she’s a girl with glasses

April 5, 2010, 10:18 pm
Filed under: blog | Tags: , ,

I tend to be a terribly single-minded person. I don’t know if I necessarily have an inability to split my focus, or if my concentration just depletes faster when I attempt to focus on more than one thing at a time, but I believe I knew, quite well, that I was not destined for greatness of a Renaissance kind rather young, when I attempted to both play the flute and soccer within the same month. I quit flute, and played soccer for one more season. Over the years, I’ve realized that was the wrong choice. Some people were born athletic. Some of us were born to make pretty things for other people. And likely bitch about them behind their back.

For as long as I can remember, writing has been the dominant outlet in my life. Granted, I could manage a little multi-tasking in there but, for the most part, many things fell by the wayside due to my writing: photography, theatre school, cleaning, French class. I filled notebooks and computer disks and dedicated boxes to this storage, which was lugged from my parents’ house, to dorms to apartments the state over.

It was when I had my daughter that I seemed to lose my ability, wholesale, to write. At first, I took it as a natural occurrence– hey, I’d just had a baby, I was doing plenty with my life and brain– but, as the months wore on, then years, and then I had a son, this bothered me. I tried. I wrote a poem about my conflicted feelings about my daughter in her early days. I attempted blogging. Very little came forth.

It was in this time that I learned to cook. I’d never truly learned it, despite my parents both being capable and creative in the kitchen. They were raised in an era and in families where meats were cooked until they were charcoal and everything came from cans. This was not how I was raised. My parents served me capers and lamb, French soups and spiced sauces. I didn’t realize any of this was all that odd until I married my husband and discovered his upbringing wasn’t as culinarily daring. I was able to assist him in his food explorations, forging in him a deep and abiding love of Lebanese food, and the ability to mostly not fear the word “goulash” the dish my father made– and still makes, now that my children are voracious eaters of the concoction– when I brought it up. My father’s meal was nothing like the one my husband had been raised with. Slowly, he came around to other items that were creepy and/or bland in his childhood and were savory and flavorful in mine.

The hitch: I couldn’t cook any of them. With a lot of coaching over the phone from my father, I could manage goulash. My mother walked me through turkey tetrazzini and sent me home with a dish to bake. My mother made a lovely chicken rosemary dish that I couldn’t replicate until I realized she baked it rather than frying. My ability to read a recipe was suspect. We ate a lot of sandwiches.

When my son was small, I just… began cooking. With two small children and no money, I needed something to do, something to eat and everything seemed to come together. A friend told us of a recipe she called “hippie scramble” from her days as a homeless punk and I walked into my kitchen and made it. And it tasted good. It was the thrust I needed.

I became rather fearless in the kitchen. The next several years found me cooking nearly every day, making up recipes, adapting others. I make a killer pot pie and a chicken salad that would make you weep. I can make roux and cream sauce and stock from scratch. I started baking recently, after leaving that up to my husband, who always seemed more skilled at it. I’ve gotten better, eventually making cookies that wouldn’t break your teeth once bitten into and cupcakes that didn’t collapse in the center. I discovered yeast and created bagels that were better than any I’d ever had before.

My focus still is not great. During the months of fevered writing of the NOD ™, food prep suffered in our house. It was after the novel was completed that I began to cook again, in earnest. In an unshocking move, my recent diet has spurred more obsessive food thoughts– mostly of carbs, of which the bagels were a child. I’m going to make pretzels next. I bought four loaves of bread yesterday. I need to either curb my habit or make it cheaper on myself.

I want a bread machine. My husband thinks I’m crazy.

Still, making food is, to me, as creative as my writing. I’m learning, in both areas, a sense of skill I often thought I lacked. Tonight, I made matzo ball soup for the first time. I made a stock from scratch with a whole chicken I had in the freezer. After the stock was made, I chilled it and then skimmed the fat that rose to the top. Today, I chopped vegetables and threw in spices, dismembered my chicken carcass and threw in handfuls of meat. This evening, I melted the fat and mixed it with eggs, matzo meal, seltzer, salt and pepper. The resultant matzo balls (those that survived anyway; the more I cook, the more I realize the need for appropriate accessories) were light and flavorful and my daughter ate three bowls and several balls.

When I write, I think of someone finding a connection, a thought, an epiphany through my work. Cooking is no different. My food, more often than not, makes someone smile, makes a connection to me. And as pithy and trite as it sounds, that’s what makes me happy.

Call me Betty Fucking Crocker.


1 Comment so far
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Hey, in my defense, I had one son that would eat nothing new, different, or green, and one who would vomit at will on anything he decided ‘looked different.’ Also a husband who will eat a frozen pizza and red beans and rice (which took all day to make) with the same non-reaction. So creativity in my kitchen is pretty unrewarding.

Comment by Kathy Spoering

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