Homemade meals away from home
March 6th, 2012
11:00 AM ET
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When my parents come from Chicago to visit me in Atlanta, they don't book a flight. Instead of hopping a two-hour flight, they make a 12-hour trek through five states because what they're bringing would never pass those TSA agents.

There is no exemption to the liquid rule when it comes to homemade marinara sauce. What they have will not fit in those quart-sized zip-top bags, not to mention the concern that might arise from the smoking coolers filled with dry ice keeping homemade Chicago goodness fresh on its southern journey. So, they pack up the car and drive.

Personally, I think they're crazy - but I won't complain too much because that cooler of food is destined for my refrigerator. That pan of lasagna conjures up memories of home, family and tradition. When I smell the homemade red sauce, I instantly think of my mom in her kitchen (yes, HER kitchen) stirring a huge pot. She always says a great sauce (or gravy) doesn't drip through a fork.

Also in that blue and white cooler: two tubs of my mom's legendary Italian ice. If you have not had a proper lemon ice, do yourself a favor. My parents spend a day in the kitchen squeezing fresh lemons to get the flavor just right. It's a recipe perfected years ago to replicate the lemon ice they enjoyed as kids from the street vendors in Chicago.

As mentioned earlier, it's crazy to drive across the country to deliver food, but if you knew my parents, it wouldn't be a surprise. My mom always has home-cooked meals ready to go in the freezer. It's like the fire extinguisher in the glass that says "break in case of fire," but instead my mom is ready to "defrost in case of hunger."

For my parents, food is a therapy and a comfort. It's a ministry. My mom, dad and that cooler stay ready at a moment's notice for family and friends. Someone moving? Grab the Sloppy Joes and pick up some buns on the way. Someone lose their job? Let's bring them a meatloaf. Someone sick in the hospital? That family needs some soup. Who just had a baby? Get the spare lasagna. And not to mention holiday parties, where my mom's kitchen looks like a scene out of "The Sopranos" based on both food and characters.

This is what I think of when the smell of my mom's lasagna seeps from the oven in my Decatur apartment. And I certainly can't keep this goodness to myself because that's not the way our family does it. So, a few friends come over for dinner and after I explain to them the journey of this lasagna, we pour some red wine and toast to James and Linda Binder for the delicious, home-cooked meal. Salute!

Italian Ice
Courtesy Linda Binder

1 envelope unflavored gelatin (recommended brand: Knox)
2 cups sugar
3 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 Tbsp grated lemon rind

1. Combine gelatin, sugar and water in a medium-size saucepan. Stir over low heat until sugar and gelatin are dissolved, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in lemon juice and rind, cool.
2. Pour mixture into a large bowl or 13x9x2-inch pan and freeze overnight.
3. Break up frozen mixture; beat in a chilled large bowl with electric mixer until fluffy.
4. Spoon into freezer containers, cover and freeze until firm. To serve, scrape across ice with a large spoon and serve.

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Filed under: Airlines • Make • Recipes • Sweet • Travel

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soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. Love To Cook

    Sounds great! I too love to bring food. Do not enjoy using someone else's kitchen. I agree with the mother, good marinara sauce should sit on the fork. Allow a few hours for simmering, it truly makes a difference. Make sure you have a good base! I learned from the very best! Zia Loretta...How I miss her! Learning from her was the only way to go. Everything made with love, always whoever was coming in mind. You can bet, all thier favorites were on her table. I can go on and on, but I won't. Love To All....

    March 7, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
  2. Diane

    Do you think it would be possible to substitute agar for the gelatin?

    March 7, 2012 at 11:43 am |
  3. Rebecca

    Aw I was so hoping to find the lasagna recipe. It sounds devine!

    March 7, 2012 at 9:37 am |
  4. MashaSobaka

    I WAS the cook in my family from the teenage years on. Mom was working and, though we didn't know it, beginning to develop lung disease, and she needed all the help she could get. The way I get homecooked meals away from home is to cook my food myself. Cheaper, healthier, and tastier.

    March 6, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
  5. bs1

    It's called "checked baggage" folks, and the $50 bag fee is going to be less than the cost of all the gas and vehicle maintenance for the long drive. Dry ice is allowed, but it is limited to 5# per package, which should be plenty for a few hours of airport and flight time.

    March 6, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
    • Rie

      My mother (who also makes amazing homemade marinara) tried that once. the soggy mess of a carboard box and plastic bags floating an a cooler full of escaped sauce conviced her not to. Do you really think TSA handles baggage in a way that allows for that sort of thing?

      March 7, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  6. Kelly

    I loved this article. I will never be as great a cook as either of my parents. I can relate...well except that my will only fly to see me. But they cook when they get here!

    March 6, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  7. Cooking is a SKILL

    What a nice article thank you hope more to come do you have a recipie website?

    March 6, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
  8. Wastrel

    Don't your parents realize that when what "they're bringing would never pass those TSA agents" that they are establishing a prima facie case that they are terrorists? Transporting this food across state lines without a permit should be illegal! And don't even THINK about bringing it from Italy!

    March 6, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
  9. Fiona

    Just a heads up on the lemon ice, for those who don't cook a lot. Make sure you know whether the lemons you have are real lemons (Eureka is the common commercial variety) or Meyers. The Meyer "lemon" is really a hybrid orange and lacks the acidity of a true lemon. You can use them, but you'll need to cut back the sugar and the ice will lack that sharp tang that makes a lemon ice memorable.

    March 6, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
  10. Shirely

    And I thought the cookies mailed to me from home were the cat's pajamas. Maybe someday we could be neighbors and I'd at least get to smell all the goodness.

    March 6, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
  11. Desi

    They bring the frozen Italian ice across the country? Why not bring the prepared mixture and freeze it once they are there?

    March 6, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • Fiona

      Or learn how to use Fex Ex

      March 6, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
  12. Vanessa Quan

    I love this story...thank you for sharing, Bless your parents and that cooler....

    March 6, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
  13. Multi-Tasking @ Work

    what beautiful memories....I can smell it from here

    March 6, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
  14. Sherry

    Sounds wonderful, but I don't understand why the parents don't just fly there and cook when they arrive? That's what my mother does, and the aromas......

    March 6, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • Delois Price

      Probably can't get the same ingredients in both places ... and it's always easier to cook in the comfort of your own kitchen.

      March 6, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
      • Not Amused

        You really think Chicago sells food ingredients that are not available in Atlanta? Like what? It is far more likely that Atlanta offers foods and ingredients that are not available in Chicago!

        March 6, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
        • Delois Price

          MEEEEoow! Pfffftt! Dial down the attack mode dude. Geez. I was offering a suggestion in answer to Sherry's question. I wasn't trying to be funny or smart alecky ...
          ... 'til now ...
          Sorry to hear about your bowl of corn flakes this morning. You may want to start treating it like watching your drink at a bar: keep an eye on your cereal or someone's likely to pe e on it and ruin your whole day. Consider upping your meds & cutting back on the caffeine. Oh and have an ice day.

          March 6, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
        • Shirely

          Atlanta is an oasis in the middle of a redneck state. If it weren't for the southern accents, you'd think you were in Chicago or something.

          March 6, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • Daisy

      What difference does it make? They are doing it the way they want to, and your parents do it the way they want to. I'm sure your parents are wonderful, brilliant people, but not everyone has to do things the same way. I hate cooking in a kitchen other than mine, so I would also make everything at home.

      March 7, 2012 at 9:39 am |
  15. Tanya Hyde

    Mother practiced a modified version of this.
    Are you hungry? Eat.
    Are you sad? Eat.
    Did you scrape your knee? Eat.
    Fight with your sister? Eat.
    That time of the month? Eat.
    Flat tire? Eat.
    Threat Level upped to orange? Eat.
    Nuclear holocaust? Eat.

    March 6, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • Fiona

      You're lucky. My mother's answer to all those questions was "it must be a problem with you."

      At least I was thin.

      March 6, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
    • jj

      Can't resist:

      If you're fat. Eat.
      If you're diabetic. Eat.


      March 6, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • MashaSobaka

      "Nuclear holocaust? Eat." I lol'd!

      March 6, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
  16. Valerie

    Loved this....this is SO like our family too.....we are Chicagoans too only we are Polish! : ))

    March 6, 2012 at 11:49 am |
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