My mother was not what you would call a good cook. Her strengths lay more in sweeping and dusting and the occasional art project for our Blue Bird troupe.
My grandmother love to cook, but we didn't always love to eat her food. She was great at the staples, but then she started experimenting in the 70's (I blame Julia Childs) and our regular meals started to taste... weird.
As a young woman, I learned to make Top Ramen really really really well. I learned a few other things when I married my first husband like lasagna, meatloaf, and baked chicken (you can't really screw up baking a chicken). It wasn't until I was working in a restaurant at a boutique hotel in Orange County that I finally learned to cook.
Chef Mark didn't really teach me how to cook so much as he impatiently answered my questions when I bugged him enough. I watched him and his line cooks, asking annoying questions as they went along. He would also answer my questions about the menu ("Chef? What the hell is a burr blank?") and he would explain the techniques listed in the cookbooks that I had started to collect. Eventually, I was inviting friends over for dinners, showing off my culinary talents.
I very much enjoyed small intimate dinners. It's easy to cook a meal for a few other people while still sipping and chatting. And it's just so nice to get to know friends over a quiet meal. But over the years, even small intimate dinners went away. Having couples over for a quiet evening turned into semi-disastrous events.
One time, a couple came over for dinner. They were on time. I was ready for them on time. My husband, however, had passengers that weren't, and so his flight was delayed. The whole time we waited for him, I was apologizing to the husband as his eyes were welling up. He forgot to ask if we had a cat (we did) and he was allergic. Rather than canceling the evening and setting a time for a do-over, we pushed on through. I forget what I served, but by the time hubs arrived an hour late, it was cold and dry.
Then there was the New Year's Eve that we invited a lovely couple and their daughter over to celebrate. We had just gotten to know them at church and I really wanted them to like us. I planned to serve Beef Bourguignon, which I kick ass at. I put so much energy into that meal. Unfortunately, the wife didn't mention, until I served dinner, that she didn't eat meat. I had to serve her the only thing I could quickly heat up...
Then there's the general lack of good cooking tools. I don't have a standing mixer or even a hand mixer. I lack a good, sharp set of knives, partly because I'm cheap and partly because I watched too many horror movies. I almost bought a dutch oven... right before I didn't care about cooking anymore.
Last weekend, a foodie friend of mine came over. She teased me about the knives. Ten years ago, I would have been mortified, but I was only slightly embarrassed. I don't know when I stopped caring, but I know I did. Maybe it was what I told my friend... that I've been at this mom/wife gig for a quarter of a century now and I'm over it.
But now that I'm in the middle of so much fresh food here in Ensenada, and the smell of home cooking wafts through the air every where I go, I'm starting to feel that desire... the desire to create a beautiful meal from scratch with flavors from memories and techniques I've long since forgotten. I feel like I want to cook not because of the obligation to feed my family (not that it isn't important), but to cook for the mere act of creating something delicious and savory.
Hand me my apron... I'm ready to get cooking!