Friday, April 08, 2005


I've said before that I love cooking, though that should be amended to say that I love good food. If I make it, all well and good; if someone else makes it and I eat it, even better. I don't hate cooking something for myself or others and I'm not afraid to try new recipes (at least within reason; I draw the line at brussels sprouts and snails) because I know I have to eat and so does my family, so there is no reason to whine about it; just make the best effort possible.

Good food doesn't have to be fancy; people will spend tremendous amounts of money in a gourmet restaurant to get a beautifully laid out plate of food in microscopic proportions just because it is prepared by a "star" chef. When my wife and I married, we took our honeymoon at Sea Island, Georgia. We made reservations at a very nice resort, ran into Jimmy Carter and his Secret Service entourage (he was there for a backroom meeting with friends and business contacts) and proceeded to be seated for dinner. Every item on the menu came from a different waiter and ended up costing us some $50.00 apiece, big money indeed for an unemployed law student and a badly paid special-ed teacher. We ate at the lower-prestige resort we were staying at a couple of nights later for much less and the food was more memorable (although we had to listen to "The Tennessee Bird-Walk" incessantly, for some reason).

My mother's cooking ran the gamut from awful to wonderful, simply because she wasn't worried about experimenting on her family. The worst ever had to be the time she and her hairdresser friend had gone to pick tomatoes and come back with more than anyone in their right mind could ever eat; we had tomato sandwiches and tomato salads but that still hardly made a dent in the tomato population, so I came home from school one night to find Momma making a tomato casserole. This was just tomatoes cut up in a baking dish with bread slices interspersed to soak up all the watery juices. It was awful, but you had to eat what was on the plate because there wasn't anything else coming. Fortunately, the responses she got evidently convinced her not to save the leftovers and she never tried it again. However, she more than made up for the tomato casserole with her pot roasts, which were just this side of heaven. I suspect more than a little of my high cholesterol problem stems from those days of my mother's roast beef, fork-tender and redolent of bay leaves, her one commonly used seasoning other than salt and pepper.

My mother started making me learn to cook early on, since I think she wondered if I would ever attract someone of the opposite sex to cook for me. She'd cooked for my father since they got married, Daddy only rarely venturing into the realm of chef to cook outside on a grill once in a blue moon, and she'd convinced herself that Daddy would starve without her. When she took ill and couldn't cook, Daddy stepped in and actually did a good job, priding himself on everything from a good deal at the local supermarket to creating a fairly good and filling meal. I cooked a lot in my college days, making the mistake one time of eating five ricotta and mozzarella-filed manicotti tubes at one sitting in the basement of my dorm; I literally couldn't move for a couple of hours. Fortunately, there was a TV to watch while everything slowly digested. When I did marry, my habit of cooking stayed in place and I kept cooking for my wife and children. It isn't that my wife cannot cook, because she can and is quite good at it, but whereas she would cook if she had to, I cook because I basically enjoy it, even when the day at work has been a pain and I'm tired. If it has been too taxing a day, there's always pizza a telephone call away.

These days, my cooking stays in patterns, keeping with the things that usually work and that everyone likes. Meatloaf, burritos, hamburgers, salads, grilled chicken and the like all keep my family pretty satisfied. Sure, I've experimented with things that sounded better than they really were at the end of the process; a marinated fried tofu that I saw on a cooking show was an unmitigated disaster of tomato casserole proportions. I can tell that I've tripped up when even our dog, who thinks nothing of eating cat poop that doesn't make it into the litter box, won't come begging for what she smells on my plate.

I've tried to make roast beef like my mother's, but to no avail, even after getting a tutorial from her during one of their trips upstate to visit us. That may be a good thing, because I'll always associate my mother with her roast beef, a memory that no one else's roast beef, not even mine, can take away.

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