Food Memoir Contest Award Winners – First Place Story and Recipe

by Matilda Butler on April 7, 2010

catnav-scrapmoir-active-3Post #32 – Women’s Memoirs, ScrapMoir – Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett

Memories and Food: Contest Winners Announced

Drum roll, please. Clapping hands. Loud cheers.

Women’s Memoirs March Contest is pleased to announce seven wonderful award-winning stories, recipes, and photos. Kendra and I read each one and found ourselves laughing, reminiscing, and definitely hungry at the end of our session. But rather than head straight for the kitchen to cook the treasured family recipes shared in these memoir vignettes, we knew we had to make the difficult choice of determining a winner and the honorable mentions.

There were multiple aspects of each one that we liked — a strong characterization, powerful use of the five senses, an unusual metaphor, great phrases, as well as a strong sense of story. As I look now over my notes, I see how often I wrote –” good, like this.” However, we had to declare a winner. As it turned out, Kendra and I had independently ranked the same two vignettes submitted to our KitchenScraps Series March 2010 Contest at the top of our lists. They are quite different stories and each had different strengths. Therefore, we have decided to declare a tie for first place. These two winners are:

Jamie Schler Dagneaux

with her story



Joellyn Simpson Avery

with her story


In addition to publication of their stories on our website, both Jamie and Joellyn will receive a copy of our five DVD set: The [Essential] Women’s Memoirs Writing Workshop: 21 Steps from Planning to Publication. Congratulations.

Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order) to:

Renee Cassese with her story BLINTZES

Ginger B. Collins with her story DRIP-DRY HOSTESS

Nancy Julien Kopp with her story LOVE ON A PLATE

Mairi Neil with her story FAIRY CAKES, A MAGICAL JOURNEY

Lanie Tankard with her story THE BEAN POT

The real winners, of course, are the readers. You will admire and enjoy these stories.

All Seven Stories to be Published

Since all the stories are well written, we will be publishing them over the coming weeks, two each month. Today we begin with Jamie Schler Dagneaux’s vignette, recipe and photographs and will publish Joellyn Simpson Avery’s vignette, the other first place winner, on Thursday March 22.

Women’s Memoirs April Contest Ongoing

We hope today’s story and the others you’ll read will inspire you to submit your story of a memory associated with food. Click here for Memoir Contest Rules.

by Jamie Schler Dagneaux

It was just 3 or 4 days shy of my ninth birthday. I had dreamed of owning a “big bike”, moving from a kid’s small bicycle to an adult-sized beauty, like the big kids, and here it was! My new bicycle, a beautiful deep blue, standing tall and proud in the garage just waiting for my birthday, a siren’s call to climb aboard and ride off into the sunset. Well, at least ride off in the sunshine to school.

But it was still a couple of days until my birthday and my mom said that as it was my birthday present I would just have to be patient and wait! No! Unfair! How could I possibly ride to school even one more day on my “kid’s” bike when this grown-up one was here, standing right in front of me, tempting me, practically mocking me? Well, I simply would not put up with it. Action was called for. So, the next day I got up, ate breakfast, got dressed, grabbed my books and went to my mom and proclaimed “I am taking my new bike to school!”

She put her foot down and said “No!” Well, no way was I riding the other bike to school so I simply refused to go. Period. Now, I had always been the “good girl”, the one who never missed a day of school, never cheated, never lied, never went against the rules. But here I was, faced with a dilemma, having to take what was practically a political, ideological stance and there was no way I was going to back down. I just would not go to school. But mom, ever pragmatic, stood her ground: “You can make your own decision about school, but as far as I am concerned, you have gone to school, so outside you go. Where you spend your day is up to you but it won’t be in this house. And there is a perfectly good lunch waiting for you in the school cafeteria, so don’t think that you’ll be allowed in the house at noon for lunch.”

So I spent the school hours, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., sitting on the step in the garage, leaning back against the washing machine. Cold. Miserable. And hungry.

But finally the day, this longest day of my life was done and I was allowed in the house for dinner. Now, I don’t remember if I had an after-school snack that day or not, but when I finally sat down to dinner I was famished. And on that day of all days, that long ago January of my ninth year, simply the worst day of my life, a day spent humiliated, sitting in the chilly garage on cold, hard cement, knowing that tomorrow I would have to face my teacher and explain why I had missed a day of school, starved, without food, you can be sure that on that day of all days she decided to make liver and onions. Liver and onions, my arch-nemesis, the bane of my life, my bête noire, the worst of the worst as far as mom’s cooking went: shoe-leather dry liver crumbling to ash in the mouth, its desiccated texture only relieved by the occasional mysterious chewy thing. Desperately I choked down as much as I could, smothered in my savior, ketchup, and washed down with gulps of milk.

