Monday, January 18, 2010

New cooker in the hooooouseee...

I grew up in a semi-small town in Illinois. In my humble opinion, it truly is the heart of the midwest. Corn fields nearby. People had decent-sized yards. And, most significantly, we had corresponding family values. We always ate dinner together as a family at our kitchen table. Perhaps my family embraced the "midwesterner" identity more than others. My friends would all laugh and think it was funny when I had to be home by 5:30 p.m. so I could eat dinner with the fam. But I did it. It was the rule.

I also come from a family of planners. For example, my dad would write out the grocery list each week. To take it a step further, he would itemize the list by where the item was in the grocery store. (Truly, my father is the most efficient man I have ever met.) Going along with that planning was the retention of a meat man and a large freezer for the basement. Oh yes, my parents bought meat from a meat man. Therefore most days, one of my parents would take the selected meat from the basement freezer and put it in the sink to thaw for dinner that night. We ate a lot of hamburgers and pork chops.

In addition to the "meat with a veggie" option, we also did casseroles. Hamburger casserole and tuna noodle casserole are two that come to mind. If it came in a casserole dish, we were likely to eat it. I wonder how many cans of cream of mushroom soup my family went through each year. Oh, and we either drank Koolaid or milk with dinner. Two percent milk. None of that sissy skim milk.*

So, as I grow into an adult (shudder), I am learning to cook. My mother was capable of doing nearly anything in the kitchen. I wanted to be able to do the same. Granted, by the time my mom was my age, she had two small children and had to cook for a "family." Me? I'm a career woman. It was by choice, yes, but my decisions to go to school for what seemed like a million years created some sort of deficiency in my brain toward any sort of culinary ability. In addition to that, I became very good friends with someone whose job it seemed was to go out to eat all the time. A busy job plus lots of dinners out meant I didn't use my kitchen.

Well, that busy job started to stress me out. I wasn't sleeping well. I seemed to catch a lot of colds. And one day I had the predictable cold symptoms. My head felt like it was going to explode and I couldn't stop blowing my nose. The one thing that always made me feel better was my mom's homemade chicken soup. So, despite getting home from work at a late hour, I set to chopping. Carrots, celery and onions. I poached a couple of chicken breasts. I put it all in a pot, threw some bouillon in and let it set. While the soup didn't quite seem to heal me as my mother's had in the past, I noticed something: all that chopping, the business in the kitchen? It made me feel better. Rather than stress about the pile of files I had left on my desk for the day, I was focused on the task at hand.

So, I took it upon myself to start cooking a bit more. Experimenting. I had a boyfriend who was willing and ready to sample my culinary experiments. I had all this "restaurant experience" (meaning, eating at them) to pretend I knew what I was doing. My best friend in Florida would tell me all these tales about the fabulous meals she would create. It was official. I was going to start cooking.

Don't get me wrong, I have no aspirations aside from pleasing those for whom I cook. I undertook the risky task of making Christmas dinner for six when my parents were in town. I went to the meat market, printed out recipes, the works. But when my mother took a bite of my beef tenderloin (with a pinot noir reduction sauce) and said "It melts in the mouth like butter," I knew I had to continue working at this new craft. She liked it! In fact, everyone liked it.

So I forge on. I still make the requisite panicky calls to my mom if things don't go quite right. Yet I have a growing level of confidence in my abilities in the kitchen. I made a wicked good ham and potato soup this past weekend and wasn't all that surprised when my boyfriend loved it. So, here I am. A budding woman in the kitchen. A career woman who likes to cook. I dig.

*It must be said that this blog is not intended to make fun of my family. Far from it. I am so very grateful for our family dinners. Furthermore, if I had the space (and the room in my budget for a ridiculous electrical budget), I'd be all over my own meat man (Olympic Meat Packers, I'm looking at you!) and planning my meals. But I'm going to stick with the skim milk.

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