The phrase “home cooking” definitely has an ideal. Coming in to a familiar, caring place, where life is warm and clean and full of easy decorum, a cozy culture laden with scents of umami spilling out of the kitchen, well-accompanied by mashed potatoes and gravy. Everything is cooked perfectly but without the polish of restaurant service, and you are attended to by family who loves you, not servers who are paid to like you.

This is what we want home food to be like. When I feed friends (who are my chosen family as I am 3000 miles away from the bio-relatives), I do my best to make them feel cared for but not doted on — I routinely forget to offer them drinks as they walk in the door but no one thinks twice about grabbing a glass from the cupboard behind me as I’m cleaning kale or chopping parsley, and I usually eschew appetizer plates unless I know it will be a particularly long time between their walking in the door and sitting down to eat. Come over for a dinner party sometimes, but really, come over for dinner, and tell me how your day went, and I will feed you what you’re craving, or I’ll guinea pig you into a new recipe which may or may not be a disaster, or I can make you that thing — you know, that thing that I make. That thing that your mom makes, because everyone’s mom has a thing that she makes. That recipe that got passed down because it is completely idiotproof and totally delicious, and even though you may not be able to fry an egg, you can make this, and every time you eat it, it’s what home cooking feels like.

My father’s aunt Mary was not an accomplished cook. As a child I never knew this, though, because I always associated her with the orange bread that my dad would make and attribute to her. Out of one recipe my 8-year-old mind relied on sumptuous smells constantly emanating from Great-aunt Mary’s kitchen in Philadelphia, the reality of which was well-hidden by a 12-hour drive from our home in western North Carolina. Come to think of it, I don’t think Aunt Mary ever cooked for me, but the tight, spongy texture of this quickbread is that thing, that thing that my dad makes, that thing that I make, that thing that Aunt Mary made. It’s matter-of-fact, delicious food, and it serves my matter-of-fact way of feeding people, the way that has just a hint of “now THAT’S a tasty, easy idea.”

Orange Bread
makes 1 loaf

Although it’s nice to use a microplane to zest oranges for this, resist the temptation. A little bit of pith doesn’t hurt anything this time, and the chunkier texture is pleasant here. Lately when I’ve been making this I’ve been squezing the juice from the oranges into the measuring cup and then filling it up the rest of the way with water, instead of using all water as the recipe calls for. I’ve made it vegan with shortening and egg replacer and it was just as tasty.

peel (excluding most of the pith) of two oranges, chopped finely
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons shortening or butter, melted
1 egg, well beaten
3 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder

Preheat oven to 350F. In a saucepan boil peel, salt, sugar, and 1 cup water for about 15 minutes to make a thin syrup. Let cool. Add remaining water, shortening/butter, and egg. Sift together flour and baking powder, add to wet ingredients, mix thoroughly. Bake in a greased loaf pan for 1 1/4 hours or until a tester comes out clean. Let sit in the pan for 5 minutes then turn out onto a rack to cool.

Mary Anderson