milk skin

I grew up eating hot bowls of farina, or cream of wheat, if there’s any difference.  A smooth white grain that held the dent of my spoon, thick, pooling with drizzled honey.  My mother made it for us, as we got ready for school.  “It’s ready,” she’d yell up to us from the kitchen, still in her robe, onto fixing bagged lunches of turkey sandwiches.  I waited for it to cool as I loaded up my knapsack.  I like the milk seal layer that formed.  The skin.  It’s my favorite part.  On rice and chocolate pudding, instructions tell you to cover with plastic wrap, pressed against the pudding to avoid the skin formation.  Why would anyone do this?   

Poached eggs do it too, when the yolk is broken, and once it pools onto the plate.  If I drag a bit of my everything-bagel through the yellow gloss, the egg skin sticks, leaving behind a new brighter coat. The skin of things reminds me of growing up.  Scabs, new skin, childhood wounds.  I’m reminded of all of it, as I sit here, at Guy & Gallard, taking in a steamy frothy bit of skim chai tea. It tastes exactly like cream of wheat.  Maybe it’s the honey my mother stirred into ours.  It tastes like home, like the seven AM mornings in the house where I grew up, before I had to run to catch the bus on the corner.  It’s nice to remember, growing up in a suburb with mittens and a mother who made us breakfast and packed our lunches.  It makes me feel warmer.  I’m thankful for these things.

And since people keep asking, yes, I saw the article about me in The New York Post today while drinking my chai.  And if you’d like to come see me read while you drink (wine), join me THURSDAY, March 30, 8 PM at the New York JCC Lit’ Cafe event.  I’ll be reading, I think, passages from my memoir, or bits and pieces of the blog. 



  1. I was packing my own lunch by the age of 7. Lucky you for having a mom that packed your lunch. Did you have a cool lunch box?

  2. Two blocks down on Donald St, my mother tried to get us girls to eat cream of wheat, but to no avail. I have memories of eating my natural peanut butter sandwiches on whole wheat in the N.S. cafeteria, wishing my mom knew what Skippy was and what Wonder bread was. Cheers to our moms this morning, on those mornings, and every morning!

  3. What a warm post on a bitterly cold morning!
    When I was growing up my grandma used to make the best chocolate pudding in the world, and the skin that formed on top was the best part. If you waited long enough, you could peel it off the whole bowl in ( nearly ) one go.

    Now that I am older, whenever I make myself a hot chocolate I savour the skin and remember the good times.

    Thanks for putting a smile on my face.

  4. mmm, cream of wheat reminds me of being a kid too. i loved it. …i think i make some this morning.

  5. I can only hope that my 2 children have such fond memories of their childhoods…I think about what they will remember alot and hope that it is tender memories with lots of smells and tastes that will bring them home…to me.

  6. I love this cozy post. It's such a great feeling to be reminded of home and childhood in the middle of a whirlwind city.

  7. One of my fondest memories of my grandmother is watching her make "dippy eggs", just for me. When I was sad or lonely or extra difficult, my mother would drive me to her house to spend some time with her. She'd fry them up in a black iron skillet, after the melting Imperial margarine turned brown. After she passed away, I inherited the pan and bought Imperial margarine, even though I always used butter. For months, I made "dippy eggs" for breakfast. The taste and smells made me feel closer to her. Thanks for reminding me!!

  8. This was a very beautiful and well-written post. And saw your article in the Post today–well done!

    You're inspiring me…giving me hope that maybe, just maybe, all of us bloggers (old and new) have a shot…

  9. I grew up in rural Texas and have to admit that your post made me thankful that my mom never made me eat eggs, with or without the skin. ;)

  10. i love this. nice piece of writing. a little scary-ironic for me because on my way to work today i was thinking about soup skin, and how unearthing emotional tidbits about oneself is like giving that big vat of soup a stir to get to the good/frightening/painful stuff beneath that temporary skin that formed over top of it all.

  11. Wow…this is SO bizzarre. I was talking about milk skin last night. I can NOT remember for the life of me as to why, but I was salivating.

    It reminds me of the same things. Warm milk before bed, and my mom would let me eat the skin out of the pot…

    sigh* Thanks for putting that feeling into words. (I was just getting odd stares last night)

  12. I was raised by my single, hip dad(at least he thought so) in the 80s. Now a days he reminds me of Emeril. He had to be a mother, dad, and friend. But he was more dad than anything.

    I'm not quite fond of the whole taking lunch to school thing because I was always the kid with the worse lunches-pb and bananas, a piece of baguette and a cold chicken leg. But I remember the espresso in the morning, cookies at a coffee place if I read nicely on Saturday mornings, hiking it to the Denver Art Museum afterwards, eating pizza anytime we wanted, eggplant parmesan at 10 pm. I never had the conventional growing up… everything was DIY. It had to be, my dad was determined to have me driving by 10. I was doing dishes by 5 years old. I thought it was cool that my dad bought me a stool so I could reach the counter. I was so uncool at school.

