From the Archives – “Life in cooking”

I wrote this about ten years ago, while still single. It’s funny, reading it now, that I pondered children at the end. And now I have a bouncing Energizer Baby. 

  
I can’t exactly remember when I became interested in cooking. In one of her books, Stephanie Pearl-Mcphee says that she knit constantly around her daughters and one day they just picked up needles and gave it a try.

I think something like that must’ve happened while I was growing up. Cooking was a very important part of my family. Not to mention that in some cases, you were expected to cook, no choice about it. But more on that later.

There’s a very cute picture of me as a little girl sitting on the kitchen counter, in a cute little dress, stirring something in a bowl with a spoon. My guess….cookie dough. Or something yummy like that. I will be forever grateful for the fact that my mother got me involved in her daily cooking. I never had any fancy formal training for the kitchen. I just watched, practiced and learned.

One of the earliest memories of cooking I have comes from my Abuelita Tere, my paternal grandmother. Mom dropped me and big bro at her house so she could go work and we spent the morning being children, running around like crazy and all. I think I was around 7. At some point, Abuelita asked me to slice up some olives for her, as she started her afternoon cooking. She handed me a jar of olives and a sharp knife. No explanation whatsoever, just the need to have the olives sliced. I nicked myself so many times while slicing them that I lost count. Abuelita never took the knife away from me, just told me to “quit playing” and get the job done. Over the years, she would have other chores for me that involved me sticking my hands into near-boiling water, using sharp knives, etc. I’m sure that many people would consider that cruel nowadays. Personally, I loved it. Yeah, I might have complained, but man, those were good days.

She even taught me to bake bread. I can still picture her, measuring the ingredients – always by weight – the care with which she did everything. Her hands kneading the dough. To this day, I love the feel of my hands after I’m done kneading the dough. They remind me of her hands. The smell of bread rising. Of bread baking. That first bite into bread fresh out of the oven. I think anyone who was around her when she kneaded her dough can remember the sound. She also had a special wooden board she kneaded her dough on – made by my Abuelito -. That board is now cured with decades of oil. I love it.

As time went by, my mother started trusting me with more things around the kitchen. I went from mixing things in bowls, to decorating food, to preparing salads, to taking on the task of making the daily meal. As a teenage girl, it was a matter of infinite pride, being asked to make a meal to feed the whole family. I still love cooking with my mother. No matter how far away we are, or how many years have gone by. There’s nothing like being in the kitchen with my mother. Moving around, preparing ingredients, seasonings, the sounds and smells, the conversation, the bond between mother and daughter.

It is happening a lot that people don’t allow their children into the kitchen because “it’s dangerous”. I think this is sad.

Yes…..the kitchen can be dangerous. Heck, I once sliced the very tip of my left index finger off. It was left hanging and after the shock of it, I just flipped it back, waited until the bleeding stopped, iced it and bandaged it. I got a lime popsicle and sat in the kitchen, watching my mother cook. I was back in the kitchen the next day – would’ve been back the same day, but any pressure on my finger would re-open the wound).

ANYWAY…..yes. It can be dangerous. But dang it…….IT’S SO MUCH FUN. You’ll get your knicks, burns, etc. You’ll learn from your mistakes and keep at it. You’ll burn food, cook things that not even the family dog would eat, and learn from that as well. The art of cooking should not be lost. Not just because of how amazing it is to create something from scratch – probably the same reason I like knitting and crocheting -, but also for the pride of knowing you’ve created something to feed yourself and your loved ones. For the joy of knowing that what you’re putting into your body is nourishing and good.

It can also result in some very interesting moments when you’re teaching others to cook. I cook by intuition most of the time. I got my brother frustrated when he asked me how much salt to put in the picadillo and I just poured some in my hand and said “this much”.

I’ll never be a professional cook. I wouldn’t know the difference between haute cuisine ingredients even if they stared me in the eye and introduced themselves. But I like to think that I can cook well enough to feed my loved ones.

Someday, I’ll have children. And they’ll be more than welcome into the kitchen. The day my children leave home, they will receive a copy of the family recipes. By gosh, they’ll know how to feed themselves, even if all they have for a stove is a toaster oven or a microwave. 

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Bag o’ bones….

© Diana C. Quaintance, 2015.

He’d been walking all morning. A bag of bones with yellowish hair, green eyes and a cocky yet graceful, spring in his step. How could such a haggard creature be graceful was beyond anybody’s imagination, but he pulled it off like a pro.

Slowly, he made his way through the street maze, among the never-ending murmur of life; it was close to noon, and he hadn’t eaten for days. His stomach was so empty that its insides were sticking together and deciding that the other side looked appetizing. One more day without food and he was going to eat himself up for sure.

Vendors along the street looked at him, unsure. Some yelled at him, some even attempted to kick him out of their way, but he was too quick for their feet. One of the advantages of being so thin, was that it made him fast.

He’s called names; he’s an outcast, a paria, something to be shuffled out of everybody’s lives.

The butcher caught him sniffing at his table and had thrown a bucketful of water at him. He’d shaken it off with ease and moved on, used to such treatment. All the food vendors had seen him before, prowling the sidewalks in search of something to quench his maddening hunger. Some of them had fallen prey to his stealth and cunning in the past, but today they were being careful. They knew him already, knew at what times he went out to hunt.

He gave up on the little market place for that day and decided to try his luck on the other side of the street.

A car almost ran him over as he crossed. It honked at him and he got out of the way as fast as he could manage. He stood by the gutter, breathing heavily, staring at the car speed away with wild, untamed eyes. He would die someday, he knew and it didn’t worry him. He lived alone, with no one or nothing to care about. He lived for the day, for the moment, for himself.

He breathed in and out, recovering, and then started walking through the busy sidewalk. There were no food vendors here, only shops and shoe shiners and…….

The man at the newspaper stand looked at him for a second and chuckled at the sight of him…….seemingly frail, wet and distrustful. What a pitiful thing he was.

He shook his head and went back to his work. One of his stockers had arrived late and delivered a few tabloids and magazines for the day. He had finished putting the tabloids on the racks and was now sorting out the magazines. One of them caught his attention and he browsed through it carefully, paying special attention to an advertisement for fishing poles. He had enough money to buy one. His brother was in town and he could use a vacation. A fishing trip to the mountains, how wonderful. Get away from the noisy streets, fish some mosquitoes and drink a few beers.

So lost was he in his planning, that he didn’t notice that his golden-haired observer was still there. His eyes were locked on the counter, where the man had left his lunch: a half-eaten sandwich.

The thin creature looked at the man and then the food and his stomach growled. He would go for it. He took his time, taking few steps with practiced and well-honed skill. He waited for the right moment, grabbed the morsel and ran to the alley. He didn’t know if the man had noticed, nor did he care. He was finally going to eat.

Turkey on rye with a lot of mayonnaise and pickles. He wasn’t too fond of the last, but he was in no position to be picky. He licked his lips and ate the whole thing with almost religious care. Afterwards, with a full stomach, he laid down among the trash cans for a nap.

The golden cat stretched out and licked its paws contentedly. He would survive another day.