We are non-commercial, all volunteer and supported by our readers. Please help sustain the Dew by making a donation.
A good friend came for a visit last summer, and I served her a homemade lasagne quattro formaggi. It’s the sort of thing that sounds really difficult and convoluted, but really isn’t. I mean, it’s noodles and mornay sauce. Oh, there may have been some funghi and prezzemolo involved for kicks and giggles. It’s a bit time consuming, but not difficult. She wanted to know if we ate like that a lot or if it was just because she was there. My husband sort of cocked his head, a forkful of cheesy goodness perched in front of his mouth, and asked her what she meant. “This is how we eat,” he said with a note of confusion in his voice. I can’t do much. I have no thing. I can occasionally write something interesting, and I can cook. I’ve accepted the writing part for years, but the cooking thing was more difficult.
I grew up in a house where we ate in. When the quarterly trip to the country club came, it was because dad said they’d charge him whether we ate or not. My brother and I would dream up schemes to get us to go out for dinner. They never worked, but the upside is I have memories of dinners instead of restaurants. (The exception is Nick’s in Jackson, Mississippi which I believe to be one of the finest restaurants anywhere. I will admit to having impure thoughts about their veal Marsala) My grandfather could be relied on to appear, as if by compelled, at the door when my mother made fried chicken. Mom’s bean salad is legendary in some circles, praised even by her mother-in-law who seemed otherwise content to live on a diet of creamed corn and cheese. Oh, but even that grandmother made excellent tartar sauce and pralines smooth as baby cheeks.
Ask people what they want mama to make when they go home and you’ll get a litany of comfort foods like peach cobbler, fried chicken, pimento cheese, rice pudding, and chicken spaghetti. Nothing fancy, but all made with Mom Magic. Mom Magic is sort of like MSG in that it makes everything taste better, but impossible to replicate. Try as he might, my friend cannot make spaghetti and meatballs the way his mother does. My mother and I could watch my grandmother make fried chicken a million times, but we’ve never been able to match what we called her “sticky chicken”. Cooking is more than chemistry. It’s witchcraft.
The thing about cooking is that it’s intimate. You are nourishing the body of another. I don’t want to get all new-agey about this, but cooking is powerful stuff. Food is medicine, fuel, and memory. The implements can be as space-age as a sous vide water oven, or as old-fashioned as a cast iron one. Flour, water, and yeast can be combined one way to make a crisp-crusted baguette, an airy ciabatta, or sticky-sweet rolls stuffed with Chinese barbecue pork. Still, to this very day, every time I make something that turns out well, that people eat and ask for, I feel a sensation that is partly like a chest-thumping I MAKE YOU GOOD EATING feeling and one closer akin to one of hey, you really don’t have to eat that if it tastes like rabbit pellets sprinkled on charred burlap. You can tell me, promise.
I spent many years foolishly believing that cooking and feminism went together like green beans and chocolate sauce. I understand now that cooking is less submissive and more subversive. I know few people who regularly cook from scratch. I don’t cook for my family because I’m not smart or because I want to outdo my sister wife. I cook because I can. I need to cook in the same way I need to create this essay. It is the same force which compels me to meander around the woods with a camera. There are few things better than working off a bad mood by knocking some brioche dough around. The eating it part might be one, though.
- Photo from YouTube.
Worthy of Comment
Also on the Dew
"A new mentality is needed, and this implies above all a recovery of ancient and original wisdom. And a real contact with what is right under our noses." -- Thomas Merton, in a letter to Thich Nhat Hanh On Thursday, September 24, I saw Pope Francis with my own eyes. That's the gospel truth. Now the confession. I was attending the Interfaith Moral Action on Climate rally -- organized to support the Pope's call to action on climate change. That's me on the right of the photo. That's Doug, my Buddhist friend and climate troubadour, on the left. Attendees watched the Pope's historic Read on →
Having returned from his trip to the U.S. where he addressed Congress, Pope Francis on Tuesday issued an encyclical from the Vatican warning of "man-made Global Dumbing." "It disturbs me beyond belief the level of intelligence quotient that I encountered during my visit to the U.S., especially in the Republican-led Congress, where I'm guessing the average IQ must be in the high 70s or low 80s, at best," Francis said, through an interpreter. "That's unacceptable." Ted Josephs, a spokesman for Mensa International, the genius organization, said that the Pope's estimate means that the average Congressman may have trouble deciding which shoe goes Read on →
An old Jewish curse says, "May Your Life Be Filled With Lawyers." Better lawyers than bedpans. Unlike actors in televised medical fables, real people who work at hospitals, while sometimes angelic, are mainly natural-born Homo sapiens, just like the rest of us –- part devil, part saint, but all too human. They mostly mean well, but many days, they just do not give a flip. And some, like former President Dubya Bush, obviously chose the wrong line of work. The most frightening aspect of any serious illness is loosing control of your being to other people; creatures just like yourself. Folks who still think t Read on →
To fend off the inevitable criticism from Democrats, liberals and the media that the next GOP Speaker of the House is so delusional he or she must be on drugs, the new Speaker will first have to pass a urine test. “That should settle the matter that they’re not on drugs, even all those guys in the Tea Party Freedom Caucus,” said a GOP insider, who compared the plan to being pulled over by a cop. “So you’re weaving like crazy, and blowing through red lights, and stop signs and you almost ran over a couple of pedestrians and, sure, one of them was Read on →