  13. Haha, I love the nostalgia and warm memories but I tried not to think of the food you described;) But hey, to each their own…I used to ear sardines when I was little:)

  14. All I know is that my brothers and I were lucky to get out chocolate pudding skin…. My mother used to scarf it up before we even got our bowl of pudding. The other thing she used to do with our fluffernutters was taking a huge bite out of the side of the sandwich where the chewy dent was. OMG! Green jellybeans, I don't think I had one until I was out on my own. She was a total lime freak! But, guess what? She is gone and after all is said and done, I would make those same things for her just to have a laugh over the sheer pleasure she had savoring those things. Isn't it funny the little things that we remember as kids. We also had cream of wheat and grits. But put Ralston or Farina or Maypo down, we would vacate the premises…going sliding was always preferred.
    Stephanie, thanks for these personal moment blogs. It is nice to go down memory lane and visit home. "There is no place like home, there is no place like home, there is no place like home."

  15. Thanks for the memories.

    When I was a kid, it was ALL about the Farina. I wailed any time Mom tried to substitute Cream of Wheat. It had those brown flecks…

    After time, I caved.

    And the everything bagel and egg combo rocks. (Soft boiled can substitue for poached in a pinch!)

  16. I really believe that your appreciation of your childhood and all the "warmth" your parents and home provided will make an excellent mom of you!!
    Good luck and lots good vibes from me to you.

  17. Cream of wheat with brown sugar and butter – the total comfort food. Though my kids are teenagers now, I still pack their lunches every day, and put in a note of encouragement or support. The other day I was in my 14 year old daughter's room, and found the stash of every lunch note I had ever written in the drawer by her bed. She told me she reads them as she goes to sleep to have sweet dreams.

    My 15 year old son told me the other day that he missed the notes in his lunch (I quit a few weeks ago with him, thinking he was too old)…so I started again. Knowing that they feel a touch of love from me in the middle of the day is as comforting as a vat of cream of wheat.

    Thanks for sharing.

  18. I like this post because it makes me long for a simpler time, when my biggest problem was… well, I don't even know what kind of problems I had at that age, but I can guarantee I'd prefer them to the current selection.

    That chai tea sounds perfect right now.

  19. Posts like these are my favorite. Thanks for adding to my good morning :)

  20. Ah yes, farina…I thought I was the only one who had it served up for me and my 6 siblings…scrambling for the one seat that everyone wanted because it had the new shiny screws on top replacing the old ones…numerous fights and pushing for *that* chair and feeling like a king with that special bowl of warm milky grainy mush….Wow- I'm 6 again! Thanks…

  21. Just caught the article in the NY Post (via primetime).

    Do you just do back flips and slap yourself in the fact (to make sure it's real) every time you read something like that and realise (for the upteenth time) ….."that's me!"

    Cause I would.

  22. I would, too, Buffy!
    Can't wait for your book tour to Chicago, Stephanie!
    And I just have to add…the scabs, oh so gross slash hysterical! I'm totally laughing at how, in one moment in time, our minds trigger such funny memories!

  23. Ah- farina- you just took me back to my youth….well spent in Miami before it became a scene…fighting(five brothers)for the one stool that had the new shiny screws in it- and to feel like a king with that chair and a bowl of that hot steamy farina…with bananas and syrup of course…Wow, I will have to go buy a box this week and share it with my lil daughter!!

  24. Your food descriptions are always right on. I felt like I was eating cream of wheat and drinking chai. Although I like my cream of wheat with brown sugar and maple syrup. Maypo is good too.

  25. Wow, I thought Stephanie's post was all warm & fuzzy, but after reading 3 teens' mom's comments, I got all mushy and teary eyed. It killed me.

    3 teens' mom – You must be a great mom and have some pretty fantastic kids!

  26. I swear this post could have come straight from my own mouth….

    When I was little I used to make Cream of Wheat all the time for myself. I would purposefully let it cool enough to form a skin on top, eat that off, then let it cool all over again to form another skin! It was especially yummy if I stirred sugar in before it cooled. Then it was a sweet skin! Sounds kinda gross, but it was so yummy! Thanks for writing this!

  27. The lunch packing thing is amazing. I didn't realize it for a long time, but the fact that my mom worked afternoons (nurse) and still made sure our lunches were always packed…well, it had to be a giant pain in the ass. But it definitely made us feel happy and loved.

  28. Nice article. Mr. Big. Hmm, I'm beginning to think you're Mrs. Big due to all your success and fame. And you can have my pudding skin. I'm with Emeril. Saran wrap it, babe.

  29. No matter what time of year I drink it, chai reminds me of the Christmas season, of winter and gift-wrapping and fuzzy scarves. I love how something as simple as a warm drink can take you back in time.

  30. Thanks for bringing back such wonderful childhood memories. I, too, was brought up on cream of wheat. It was part of our Saturday morning ritual. The best part for me were the lumps – you know, those things that form when you cook it too long. I always requested extra lumps. Great post.

  31. Hey ‘chai’ means tea right ? I’m an Indian and chai is tea in my language.
    I thought it probably has a diff meaning in English … but as far as the description and the comments go … I think its one and the same.
    Plz post the link for the NY post article.

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