I’m one of those annoying people who post pictures of the food they cook on Facebook. At least, I think it must be annoying to someone. Perhaps the folks who are cracking open another box of mac and cheese are jealous. My food looks delicious. You can’t tell from a picture what it tastes like. I tend to post the meals that look pretty, like an ad for a restaurant or the feature on the cover of Foodie Magazine. I hide all the culinary outcomes that are pure disasters. Who wants to see that? I’ve had some pretty spectacular catastrophes in the kitchen, some of which we ate, some of which we gave a decent burial in the compost heap. All the good meals get multiple Like and Yum comments when I post them for the general public that comprises my Facebook (non-tasting) critics corner.
My favorite concoctions are generally very colorful. I’m glad I don’t eat meat, as it comes across the pixels as drab and dead stuff. Apologies to all my animal-gnawing foodie friends. I still hit that Like button if it looks as if a good amount of effort went into composing a meat-based meal, especially if a helping of cheerful veggies surround that stuff in the middle and make it a pic-worthy plate. I applaud the effort, as so many delights take a great deal of time and effort to create. The meal depicted in my last foodie post took me three hours to cook. My average meal-making time is about one and a half hours, though I don’t always do it all at once. My kitchen, after one of these epic epicurean feats, looks as if an Asheville city bus ran through it, dispersing every pot, pan, bowl and spatula I own into a marvelous maelstrom of gastronomic detritus. Not to worry, someone else cleans up.
For me, food means family and community. We all have our first impressions of food as a child. Our primary chef de gastronomique in the days of our innocent palates can affect us for decades, long after we are cooking up our own meals. As a baby, we knew what tasted nasty, though we would have nothing to compare that flavor experience with. As we grew, our feeders often catered to our delights but sometimes forced the issue of finishing whatever foul mess was provided. Cleaning one’s plate was mandatory in my childhood. Did those parents not know that forcing us to eat something vile would put us off it forever? As a parent, I never made my child eat anything he didn’t like, or thought he didn’t like. We invented quirky names for some of our meals just to appeal to his sense of fun and conceal the actual ingredients. Alien Spaghetti was one of our favorites. Now, the grownup boy makes wonderful falafel in his own kitchen and has an adventurous palate.
My mother, however, matured in the fabulous fifties when processed food and convenience took over for flavor and actual cooking. Not that she didn’t cook. She made her own spaghetti sauce and could fry chicken or lamb chops. I often found some meaty thing in my dinner that I abhorred, but was made to consume lest I perish of malnourishment. My dad had a garden and that’s where I honed my tiny tastebuds and learned to savor the goodness of the earth, which was raw and bursting with life.
My mom was terrific at boiling the life out of any vegetable and serving it up with Spam or SpaghettiOs or Minute Rice. She did, however, learn how to preserve the produce that came out of the garden. I still admire her skills in canning and freezing almost any vegetable that found it’s way into our kitchen. I think she drew the line at kohlrabi as it was too exotic for her culinary capabilities and not worth keeping around. Our garden bounty lasted long into the winters of my childhood, especially the pickled green tomatoes, which I have never attempted to replicate with tomatoes from my own garden. I just might be the only one who would actually want to eat them.
Growing up, dining was an activity we always did together as a family. It shaped, not only my own cooking. but my reverence for keeping the best of the traditions that revolved around making and consuming our meals. Sharing a meal, to me, is a sacred act. If cooking for other people is enjoyable, then cooking with other people is sublime. I was able to cram about six people into my Houston kitchen to make a variety of ethnic foods, as long as one of our cooks could teach the rest of us the ropes. Making tamales (of course), hand-rolled pasta, Chinese dumplings, Greek dolmades, Indian dosas, you name it, was a lot more fun with a group of would-be chefs than going it alone into unknown culinary territory. Sitting around the table together to eat the current masterpiece was the icing on the cake, so to speak! We sometimes had cake too.
The production of my recent batch of tamales was a solo effort. I vowed after making them, to never be lonely in the kitchen again. I so wanted to call some friends to come and help out and share the bounty, but it was snowing and I needed all the tamales for my own special occasion the next day. Making tamales is meant to be a shared experience, not a lonely endeavor. Cooking, in general, should have its moments of comradery in the kitchen. After my kitchen renovation (Yes! it’s coming) is complete, I should be able to call three friends to come over to hang in my beautiful cooking arena and concoct someone’s specialty. There’s a no-meat rule, but that has never seemed to bother anyone willing to play in my kitchen. Naturally, pictures and posting on Facebook will be a must!
In the meantime, I’m looking for a class in pickle-making. I’m playing at making vegan cheese this winter just to distract me from the cold and nasty weather. The tailgate farmers’ markets will be back in the spring and our annual trip to the seed store is just around the corner. The frozen end of January is the time for planning out the next garden and looking ahead to those magnificent Facebook foodie posts. I’m dreaming of an event. A day of group cooking and outdoor dining on my new patio. It’s coming!
Still cooking stuff up,