Now, was this some cruel twist of fate or was it just desserts for an unruly, disobedient child, punishment for the naughty girl that I had been? But had I been that naughty to deserve my most detested meal? Either way, lesson learned. This day, this meal was forever burned into my memory, leaving truly a bad taste in my mouth.

I find it funny how my memories, both the good and the bad, are highlighted, nay, completely intertwined with food. I wonder if the memory of this terrible, tragic day has remained tucked in a corner of my mind because of this horrible meal, this meal that punctuated the day with an exclamation point? If I had walked into the house to hot dogs and home fries, a favorite dinner, a meal that would’ve soothed my broken heart, would this experience have stuck with me for so many years? Truly a bad day that got worse, insult added to injury, salt rubbed into the wound, accentuating this day for me as if the gods were making sure that I never forgot this lesson learned, a lesson that will surely haunt me forever.

Mom in the kitchen

Mom in the kitchen

Now, I must explain that my mother meant no punishment: she truly loved liver and onions and thought that hers were absolutely divine. You see, my mom was no Betty Crocker. I may have spent hours in front of the TV watching the Galloping Gourmet and The French Chef, but, no, not mom. No Happy Homemaker, the kitchen was never part of her comfort zone. Each afternoon when I slammed into the house after a long, hot day at school, no mom was waiting expectantly at the door with a plate of fresh-from-the-oven home-baked cookies. She was more than likely off at work or volunteering someplace or other, one of her multitude of activities, the Modern Woman. She never liked to cook and wasn’t ashamed to say so. From the earliest, as soon as we could open the refrigerator door and reach the counter, we were expected to get our own breakfast (cold cereal, toast, Poptarts) and lunch (sandwiches, fruit, dessert) and after-school snacks (whatever we wanted). Once a week we had TV dinner night. The invention of frozen, pre-cooked and packaged meals was her heavenly reward, her savior.

A typical family meal

A typical family meal

Yet, as anti-housewife as she was, as often as she shouted from the rooftops her antagonism to cooking, she, in perfect and efficient 1960’s style, did have dinner on the table every night at 6. Yet between the leathery liver and the cabbage soup that could take off paint and put hair on your chest (at the same time), the over-cooked, under-flavored oven-baked fish and the greasy spaghetti and meatballs, she did make some tasty dishes, food that leaves a happy memory in my childhood: salmon croquettes and home fries, chicken noodle casserole and Surprise Burgers. Both the best of her cooking and the worst remain as defining features of my childhood around which all the rest swirls.

One of my favorite meals was Veal Scallopini. As a young girl, I found this dish otherworldly, the height of sophistication. Tender veal simmered in a tomato sauce kissed by white wine. Can you imagine? Small town girl in the Sixties eating a dish cooked in wine? Prepared by her mother? The only other time that I was allowed something cooked with alcohol was on those special evenings when dad would pack us all into the station wagon and we’d drive around the corner for dinner out at Peg Leg’s restaurant. We would step out of the Florida heat into the cool, dark restaurant where the hostess would lead us to a wooden booth the color of chocolate, the sound of our footsteps muffled by the blood red carpet and she would hand us tall menus as we slid into the booth. I would nibble on golden, sizzling hushpuppies lightly dusted with powdered sugar as I cast my eyes over the menu, nervously hovering between this dish and that, wishing that I could taste each and every one. I would invariably choose either the Shrimp Scampi or the Shrimp Newburg. Both foreign, exotic and so very adult, plump, rosy shrimp nestled in either shimmering butter heady with the scent of garlic, or smothered in a tangy, spicy, tomatoey sauce spiked with wine or sherry.

On my last trip home, I was rooting through my mom’s kitchen cupboards as I usually do looking for anything that I could slip unnoticed into my suitcase and bring back to France when I came across her old, battered copy of Our Favorite Recipes, a compilation of family recipes put together by the Sisterhood of Temple Beth Sholom in Satellite Beach, recipes written down and submitted by my mom and her fellow synagogue sisters in the 1960’s. And my mom, the woman who hated to cook, was Chairman of the Cook Book Committee. Well, sure enough, I stumbled across all of my mom’s recipes, memories of flavors, odors, tastes bouncing around in my head, and there, on page 12, staring back at me, was her recipe for Veal Scallopini just screaming to be made. So make it I did, awash in wonderful memories.

