Tuesday, June 26, 2012

from kitchen to kitchen...

"If we were taught to cook as we are taught to walk, encouraged first to feel for pebbles with our toes, then to wobble forward and fall, then had our hands firmly tugged on so we would try again, we would learn that being good at it relies on something deeply rooted, akin to walking, to get good at which we need only guidance, senses, and a little faith.

We aren't often taught to cook like that, so when we watch people cook naturally, in what looks like an agreement between cook and cooked, we think that they are born with an ability to simply know that an egg is done, that the fish needs flipping, and that the soup needs salt.

Instinct, whether on the ground or in the kitchen, is not a destination but a path. The word instinct comes from a combination of in meaning "toward", and stinguere meaning "to prick". It doesn't mean knowing anything, but pricking your way toward the answer."   -An Everlasting Meal

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I borrowed the book An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler from the library a few weeks ago. Actually, I placed a hold on it and waited weeks for it to become available. Then, when I got it in my hot little hands, I didn't read it right away. Then when I did start reading it, I didn't keep reading it. I set it on my nightstand and there it sat, unopened.

Well I finally picked it up again (after a failed attempt to renew it online...someone esle has the nerve to want to read it before I'm done.) And what I have read so far I have enjoyed. Her writing is beautiful, very descriptive, yet doesn't feel forced.

The excerpt I shared above makes me think of my family. Mainly the women. I have been surrounded by good cooks my whole life, my mom, my grandmother, my aunt. Food was, and is, always good at a family gathering. Always.

I have such sweet memories of being in the kitchen with my mom...sometimes helping with dinner. And sometimes just sitting at the kitchen table talking and talking about school and friends while she did the dishes and listened. In my teen years I would get dinner started for her while she was closing up at work. Inevitably I'd call her for instruction...how do I season pork chops, how long to roast chicken, how much water for the rice. Between her coaching over the phone and spending time with her in the kitchen watching her "cook naturally" I learned how to feed myself and my family. Mom fed her family well, in more ways than one. (Thanks Mom. xo)

Her skills in the kitchen were passed on to her from her mom, my sweet Noni. And I imagine it was much in the same way it was passed on to me...by observation...talking and helping...time spent together taking care of each other and living life. I cherish my memories of being in the kitchen with Noni...one of my favorites is being the official taste tester of the salad. Noni made the best salads. Nothing fancy...just your average tossed salad. But the magic was in the way she dressed it...oil, vinegar, garlic powder, salt and pepper. A simple vinaigrette. She always had just the right combination of ingredients. Never too much or too little of anything. Every now and then when I would test it to make sure it was "right" we might add a pinch more salt...but that was it. Perfect. Every time. I'm convinced some of the magic was in her salt shaker that now lives in my kitchen. Every once in a while I use that salt shaker while making dinner and I am thoroughly convinced that it makes the meal taste better. Seriously.

What's really amazing about Noni's cooking skills is that she was pretty much self-taught. She didn't spend much of her childhood with her mother so anything she learned (if I'm not mistaken) she taught herself. She loved cookbooks and clipped tons of recipes out of magazines and newspapers. She loved food and she enjoyed feeding people. She also loved to share her recipes. (Probably because it usually included a phone call and she loved to chat and hear what was going on in my life. She was an excellent conversationalist. Man...I sure do miss her.)

The only problem...and I do mean the ONLY problem...was that many of Noni's "recipes" were in her head. So now that she's in Heaven the rest of us do our best to emulate some of her specialties...potato salad, stuffed peppers, pinto beans, just to name a few of my favorites. And really, I have a feeling that even if the recipes were written down, my version would never taste quite as good as hers. And I'm OK with that.

I could go on and on with thoughts and memories about food and family...memories of my aunt in the kitchen...memories of my Papa in the kitchen...memories of my grandma in the kitchen. But I think I will save those stories for another time. For now I am going to just be grateful for family...and for time...and for good memories.


Zena said...

I can relate to your words, my memories of food and family are deeply linked and are also sweet. Thanks for sharing, beautiful blog too, I will follow you

Jennifer said...

yes, yes, yes.

i went through my grandmother's recipe book a few years ago and copied a lot of her recipes so I could have them in her handwriting.

i don't ever really remember cooking with my grandmother or my mother but some way it all stuck and i have a great appreciation for them and their recipes. my girls on the other hand are almost always in the kitchen with me. i would have it no other way.

beautiful post michelle.