our lives. And when I’m too tired even to cook, I’ve found that Market Table’s vegetable soup is close to my mother’s recipe (don’t worry, Mom — yours is still the best!). I try not to dwell on the negatives as much as possible these days. Not when there’s always soup to feed my soul.