Mom's Veal Scallopini

Mom's Veal Scallopini

Adapted from Our Favorite Recipes, a compilation of recipes from the Sisterhood of Temple Beth Sholom, recipe by Ruth Schler

4 veal cutlets, 1 per person, not too thin (about ¼ inches thick or so)
½ cup (65 g) flour seasoned with salt, a generous grinding of black pepper and ½ tsp paprika
Margarine and olive oil for sautéeing
8 ½ oz (250 g) white mushrooms, trimmed, cleaned and sliced
1 – 2 cloves garlic, minced
5 oz (140 g) tomato paste
1 ¾ cups (425 ml) water
2 tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
Generous grinding of black pepper or to taste
1 bay leaf (optional)
½ tsp dried thyme
3 whole cloves
½ cup (125 ml) dry white wine

March-1-Jamie-Veal-Scallopini-close-upRinse the veal cutlets and pat dry with paper towels. Dredge in the seasoned flour, shake off excess flour and place on a clean plate.

Heat a large skillet and melt about a tablespoon each of the margarine and oil until bubbling. When the oil is hot, dredge the veal cutlets once again in the flour, shake off the excess and brown the veal over medium-high heat until browned on both sides. Remove from the skillet and reserve on the plate.

Combine the tomato paste, water, sugar, salt and pepper, bay, thyme and cloves in a bowl and stir until the tomato paste is blended completely in.

Add a bit more margarine and oil to the skillet and sautée the mushrooms with the garlic for just a few minutes until soft and lightly browned, stirring often.

Return the browned veal to the skillet and push to bury in the mushrooms. Slowly pour the tomato liquid with the spices and herbs over the veal and mushrooms and bring to a boil, scraping up the brown bits stuck to the bottom of the skillet. Lower heat and simmer for 25 minutes, stirring often. Add the white wine to the skillet, stir, bring up to a rolling boil. Lower the heat once again to a simmer and cook for an additional 5 minutes to allow the alcohol to burn off and the sauce to thicken.

Serve over fresh pasta, preferably homemade.

This is also very delicious reheated the following day if there are any leftovers.

Jamie’s blogs:

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Aparna April 7, 2010 at

Congratulations Jamie! Written in your very own style. Remember I told you you had it in you to be published? :)

Jamie April 7, 2010 at

I am proud and thrilled to have won this writing contest, for and by women, and sharing the podium with Joellyn (congratulations!). What a wonderful place is Women’s Memoirs, a place for sharing and encouraging. Thank you!

Emma April 8, 2010 at

A wonderful piece of writing. Thoroughly enjoyed sharing the authors lovely food memories. I can just picture her disappointment on that liver and onions day!

Kendra Bonnett April 8, 2010 at

Congratulations to both Jamie and Joellyn. The judging was difficult. The entries were all good, as our readers will see in the weeks ahead as everyone is worthy of publishing here on ScrapMoir KitchenScraps page.

Thank you to all writer contestants…and a reminder, there’s still time to enter the April Memories and Food Contest. You’ll find details here:

LoveFeast Table April 8, 2010 at

Yeah Jamie!! We loved your memoir from the beginning and knew it was special!! Congrats!
Kristin and Chris Ann

Paula April 8, 2010 at

Congratulations to all the writers and especially to my friend in baking and blogging, Renee! It is because of her that I have been introduced to this site and shall be a regular visitor going forward. Looking forward to reading all the winning winning submissions. Wonderful site and wonderful stories :)

Renee of Kudos Kookies April 8, 2010 at

Congratulations Jamie! Your story brought me right back to my own childhood. I absolutely love your writing style because you always leave me with a smile on my face. My mom was no Julia Child either but she always did her best to bring her best to the table. I miss those days and their simplicity. Wonderful job and your recipe for Veal Scallopini looks devine!

Cindy April 11, 2010 at

Jamie, what a wonderful story. It had me laughing and feeling your pain. You write very well. Such courage it took for you to take a stand about your new bicycle. Courage is such a hard thing when you’re small.
Did any child ever like the liver and onions meal? The absolute worst part of your day. I understand about it – we have a story about that meal also in my book, Kaleidoscope Memories: Childhood Stories That Celebrate Family Life. It was our usual Friday night meal so we could get done quickly and go grocery shopping.
I’m glad you were a winner – it’s a great story that takes one back to their childhood meals.

Joellyn Simpson Avery April 11, 2010 at

Jamie, I am so please to share this with you; and I SO know about wanting the new bike AND my first rebellion. It cost me dearly. I almost never wrote again. Although I grew up with extraordinary fabulous cooks, I do remember going out to restaurants and ordering the EXOTIC–and yes, it was almost always shrimp-based. So looks as if you got thrown into the culinary “cat-bird” seat by living in France. Joellyn

Marilyn Waite April 30, 2010 at

Jami: Enjoyed the story, so well written, funny,and keeping my interest throughout. A slice of history from Florida. How I remember the liver served up once a week in our house, ugh! I bet many of us can taste that old piece of liver stuck in our mouths thinking it would never get chewed up! Thanks for sharing! Marilyn

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