I was about six when I cooked my first meal.
I don’t really remember why I did it,
except my father had cancer at the time,
my mother was teaching and constantly exhausted,
and we kids were up at all kinds of hours
and constantly starving.
All I remember is I made breakfast for four,
at about four am,
made half the eggs into toast sandwiches,
got on my bike, with my younger brother in the basket,
and disappeared for a couple of hours.
(This was a farming community, and in those days, the only danger was the neighbor’s bull)
And that when my parents got up about eight thirty,
they wanted to know why there were ice cold scrambled eggs and soggy toast on the table.
I think we told them something about the tooth fairy,
and spent the rest of the day in our rooms
for having a smart mouth.
The second time I learned to cook
was campfire stew and somores
in the girlscouts.
Since we had to lash our shelves and the tripod we cooked on,
it was an adventure I never repeated.
Even if the stew did taste great.
As a senior scout, I learned to coat angelfood cake in eggs and milk and coconut.
And toast it on branches over a campfire.
I seem to remember it had a strange name.
And burnt fast.
And I don’t remember anyone else on the planet except girlscouts eating it.
Please tell me I’m wrong.
Then there was my time as a young bride,
with both of us living on bread, cheese, raw veg, and fruit,
or what we could grab at the college coffee shop,
and top ramen made with hot tap water.
Which actually tastes pretty good when you are teaching 8 am to 8 pm
with your own grad student classes in the middle.
Then I moved to Germany,
and learned the basics of German cooking:
- The mother-in-law is always right.
- You have no idea what you are doing and must be constantly tutored by the mother-in-law
- All German recipes (if you are born before 1965) start with: fry diced fatback or fat bacon and onions, add flour, serve on potato dumplings… This is good for anything from fish to soup. (And a local delicacy consisting of fried carrots in bacon sauce with potato dumplings.)
After which, I bough a microwave.
And some microwave cooking dishes-
outrageously expensive over here.
And taught myself to cook.
The recipe for crabcakes from the Joy of Cooking-
How to make the foods for a formal dinner party.
By Dr. Oetker-
A wedding present-
In the end, I taught myself:
- Raw is best.
- Anything you can make into a salad you can make into soup.
(There are several African dishes that consist of stew on lettuce. It tastes great)
And vegetables we as Americans don’t usually cook,
like lettuce, chicoree, cucumber,
are great with a little tomato and a small amount of low fat sheep’s cheese as a topping.
3. If you’re going to spice a stew, do it right:
chili spices. Indian spices. Italian spiced farmhouse soup
4. the average person needs a couple of vegs, a small amount of protein, and a piece or two of fruit per day.
5. If you look at the really fantastic recipes –
I have a Michelin star chef in my choir, who, one day, for my birthday, brought a chocolate mousse.
(with enough Amaretto that you had to stay away from the candles)
His view of food: good quality, local, simple, all the tastes
ie a salad dressing should be balsamico vinegar, oil, lemon, honey.
And if you really want to try the all the tastes thing out: put a tiny tiny pinch of salt in good black tea, and add a small amount of lemon.
By the way, my singing chef didn’t think a whole lot of my tuna surprise casserole recipe. (From seventh grade home-making)
Not even the version with the cashews and crushed potato chips on the top.
No accounting for taste.
Oh, and one final observation,
for Americans living in Germany.
Over here, the basis of whether a woman is a “real” woman or not:
no matter what you do for a living, or how hard you work as a mother or homemaker, it all boils down to
1. who does the cooking
2. can you make gravy that tastes so good your persnickety guests get out the desert spoon to capture the last drops from the gravy boat.
Forty years after Betty Friedan,
That’s the basis.
I learned years ago to not compete.
I cook simple quality food,
un-thickened un-greasy Chinese buffet,
or American recipes with no gravy,
arranged to look nice
ie a taco salad in a glass bowl so you can see everything in layers is always a hit with younger guests,
or small open-faced toasted sandwiches with a fancy salad with all kinds of colors and shoots and seeds.
And for desert, lay it on them.
Low fat, of course.
With fresh whipped cream and a cherry.
Or latticed apple pie with icecream and cheddar.
Or small you-make Sundaes.
You can bet that, even with the bad-mouthing about no gravy
on their way home,
One week later, they will be serving the recipes to all their friends.
As something they learned from an American.
And all without gravy.
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