Sugar and Heat

parhel_heller.jpg

I cook because my mom cooked for me, because my grandma cooked for her, and my great-grandma cooked for her.

I learned to cook mostly by observation and taste. My grandma and mom kept me out of the kitchen when I was a little girl. I imagine my interest in “helping” back then was seen as just another interruption in getting dinner ready on time. I had little idea of how all that homemade yumminess magically appeared before me night after night after night after night.

I was 14 years old before I was allowed to prepare anything more complicated than peanut butter toast or Iceberg lettuce salad with bottled Green Goddess dressing. The first time I owned the kitchen became one of those landmark experiences that can shape who you will be as an adult. … I remember digging into a box of Bisquick, mixing up the battery recipe (carefully adjusting for high-elevation baking) and loading it into an 8 x 8” glass, baking dish. What I produced was a beautiful and dense, golden, cakelike brick. The flavor was vaguely sweet, but certainly not as sweet as the sense of accomplishment I felt with the success of my first culinary contribution to my family.

From that moment on, I had a keen interest in the methods passed down from the generations of women in my family. This is how I, in turn, then became a cook. As the years passed, I grew to understand the more subtle appreciation of flavors, techniques, and the goodness of sharing food, cocktails and conversation with family and friends.

Because of lean circumstances, the women that came before me learned to cook with very little, making hearty meals out of kitchen basics and seasonal ingredients. My Grandma Maybelle used to make something called, “Boiled Dinner,” a savory pot that included a beef or pork roast and a random assortment of cabbage, potatoes, rutabagas, carrots, onions and maybe an odd parsnip that was left to simmer on the stove for hours—filling the house with the aroma of comfort. Because I lived out of town for most of my life, I too learned how to put together resourceful meals with limited, on-hand ingredients and homey flavors.

For me, cooking is a bit like mixing a drink without a shot glass. After years of practice (and trial and error), you just sort of learn what works. Likewise, I don’t usually use written recipes in my daily cooking, with the exception of dessert. Baking and candy making requires precise measurements, temperatures and ingredients—actual chemistry—which is no doubt why most of my greatest kitchen failures have usually involved sugar and heat.

And, come to think of it, most of my greatest relationship failures have usually involved sugar and heat…

Meal planning, shopping, prep, actual cooking and clean up can easily overwhelm the bits of time left over in a busy day, but it’s worth it. Cooking is about creativity and goodness, investment and sacrifice. Very simply, cooking is a natural expression of love.

 

The very lovely image, "Pweese will you take some cookies?" is by Parhel Heller, via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons.