Some people have taught me what I consider to be their specialties. I learned how to make beans and cornbread from Mother. In Texas, we say we're "making beans" not "cooking beans." She didn't tell me traditional measurements, but rather showed me how much salt to pour into my palm. When to add the salt is important, too: You wait until the beans' markings have faded, take one out and mash it on the counter with a fork. If it mashes easily, you're ready for the seasonings. And although I feel I make a big pot of beans that are just as good as hers, my cornbread doesn't compare. I just can't replicate it. I think that's fitting, considering she had to make cornbread countless times growing up in a poor family.
I learned how to make chicken fried steak and gravy from my stepdad, Dale. The important part is the gravy - I vividly recall him showing me how to season the drippings and flour with salt and pepper at just the right time, before adding the milk. It's perfect every time, but I'd still rather have him make it. Somehow it's just better.
Banana pudding is my paternal grandmother's specialty (in my mind anyway). Mema made banana pudding for me and DeeBee everytime we visited, it seems. She never used instant pudding but rather made the from-scratch recipe on the box of Nabisco's Nilla Wafers. I use the same recipe today and refuse to try an instant version. Maybe it's more for sentimental reasons, but I hope I always take the time to get out the double boiler and make it slowly.
Breakfast was my dad's specialty, and probably still is. He didn't wait until Saturday or Sunday for a big breakfast. If he was so inclined, I'd wake up on a school morning to a full blown buffet - eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, and my favorite part - he'd add freshly sliced tomatoes and avocados. Doesn't it just make you feel good when someone cooks a big meal for you? I know kids tend to take things like that for granted, but I truly remember loving Daddy's breakfasts. I hope I told him "thank you" at the time.
Funny how memories associated with food are so powerful.