Saturday, August 2, 2008

cooking complex

Let me start this story by reminding everyone that I really love my mom. (Why do I get the feeling many therapy sessions begin this way? Except Tony Soprano's, I guess).

So. Growing up, I understood that my mom and grandma were Good Cooks - because the food they produced was tasty and they could make pretty much anything in the world, usually without a recipe card or cookbook in front of them. And because they didn't really need or seem to want my help. I realize now, as a grown-up, busy and occasionally brain-fried mom myself, that it wasn't meant to be a slight - their brusk "do it this way or get out of my way" manner - but really more a reflection of trying to get things done right & quickly. Yet I got it into my head pretty early that I was not a Good Cook and it has taken me a lot of years and experimentation and accepting compliments to convince myself that I'm at least a Fine Cook; now I'm working hard at making sure my kids feel comfortable & capable in the kitchen.

I realized in college that I had a complex when roommates would pop in while I attempted to make dinner. If they asked anything about what I was doing, I got defensive. "So, what are you going to do with that macaroni?" "I KNOW EXACTLY HOW TO BOIL WATER, THANK YOU VERY MUCH!" [So sad you missed the fun?] It occurred to me after alienating several friends a few irrational outbursts that I didn't like people questioning me because that is what I had dealt with every time I ventured into the kitchen as a kid. Whenever I had attempted to make something, my mom was hovering next to me, telling me which tool to use, how to mix the right way, when to flip or stir, what to do first or last, admonishing me when I wanted to clean up as I went. Once I moved away from home, anybody entering my culinary vicinity was suspect, and I tensed up, ready to roar my justifications.

Now I sometimes feel myself starting to do the same things my mom did whenever I see my kids obliterating eggs into a mix or creating a massive flour cloud around a bowl; it seems so much easier to take over the job and just do it right. But I have to stop, unclench my jaw, and give them calm reminders and gentle tips. It makes my heart happy when Paige jumps up to help make banana bread (my grandma's recipe) or Mason offers to fix scrambled eggs for everyone - I know I've created a relaxed and safe place for them to work out the mysteries & joys of cooking on their own. Even if I can't resist following a few paces behind with a dishcloth.

photo & flask courtesy of