Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The origins of cooking

When I was little and it came around the time for my mom to make dinner, she would call me and my sister into the kitchen. My mother never really enjoyed cooking; she did it more out of the obligation of feeding her family. That's certainly not to say that her food was not delicious, but it most certainly was not her favorite activity of the day. So she made us her little sous chefs, handed us some knives and peppers or a bowl full of beans or a bunch of eggs to crack and order us around. I actually really delighted in this task and sometimes we would pretend to be on a cooking show or we just relished in the opportunity to hang out with mom. I was so short I had to stand on a stool, but I loved watching the water boil and my mom splitting a handful of noodles or the sauce bubble and pop, releasing the fragrances of a meal into the kitchen. It always thrilled me when my mom inspected the chicken in the oven, opening it a crack and letting me peer in with her at the magic occurring inside.

Of course, being a kid, there were times when I hated my duty and sighed and moaned throughout the process. I remember one time my mom gave me a huge bowl of mung beans in water. She told me to snap off the little squiggly root ends of each bean. I hated this task. The water was cold and it made my fingers pruney and I didn't even like mung beans! In my little kid mind, this task must have taken 5 hours (I'm sure it didn't). Just as I was reaching the 5th or 6th remaining mung bean, I clumsily knocked the entire thing over. Water spilled everywhere and the mung beans were all over the tiled floor. I even drew a picture of it in my journal that day -- melodramatically drawing myself dripping with water from head to toe with a big sad frown on my face.

It's funny now that I think about it because now I know that those evenings in the kitchen were what developed my love for cooking. Mung beans aside, I was always so excited to slice open a green pepper and smell that distinct bell pepper smell, dig out the seeds, flick off the stray ones from my fingers, and cut the pepper into halves, then strips, then little cubes. I loved cracking open eggs and whisking them to a frenzy with a fork while my mom added salt. The feel of a knife sliding through silken tofu was enough to make me smile secretly in delight. I pretended the broccoli were little trees and we were giant lumberjacks, splitting them into quarters. Even gross tasks like skimming the fat off of a cold soup or stock was fun; using a teaspoon to scrape the congealed fat off the gelatinous soup was a task that I could do all day. I've always been the kind of kid (and adult) who liked the feel of things and food prep is exactly that -- I would venture to say that cooking is first feeling, then tasting and smelling. But, tactile feelings aside, the best feeling of all was when we sat down to dinner, my little heart swelled with pride at the thought that I had helped make these dishes; that if it weren't for me, we wouldn't even be eating or have nice little squares of vegetables in our food.

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