There are many obstacles to my potential status as a Five Star Chef. I suppose it’s problematic that I'm not overly ambitious to achieve this goal. Heck, I’ll settle for being a Three Comet Cook. We can’t all be stars, a few of us just gotta orbit, some have to streak across the night sky en route to another galaxy. As long as we don’t crash, leave a crater the size of Australia and bring permanent winter to the planet, what’s the harm? Essentially, I’m all about Laissez-faire food. Even as a kid, I didn't care about the fairy tales where a goose laid golden eggs or straw was spun into gold. I wanted magic cauldrons that would provide a delicious dinner with absolutely no effort. That’s the part of the perfect plot of Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola. Strega Nona is a “Grandma Witch” who sings for her supper.
Bubble, bubble, pasta pot,
Boil me some pasta, nice and hot,
I’m hungry and it’s time to sup,
Boil enough pasta to fill me up.
You can hear this spell sung here, by John McDonough. Give it a try over your favourite Cuisinart cookware tonight. What have you got to lose, amiright?
True Confessions Catholic Priests Don’t Care About #763: I didn’t read this as a child, nor was it read to me. I came across this book in my late 20s, while working at Chapters. I flipped through the gorgeous pictures and enticing text during a break, drooled on the page and ended up having to buy the book. I don’t give a fig what your KitchenAid mixer-ma-jig can do; I want this pasta pot.
Let’s review: a neurosis about cooking combined with intensely overprotective parenting sifted through several layers of guilt, chopped up with regret, stir vigorously and whaddya got? A serving of savoury stew for one. As I keep learning, all roads lead to home. My mother ruled our house with a cast iron fist in a velvet oven mitt. I wasn't allowed to boil water for tea. It was a No-fry zone; my Nancy Drew Cookbook, with all its 'Clues to Good Cooking,' was unwelcome at Château Fantetti.
Too make a long blog entry shorter, I got out as soon as I could, and my father put up with my mother’s tyranny for almost forty years. Our digestive tracts still retain the memories of scorched meals and nasty, appetite-suppressing fights. Then my dad divorced my mom, and lived for a brief time in a senior’s facility where the cook served turkey and spaghetti one day. Not as an either/or selection, on the same dish. My father’s 98-year-old, sharp-as-a-cookie-cutter table mate said, “In all my years, I've never seen anything like this on a plate.”
So what went wrong? Two missing ingredients, fresh dill [thought bubble: Dill, shmill, I can still make this work] and parsley [spoken words: You don’t have parsley? What kind of an Italian are you?] and a teensy major detail overlooked. The recipe’s main ingredient needed to be raw; I had defrosted the ‘cooked’ shrimp in my freezer. [Thought bubble: Danger. Does not compute.] Years ago, a company I temped at for 4 years tried to prepare us for the oncoming economic meltdown by getting everyone to read a copy of Who Moved My Cheese? Setting aside my personal feelings for unpalatable books that propose everyone drink from the same spiked punch bowl, all I could think yesterday was, Who Cooked My Shrimp?
Turns out, somebody in Hangzhou China did, according to the label from Rich Food Company LTD.
I persevered. I improvised. Most importantly, I did not cry. One might even say I was amused.
Since we only had one large frying pan, my father insisted he would use it, unwashed, for the salmon he had planned to cook as soon as I was done fiddling around. “It’s fine. I’m just going to add more olive oil,” he said. I’d like that on a T-shirt.
My father likes to say cooking is a fantasy. When I ask for clarification, he'll say, “Just like life. Everything is a fantasy.” This happens sometimes, our language and cultural gaps causes confusion on a word by word basis; I think he means everything requires imagination.
Persist. Practice. Purée, and keep going. If you baste it, they will come.
I was raised with a ‘Keep your head down, don’t call attention to yourself, don’t step out of line’ mentality. The result was that I developed a fear, let’s say a mild intolerance, for making mistakes, even though I churned them out faster than the IHOP can make pancakes on a Saturday morning. This self-fulfilling phobia has affected me most in the kitchen, which I think you could easily call the heart of any home. Julia Child said, “I like to smell something cooking. It makes me feel at home.” I've spent most of my life running away from that place, and trying to figure out the extent of the damage.
The truth is, it wasn't the mouth-watering meal I wanted but it was the easygoing experience I needed. Imagine that.