The only cooking instructions I ever received were one-half of a year of home economics class in the eighth grade. My mom was a really good cook. I don’t know if her mom taught her how to cook or if she found herself married and learned to cook out of necessity. I loved my mom’s fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy. Everyone did. When my best friend’s mom died, my mom fried up a batch of her chicken complete with all the fixin’s and delivered it all to the family. My friend called me from all those miles away to tell me what a godsend Mom’s gift was to her brothers, sister and dad. “The casseroles people brought were all wonderful,” she said, “but you can only eat so much casserole before you’ve had enough. My family devoured your mother’s chicken and all I could do was say, ‘I told you so’ when I reminded them that I had tasted her fried chicken on several occasions and thought it was out of this world.”
But Mom never taught me how to make fried chicken. She didn’t teach me how to cook anything. My position in the kitchen was to set the table and dry the dishes and put them away. I wasn’t allowed to even wash the dishes once in a while. Only dry them and stash them.
After I learned in home ec how to make scrambled eggs with bacon mixed into them and how to bake popovers, I decided I wanted to surprise Mom and Dad one Saturday morning and make for them this special breakfast. You can imagine that I didn’t go about this like a seasoned cook. It was a step-by-step process for me. Dad came into the kitchen and I told him what I was doing. I know he was hungry and the meal wasn’t ready yet, but he approved enough to just sit at the table and read the morning paper. Mom, on the other hand, showed up and demanded to know what I was doing. I told her and she promptly told me I wasn’t doing it right. It was the one time I can remember my dad quietly telling her to leave me alone. But the damage was done by that time. I was so shaken that even though I was doing it the way I learned in school my eggs turned out to be cooked too hard and so the meal was ruined. Dad encouraged me. Mother did not. I never cooked another thing for the rest of my time at home – well, except for Chef Boy-Ar-Dee pizza which Mom had never cooked and allowed my younger brother and me to put one together (out of the box) for her.
Fast forward about nine years and I’m out on my own in my first job. My meals usually consisted of Spaghettios out of the can with maybe a wiener cut up in them if I could afford such a luxury. I longed for a really good meal but I couldn’t afford to eat out. That’s when I decided I was going to learn how to make my mom’s fried chicken.
It didn’t happen overnight, believe me. It took me years. But by the time I was about 26 or 27 and had begun dating the man who would become my husband, I could put a pretty good fried chicken dinner with all the fixin’s on the table. Terry agreed. That is, of course, until he made the trek home with me to meet the parents and Mom served her fried chicken dinner to which she had added small homemade cinnamon rolls (where did she learn how to make those?). Terry pronounced that my fried chicken was good but my mom’s was better.
[I hope you sense a sigh coming from me at this point.]
Mom gloated about the praise she got as a result of her cooking. But she never taught me how to do it. She did give me her recipe for her absolutely incredible fudge but I swear she purposefully left out some ingredient because I’ve never been able to duplicate hers. I asked her about it and only got the response, “Well, you must be doing something wrong.” Maybe so. Nonetheless, she took with her to the grave the secret to her fudge.
“A little more comfort food may be in order.”
Well, over the years, I have become a pretty good cook. Terry has become the gourmet chef of the two of us and I now more often than not defer to both his kitchen and his outdoor grilling expertise. He can put a tasty and healthful dinner on the table so quickly that my head spins and I just stay out of his way. It’s nice to have such a good cook prepare meals for me – plus he doesn’t make as big a mess as I seem to and he always cleans up after himself.
But when the autumn temperatures fall a bit, I yearn for comfort food and that’s where I excel. My from-scratch French bread gets high praise from those who receive it as gifts or who happen on to it at a church bake sale. I love the old meat and potatoes dinners of my youth but which are discouraged by most health professionals I know. I enjoy sharing a casserole with new neighbors or friends who need a little boost but there are so many health, allergy, and salt issues these days that I have become reticent to even make the offer. And I like to experiment with recipes I find on the Internet (this blog post today was inspired by the never-before-made-by-me taco soup that is simmering on the stovetop).
I still enjoy a good fried chicken dinner out at a place like Stroud’s in Kansas City, but my fried chicken is better. I am prideful about my holiday meals from turkey to ham to lamb. And nobody, but nobody makes better popcorn (it has to be on the stovetop but beyond that I’m not sharing my secret).
I was young and thin when I learned to cook and I was thin even after I learned to cook. It’s just since I’ve been older that I’ve piled on the weight. Oddly enough, I don’t cook as often as I used to.
A little more comfort food may be in order.
“No, if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” – Romans 12:20-21Share here: