I enjoy cooking and baking. I also enjoy eating. Food is one of the greatest pleasures in my life. Almost of all of my treasured memories are tied to food; it’s actually a bit of a running joke in my family that I will tell some story about my childhood, and the conclusion will be “and then we went out for ice cream”. To say that I love going out to eat in restaurants is a bit of an understatement. When Jason first came to visit Ottawa, I didn’t plan a list of things to do; I planned a list of things to eat. I had very few ‘deal-breakers’ in our relationship, but one of the top three was that he had to like Vietnamese food. If he couldn’t handle a bowl of pho, then it wasn’t going to work.
Lucky for me, he’s likes the stuff.
Many of my childhood memories are of being in the kitchen at our old house. It was a small space, but it’s where we congregated for tea, where hurt knees were bandaged, where art projects were completed. My mum was the primary cook in our family, although Dad did prepare food from time to time: Kraft Dinner with peas and tuna (blech!), hot dogs with fried onions and oven-toasted buns, eye of round roast beef, and pancakes. Daddy’s special pancakes. No other kind will do. But it’s my mother I’m thinking about here.
Mum was (and still is) a wizard at “concocting”. She was always able to throw together a meal from whatever we had in the fridge and pantry, occasionally specializing in the “weird and wonderful”. By watching her cook, I learned how to prepare food on the cheap. Shop where immigrants shop. Always have a can of beans and a can of tomatoes on hand. Go to the Parkdale Market at the end of the day because vendors will give you more for less. Make soup. When all else fails, make tea biscuits.
(It should be noted that while my dad’s pancakes are textbook perfect, Mum’s tea biscuits are never the same twice, but it doesn’t really matter. Slather them with jam and butter and honey and make a pot of tea and no one will know the difference.)
I remember learning to cook, starting small with scrambled eggs and french toast, then progressing onto more complicated things (delicious delicious baked goods). If it wasn’t for “Kids Cooking” by Klutz Press and measuring cups I doubt I would have learned my fractions. Our copy of “Kids Cooking” is crusty and sticky, the pages for brownies and chocolate chip cookies almost impossible to open. I bought my own copy when I first went to university, and it already has a fair number of stains and smudges on its pages. I also made many recipes from another children’s cookbook, also titled “Kids Cooking”, although this one was part of the Company’s Coming series. Childrens and college cookbooks are still my go-to manuals when preparing a meal; I like their simplicity and clarity. A recipe for a good spaghetti sauce is something to be treasured, no matter if it originates from a primary coloured tome illustrated with anthropormorphic bears or not.
I consider myself lucky: I learned to cook as a child. I learned how to plan meals, go grocery shopping, adapt ingredients, troubleshoot when necessary, and most importantly, how to prepare and present full meals. This made university life much more pleasant (and much less expensive). I can still remember walking into my residence kitchen, and finding a first year who did not know how to make his own pasta. It was a sad day. I don’t think anyone should be allowed to graduate high school until they can plan and cook one week’s worth of meals, and also be able to do all the laundry for said week. My cooking and baking skills ultimately made me popular at parties, dinners, and potlucks, and I think it is safe to say that it also won me a boyfriend/fiance/husband. A nice perk to learning how to make tacos when I was eight or nine.
(to be continued)