“no one who cooks, cooks alone. even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past”
i grew up blessed with two incredible parents. loving, intelligent, beautiful, creative, hard-working, hilarious, and talented individuals. they also happen to be amazing cooks, each of them with their own style.
my father prefers to plan a meal, get specific ingredients, and set a menu. he loves to perfect dishes. not just make pasta sauce, but make the best pasta sauce, with the freshest herbs, which will lead to the tastiest lasagna, and so forth. his meals are always executed with deliberate attention to detail and technique, one that you really appreciate when you eat his food.
my mother can make feasts out of anything! i’d spend 20 minutes in the kitchen after school and complain of nothing to eat, and resort to my room sulking. (ugh, the horror of teenage apathy!) i’d return to the kitchen later to find an amazing spread, of all of my favorite foods, seeming to appear out of nowhere. in fact they were built and beautifully executed by the most resourceful woman i know.
both of these approaches to the kitchen are equally important. it is a symbiotic relationship. while one is about execution, the other is about salvation. i’ll explain this through a story about myself, which i now believe to be one of the days which is crucial in my beginnings as a cook.
18th of october, 1996.
it’s my mother’s birthday. the previous week i had decided that for her birthday i would bake her favorite cake, coconut. with coconut cream-cheese frosting, obviously. all of the ingredients “just happened to be” in our kitchen with help from my dad, and her recipe from the joy of cooking (with notes!) available and earmarked.
both of my parents would still be at work and my brother had band practice, so i planned to bake the cake as soon as i got home from school with my dear friend charlotte. everyone would come home, the whole house would smell of cake and it would be the best birthday gift ever! except…. i was locked out of the house.. of all days, why this one? curse the gods of butter and flour!!
alas, dear reader, i assure you that my plan would not be foiled. conveniently for girls of our age, charlotte lived right across the way from me, and we did the same thing any self-respecting kids would do: we organized a true scavenger hunt. after finding the recipe and adding my mother’s notes from memory, we searched high and low in charlotte’s kitchen checking off what ingredients we already had available. with the missing items we fashioned a new list. it looked official. we got a basket and off we were. charlotte and i went door to door for the next hour or so. we told everyone that we were on a scavenger hunt, and we had to collect all of the items on the list in order to get our prize. now that i think about it, it’s pretty unbelievable that a scavenger hunt would require the participant to gather double-acting baking powder and shredded coconut, but people gladly gave them to us anyway. our basket brimming with lemons and sugar and three types of coconut, we returned to the house and baked that cake!
to be completely honest, i don’t remember much of the evening after that. of course i remember my mom’s smile, and the fact that the cake was actually not that good. (i’ve learned i’m not much of a baker.) but i will never forget that satisfaction of saving the day! of being so prepared in my mind after reviewing the recipe and steps with my dad that, even though i wasn’t able to use the things we bought, i was able to execute everything properly. my skill level at age 10 was pretty limited, and i was baking unsupervised, but i still managed to make it work. most importantly, i put so much love into that cake. i learned that home-made gifts are the very best kind. i learned it’s not even about the finished product half the time. cooking for someone is about making them feel special. you intentionally and truly gave it your undivided attention. and what is more precious than that, dear reader? time is precious, time is fleeting. time might be relative, but you can certainly never get it back. nor can it be returned. feeding someone with your time and attention is a beautiful thing.