Thursday, July 7, 2016


And, voila, you have a creation fit for a king.
Well, maybe.

I like to cook. I was recently asked why, and I had to think about that for quite a while before I could write about it.

Most of us take food for granted. It shows up on the table when we're little kids and we’re supposed to eat it to nourish our bodies. Also to keep our moms from yelling at us.

When I was in my mid-teens, around age 15, I began to buy Woman’s Day and Family Circle magazines. They were all about food—well, and other stuff, but a lot about food. They had food plans for the whole month. They had articles that focused on one type of dish: meatloaf in many guises; soups for cold days; soups for hot days; salads, beverages, desserts . . . reading the magazines was almost a gastronomic delight.

I also began to collect recipes, an activity became a mania—recipes in magazines, in newspapers, in books I borrowed from the library. Recipes filled hundreds (yes, hundreds) of 3x5 index cards that I stored in boxes that said “Recipes” on the outside.

You’ll notice that so far I’ve not cooked a thing. But I was getting in the mood, reading articles, collecting recipes.

During my mom’s last year with us, I noticed what she made, asked questions, made mental notes on menus. We had Ham and Beans with homemade cornbread. Before the hambone was added to the beans, it had graced our table inside a baked ham served with scalloped potatoes. We ate, on rare occasions, spaghetti with meatballs (it was never called pasta, just spaghetti; the meatballs took quite a while to make, so that’s why this was a rare addition to the menu). 

Macaroni & Cheese was a good winter dish—because it was baked in the oven. No box of mix—just add butter, milk, and the little packet of cheese sauce. Nossir, we had the real thing.

From my mom I learned how to make two kinds of quick meals—one was hamburger patties with boiled potatoes and canned peas. The other was something-or-other mixed together and baked; this had the advantage of freeing the cook to fold laundry, press shirts, dust the living room, or sit down with a cup of coffee and a cigarette, and put her feet up.

Though I was always good at helping out—in high parlance, I was the sous chef—I never prepared a complete meal until after I married. But I did experiment with a few small non-cooked items: cream cheese balls inside dried apricots, topped with pecan halves (my mouth waters as I type this); tomatoes sliced and seasoned with herbs.

Once I married, the heat was on, so to speak. Meals appeared three times a day—and not by magic or out of a box. Not many women in those days believed a decent meal could be prepared and boxed up for us to rejuvenate later.

Thus, I learned to cook from scratch. (Nowadays that’s a conscious choice, like eating organic foods or growing your own veggies. Back in the day, it was what we did.)

I created some lovely disasters—one was liver, which came out of the skillet resembling, tasting like, and smelling like a sautéed old boot. My mother-in-law taught me how to make palatable liver. Another big mess was boiled eggs, left on the stove to cook while I went upstairs to investigate what the kids were doing, or get laundry down the chute to the basement, or maybe even read a book. Hard to remember the fine details. The eggs, left to their own devices, ended up boiling dry, the shells cracked, and the insides exploded, managing to decorate the 10-foot kitchen ceiling with little effort.

If you’ve read this far, you must be wondering why I like to cook.

I’m still not sure, but I think I can give you some possibilities.

Like many things in life, cooking started out to be a chore, a task performed every day to keep a family fed. If a woman didn’t work outside the home, she could expect to provide meals for her folks.

Let it be said here—I was never wealthy enough to have a cook who either lived in or came each day to fix meals. I was a stay-at-home mom long before such a thing was a choice; it was simply what I did—cooked, cleaned, did laundry, reared the children, sewed, read, played the piano to help the kids go to sleep, and let the dog out and in, cats ditto, and dreamed of writing books.

So the first reason I cooked is that it became a habit. It was what I did for my family. And I discovered I liked doing it.

Another reason is that I learned to be a pretty good cook—nothing fancy, but I was willing to try new things (though the family weren’t keen). Those magazines and boxes of recipe cards came in handy. Eventually, joy comes from doing something well.

Mostly, I think, I enjoyed—and still enjoy—cooking because it can be a creative endeavor. It takes a pretty creative bent of mind to look into a nearly empty fridge and conjure up a meal for six with a pound of hamburger, part of a head of lettuce, and catsup/mustard/
mayonnaise/relish. There’s always the cupboard where macaroni and canned beans and soups live. So with one eye on the clock, and the other on the stove (I learned after one experience with ceiling eggs to keep one eye on the stove), I whomped up something edible—sometimes it was even good—and never looked back.

Today’s cooking is different in many ways. As a retiree, I cook for one. Sometimes for two, if one of my kids comes to visit, or a friend calls and we decide to have a meal.

I no longer have the big holiday dinners at my house. Our family has expanded to nearly 20 people and my house didn't expand with the population growth. Nowadays we usually meet at my Ohio daughter’s home—it’s in the country and allows running room outside for little folks with bundles of energy.

Besides cooking for one, I still like to experiment. Salads are never the same thing twice—herbs and infused olive oils and vinegars make any salad a new experience. I don’t do the infusing myself; there’s a wonderful shop in my town that provides more than I could ever hope to taste in my lifetime.

Another factor is eating gluten free. A few years ago that meant making everything in the bread/cracker/pastry/dessert line from scratch. Today, I can shop at virtually any store—grocery or discount—and find GF foods at affordable prices. I still like to concoct desserts with gluten-free ingredients, but it’s now a hobby.

Also, my menu now includes more fresh foods--fruits and vegetables--and lighter cooking techniques. I remember with longing the beef and noodles, fried chicken, and mom's apple pies of childhood--but I prefer to be healthier and have more energy now that I'm in an advanced decade.

I suppose the bottom line with cooking, for me, is that I’m following in the footsteps of many women in my family. Formerly, almost no men cooked. For one thing, they didn’t have time because they worked outside or at a job all day. For another—yes, I hate to say it—cooking was women’s work.

Nobody seemed to catch on that all the famous chefs in the old days were men. Today, you’ll find women chefs, plus lots of folks on the Internet and TV cooking up a storm.

My time in the kitchen brings up memories of working with my mother to prepare a meal; eating meals at my grandma’s house—everything homemade by my grandma and probably one or two of the aunts, plus my mom; teaching my kids how to cook (they never let the eggs explode, thanks be).

Eating together is an important part of life—whether you’re alone, part of a family, or a member of a group. Eating together gathers and connects people in ways that other activities don't. For one thing, eating isn't competitive. (Never mind the hot dog eating contests.) 
I wish you good eating, good meals with good friends, and joy in the preparation of food. Bon appetit!


  1. I never really liked to cook until I really had time to do it (after all the people who ate said food had left the house), so I don't do much of it anymore and since the roommate isn't a fan of "different," it's not an adventure when I do. A great post, Judith.

  2. I don't remember (with one exception) any of us being too picky. And how many American kids like curry??!?

    1. My grandkids do, Doris, other than a couple of notable exceptions. My husband, on the other hand, won't touch it.