Kitchens don’t scare me. Not that they are inherently a ‘scarey’ place to most people, but I am not one of those people that are afraid to cook. I will try just about any dish. That being said, I am also not one to follow a recipe. I have lots of recipe books in my library, but I rarely look at them. If I am feeling like trying something new, I may get out a cookbook, preferably one with pictures, and read a few recipes. After reading the recipes, I will then make something similar or completely different depending on what I have on hand. If it calls for sugar, I may use honey. If it calls for bread crumbs, I may use crushed tortilla chips or even crackers. If it calls for okra, I may rip the recipe out of the book and light it on fire. You never can tell.
My theory on cooking is, somebody had to come up with all those recipes some how. I don’t believe (even though my son does) that there is a scientific equation that derives food edible or makes automatic recipes out of thin science air. No, somebody had to look in their cupboard and say…..I really want cookies but I don’t have any flour….what else can I make? It was all experiments, and most likely desperation induced creativity. That is why I cook the way I do. My mother doesn’t understand how I can just make edible food without any sort of plan when I go in the kitchen. It always surprises me when she says this because I thought I learned it from her. I remember as a child, when it was close to dinner time, or way past dinner time…..we children would be circling the dog with hungry eyes and she would finally say, okay, I’ll make dinner. She would call one of us by name and tell us to either a: go peel some potatoes, or b: go brown some hamburger. I don’t think she ever knew what she was going to make, but she knew we had hamburger and potatoes so….what ever we had would come from that base. She wasn’t a bad cook. We had a lot of spaghetti, beans and fried potatoes…and probably lots of other stuff but that is where my memory fades.
I have no problem throwing all kinds of things in a pot and seeing what happens. I love the colder months when I can make soups. I am not like that crazy family I heard tell about as a child that saved all their leftovers all week and then dumped them into a large pot with a can of tomato sauce and called it Friday night soup. No, that makes me gag. But I will pull spices out of my cupboard that I have never used or even heard of and dump them in if they smell right. I guess I cook a bit like that rattatoui fellow. Except I don’t ever use my tail and I wear an apron. I made a roast the other day with sweet potatoes and cumin. I had never used cumin before, but it was in my cupboard and it smelled like it would be good with the sweet potatoes so I dumped it in. It was great!
My husband loved my cooking. That was a good thing and a bad thing…if you looked at his waist band. I remember several times when he would be telling me how wonderful dinner was and he would stop in mid sentence and say, “wait a minute….did you use a recipe?” the answer was always no, obviously, to which he would then announce to the kids, “enjoy this kids, cuz you will never have it again.” I’m not sure if that was a compliment or a complaint, but the point was he liked it. Besides, variety is the spice of life, right?
My daughter and I had an interesting experiment in the kitchen today. Time was apparently on hyper drive and our best laid plans were not coming to fruition. I had planned to make an apple pie to take to mom’s for story night, but was talked into lemon bars, which didn’t happen because we had unexpected choir practice. By the time I was actually able to step into the kitchen to make the promised dessert for the evening, I had a negative 4.75 minutes to make something fantastic. I decided I would just make a few chocolate pudding pies. Quick and easy and chocolate, so it would work. I made the pudding and got out the last two graham cracker crusts from the pantry. I felt like it was a bit, oh I don’t know….anti climatic, so I wanted to jazz it up a bit. I got the ‘brilliant’ idea to smear some peanut butter in the bottom of the crusts to make the pies more like a reese pie. Great idea, don’t you think? Before you run out and try it, know that graham cracker crusts are desperate creatures that long for companionship, especially it seems, from peanut butter. As soon as I spooned some of the pbutter in the two crusts, the sides starting stretching towards the middle and the middle started climbing up the spoon. Sarah and I both tried to calm them down and assure them that they would all be covered equally with the pbutter, but it was to no avail. The crusts were damaged beyond repair. What to do?! Brilliant idea number two comes to me at this point. We dump the pies into a deep bowl, layer them with pudding, marshmallows and coconut and call it a trifle. What it actually turned out to be was something that tasted good but gave me a roaring headache! I think my brother in laws name for it was something like “poison.”
While my theory of “a bunch of stuff that tastes good alone put into a bowl together cannot taste bad” that I used for our dessert may not always be true, It can be applied to my family. It seems that no matter what we are doing, whether it be a night of mom’s story telling, hiking up a mountain, watching a movie, playing games, or just sitting around talking….we have a good time when we are together. We are like a huge trifle with all kinds of different layers. Some are soft and fluffy, while others are truly a bit nutty, but all together we make a really yummy dessert. Unlike my ‘trifle’ that was overly sweet and almost sent me into a coma with the sugar content, our family can be far from sweet and bordering on sarcastic overload, but we are still a perfect grouping. We respect each other, we support each other and we all tend to see the best in each other. It is a bit like a circle in that we all are striving to become something we like in another person as they try to become like us. I think it is perfect.
I lived away from my family for a long time. I saw many families across the country as I moved that would have big family gatherings. I used to envy them and wish I had a big family to get together with. We used to invite other small families over for holidays so we could have the same ‘big family feel’ as others. It worked but it wasn’t the same. After I moved back home a few years ago, I was able to start getting together with my family. I didn’t realize until just a few weeks ago when a friend said how much he envied my big crazy family, that I had what I had always wanted. I actually have that big fun family gathering type of family. It sounds silly, but it was a real revelation to me. I truly did not appreciate what I had. Since then, I have been paying more attention and just loving every minute with my family. They really are the best trifle on earth…..cuz I said so.