Last night the boys and I flew into Boston’s Logan airport after a 17-day excursion in Iowa. It was a rural vacation; I spent most of it barefoot. On grass. Across gravel. In water. Around a campfire. On a fishing boat. One day Liam was heading out the door at Mom and Dad’s, and I asked him where his shoes were. He asked me why I wanted to know. It was a question I asked every day as they headed out the door to school, but he was right: today, playing outside at Grandma and Grandpa’s, it didn’t really matter where his shoes were. Indeed, why was I asking?
A vacation in Iowa meant a switch to a shoeless culture reminiscent of my childhood. And it didn’t stop there. Normally more resistant to carbs, I gave in to those as readily as I went barefoot. Nothing is easier than putting meat between two slices of bread for a quick lunch. And as for a bacon and catsup sandwich on white bread for breakfast, well, at least I skipped the accompanying pancakes.
Liam discovered Hawaiian rolls at my sister’s house during the first couple days of our trip. He is more of a de-constructed sandwich eater: a roll with real butter and a couple slices of meat on the side. We had a family reunion for my mom’s side, inviting everyone to a potluck in park shelter on a Sunday afternoon. Liam loved those rolls, so I asked one aunt if she would pick some up on her way through town. Mom and I let everyone know the basics that we would bring: scalloped potatoes and ham, fruit, veggies, and PBJ sandwiches. Then, we threw in sliced turkey and ham too.
At the park, we set up a table for desserts and one with a cold island for fruits, veggies, sliced meats, and deviled eggs. On a table closest to the outlet, we plugged in the crock pot of escalloped potatoes and ham. On another table, we put out a loaf of wheat bread with peanut butter and strawberry jam.
The carb table was a little sparse and pitiful until everyone started arriving… with rolls! The turkey and ham sandwiches suddenly had more choices than a Hawaiian sweet roll or a slice of flimsy wheat bread. I remember the full table but not all the varieties. With one exception: one aunt brought her infamous homemade rolls “because that was the easiest thing I could make.” I know no one else who would let those words roll so easily over their lips. Her rolls were still warm and butter melted so beautifully on my split roll that I ate it without any meat – the first one, that is.
Desserts that day – brownies and chocolate chip cookies – joined forces with all sorts of sweets over the course of 17 days. My aunt’s homemade blackberry and chocolate pies. A 9x13 pan of cinnamon rolls from an Amish friend as a thank you to Mom and Dad for a favor – with a loaf of homemade bread on the side. Mom’s chocolate drop cookies and chocolate chip cookies, perfectly baked. Monster cookies from Liam’s hero, dubbed “Monster Cookie Girl.” She is a neighbor of Mom and Dad’s who brought monster cookies to their house when we were visiting over a year ago, proving that the way to this kid’s heart is through his stomach.
Mom grilled a couple nights and had baked potatoes, boiled potatoes, mashed potatoes, or leftover escalloped potatoes accompanying the steaks and chicken. When we first arrived home, the table was set for 14 for supper. Served family style, the bowls and plates of food just kept going round and round the table. I passed on vegetable seconds, except for that nearly-not-a-vegetable: potatoes.
Boiled and mashed spuds remind me of my grandpas on either side of the family. With butter, salt, and pepper, potatoes were a supper staple for those two farmers. Sitting at that table with potatoes on my plate… what a strange way to feel close to those who are no longer with us. But potatoes can pull memories of them so close to the present that it makes my eyes water.
Living on a farm means nearly non-stop movement year-round. Planting and harvesting in the fields and the gardens. Planting flowers and pulling weeds all season. Daily feeding cattle and checking on them in the timber. Carbs are the backbone of this life, giving the energy to thrive. Growing up, even with potatoes at the supper table, there was always a loaf of white bread to pass, whether homemade or from a Wonder bag. Spread with butter, a slice of bread was the added carb to fill up any cracks the rest of the meal may have left.
With my shoes back on and no cattle to take care of, I’m back home on the East coast. I know I let myself over-indulge in carbs way more than normal during the last 17 days. I know here that I can’t bake every week or keep lovely, fresh breads on the counter. My energy exertion this morning was a walk to the car then a walk into the library.
Without a doubt, my body will be in withdrawal the next couple days with fewer carbs converting to sugar. While it tasted good going over the tongue, those carbs landed in places making the waistband on my shorts difficult to connect.
Still, every time I go to Iowa, there will be a plate-sized fried, pork tenderloin served on a way too small hamburger bun in some little diner or restaurant. And, fortunately, Iowa is the only state where I have found those delicious carb- and fat-packed sandwiches.
Today, I’ve kicked my shoes off under the table where I’m writing in the library, but I’ll be having a salad for lunch.
(Then there's THE August carb of the month -- sweet corn! Click Corn's On! for that story!)