Everything sublime is as difficult as it is rare. Baruch Spinoza

Saturday, October 1, 2022

Mothers. Cooking. Life.

My mother was not a good cook. She made a couple of things well, actually very well:  a top-notch lasagna and simmered-for-hours red meat sauce. Those were really good. But, no one over-cooked meat better than she did. No one. She hated cooking, so...it was  not on her list of things to care about. I didn't learn from her, other than to stay out of her way.

I married young. I spent the first year out of high school earning as much money as I could. Then one year in college. I married at twenty. I didn't know how to just leave home. I'd stayed with friends the summer I graduated high school, but that was almost a mortal sin, not to be repeated. So, I found a guy and got married. Kate had told me before I became engaged that if I didn't get married soon I would be an old maid. She told me when I was thirteen it was a good thing I was smart. No man would ever want to marry me. She then said it was a good thing my brother was good-looking, because he sure wasn't smart. He found out, when he enlisted in the Navy, that he was dyslexic. He was always smart. 

Of course, I married someone my own age, the last of seven children. Spoiled, used to having people jump in to pick up whatever mess he got into. He also had a problem I didn't understand until later. He was an addict and an alcoholic. I thought he'd stopped the drugs and I didn't realize the extend of the alcohol use until I lived with him. I loved his family, especially his mother. She was probably the kindest person I had known. My mother couldn't stand her. Of course she couldn't. As everyone knows, that marriage was short, but I was out of my parents house now.

Well, that wasn't my initial point! I tend to go with stream of consciousness. 🤷

Back to cooking. I could do basic cooking, nothing to write home about. I did make the lasagna and spaghetti sauce once in awhile, but cooking was not my thing. In the late '70s I bought the book on the lower right. It was a higher level than I was at but not overly complicated. As you can see, I used it! Then I bought the second one when it came out a year later. I found meal preparation to be enjoyable. I didn't have much free time, but when I did I enjoyed cooking. When we moved to Summit Hill I made good friends with some really fine neighbors and we would take turns having dinner parties. I then bought the book on the left. This book teaches French technique. From the most simple, which is always the basis for the next step, to hair pulling, why am I bothering, complexity. Although I wouldn't take that on now, back then I had more time and a willingness to learn. Also, an acceptance of failure. This book gave me a foundation.

After we moved to the farm I became crazy busy and cooking went on the back burner. Fourteen hour days in a barn will do that. The past fifteen or so years I started showing interest again. Not complicated French food. Simple rarely from a recipe food. Standard Americana and Mediterranean food that I can just throw together. But it's easier to do, I think, because I allowed myself all the frustration of learning the fussy business of a French kitchen.

A favorite recipe was given to me by an elderly Italian woman I knew when I worked in Occupational Therapy. She was a patient and I adored her. She gave me her recipe for manicotti. I still have it on a recipe card. Signora Mancuso's Manicotti. I have an English Pasty recipe from the head of the department. Her mother came from England and it was her recipe. These are things to be treasured.

My son is a fine dining chef. He says he blames me for his career. I tell him I never worked in a professional kitchen. He started that as a teen when he went to work at a local pizzeria washing dishes then moving onto the line. When he went off to college he ended up working part time in the kitchen of a fine dining restaurant and the rest is history. 

If we like what we do, we tend to put the time into learning and improving. Because even in frustration, or exhaustion (long days in a barn), underneath, we like it. We receive pleasure and a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of worth. This is a universal truth. Say I. 


Boud said...

My mother was a pretty good cook, though with a large family and a small income, she didn't have a lot of scope. She died when I was twenty, at University, never learned to cook from her, just liked eating her food.

Flash forward, early days of marriage, I learned from Julia child's first book. I'd had wonderful food living in France, so I knew what I wanted.
Sooooo I spent hours making a quiche Lorraine from scratch, from Julia. It was very good. And it was exactly like moms ham and egg pie, made on washing day when she didn't have time to cook! Oh.

Sandra said...

HA! The French do make the simple complicated. I don't have that cookbook. I see no reason for it now, but I would have liked it back in the day.

You are funny.

Pixie said...

My mum was not a good cook. She was English and didn't discover garlic until after I left home. She was a very good baker though.

I was a terrible cook when I was young but I have improved with age. I'm a picky eater so I cook what I like and I sneak vegetables in for myself, because I'm not a fan of veg:)

Now I want to try to make ragu.

Sandra said...

But, at least she did discover garlic, Pixie! My mother was Sicilian, so, well.........

Ragu couldn't be easier. Ingredients in the pot and let it simmer on the stove top or in a low oven. Give it a try.

Lori Skoog said...

As you know....I love to cook. My Mom was the head cook in two restaurants when I was a kid and she loved having company for spontaneous picnics and dinners. Every Sunday we would have fried chicken. I'm not very good at following directions and seldom use a cookbook, but I have learned that when you bake you can't wing it so much....so I hardly ever bake. Everything I have seen you cook is right up my alley and so is your presentation. Would love having dinner with you!!!

Far Side of Fifty said...

When I was growing up my Mother could not cook anything. We ate weird stuff elbow macaroni and stewed tomatoes in huge chunks, potatoes with sauerkraut on top. Canned chicken...old hens...greasy and just not good. We rarely had fruit or vegetables...Green Beans mostly. My brother and I were on our own for summer food...I could fry eggs and make ketsup sandwiches :)