Monday, December 24, 2012

Yum yum food

Sometimes I wonder what it would've been like to grow up with Julia Child as a mother. Having someone in my life who cooks daily meals and knows the ins and outs of constructing a really tasty breakfast, lunch and dinner. Would it have been intimidating? Instructive? Yummy? Probably a bit of all of the above. But I guess I'll never quite know for sure.

My mom was not much of a chef. She liked testing out recipes when she had time, and she certainly had a love for food. In fact, she bought recipes books by the hundreds. She collected them like some do stamps or coins. When she passed away, she left behind tons of three and four-ingredient recipe books. It saddened me that she barely got a chance to make as many of the dishes as she wished.

The problem wasn't that she followed recipes badly or was a bad cook. She just never had the time or the energy to devote to the kitchen. And despite the many fast food dinners and nights eating out that we had together, I respected my mom when she did cook because she did it well.

On weekends and special occasions, however, we defaulted to trips to my grandma's house. My grandma is a wizard in the kitchen. She makes terrific Japanese food and taught me the bare basics of many of the dishes that I do know how to make on my own.

On Saturday mornings, I'd wake up early and instead of watching television in those several hours between when I would wake up and my mom would wake up (which was the case on any typical weekend), if I was at my grandma's house I'd creep downstairs and peek in on her cooking breakfast. Then I'd join her. And we'd make pancakes. And we'd make eggs. And we'd make dozens of other items for the table because my grandma always emphasized diversity in foods at each meal.

It was through her tutorials and those early morning insights into the cooking world that I became fascinated with the idea of working in the kitchen. While I never channeled that into a very passionate hobby, for years I've tried to apply myself in whatever ways I can when the spirit inspires me to cook.

So today, looking forward to a holiday dinner at my sister's in-laws house, I decided to cook a few things of my own. Being a vegetarian (and having a vegetarian father), it can be difficult to go to friends' for dinner parties without forcing them to make food specifically catered to our dietary needs. Making my own food would therefore accomplish two things: help me to become more confident in the kitchen and decrease the stress on others because I refuse to eat meat.

Looking at what has come out of the oven today, I'm pretty proud of myself. While I'm sure seasoned chefs and even amateur cooks might scoff at what I created, there's nothing like that sense of pride at making something when you've spent most of your life eating out or having other people make food for you.

It's not like I can say I haven't had an opportunity to learn to cook. My grandma has tried for years - and succeeded a few times - at showing me how to make certain dishes. The experience was always fun, however without writing down the recipes I'm not sure I could recreate them as perfectly as she does.

The problem is that I've never applied myself. But I truly believe that when I do, I have the power to be a good cook. For one, I'm very vigilant in the kitchen. In other words, I enjoy being present while my food is cooking. Putting aside my obsession with the aroma of cooking, there's something very soothing and fun about hanging out in the kitchen while you make a dish. It's like caring for an infant. You want to make sure it's treated in just the way it ought to be, so you keep peeking into the oven as if something might change in a few minutes. And eventually it does.

I also feel that I possess that one thing that makes cooking really valuable: I consider it a hobby. Maybe that's why I don't do it every day in fact. I've never been one to stick to a hobby and do it daily - much to my detriment, seeing as I have a lot of minor skills and very few developed talents - other than with writing, which is something that I do consider a hobby and a talent.

So instead of practicing until I become truly skilled at cooking, I do it sporadically and then never really get past the amateur-level.

Which leaves room for family and friends to frequently point out that I don't have any skills as a cook. And maybe that's true. I just hope it's not.

I guess I could call it my New Year's Resolution to become a better cook, but going back to university and trying to use a kitchenette (if my new dorm even has one) to concoct in the kitchen seems like an unlikely premise.

So I guess I should just plan to try new recipes whenever I feel inspired. Just like I have been doing. And when I have my own house and my own kitchen (and hopefully more time to spare), I will experiment more.

I may not have grown up with a Julia Child, but I did grow up with two women in my life who taught me that I could be a good cook if I applied myself. My mom was and my grandma is a good chef. And just because I never took the initiative to become an applied success myself doesn't mean there's no room for skilled cooking in my future. In fact, I believe there's a lot of room. Or at least I'm going to make a lot of room.

And I look forward to the aroma and the yumminess.

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