“Secrets, especially with cooking, are best shared so that the cuisine lives on.” – Bo Songvisava
Just recently I found myself re-watching the movie Julie and Julia. It’s a story about a young woman, uninspired by her day job, who decides to cook her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and blog about her experience. The project turns into a journey of self-discovery and an unexpected bond to a woman she has never met.
Julie’s narrative got me thinking about my own culinary experiences and the relationships developed because of them. As I perused my collection of cookbooks and thumbed through a paraphenalia of recipe cards and pieces of paper, I realized that most of my closest friendships and my strongest ties to family had been forged and strengthened because of cooking.
My Baba (or Boonka as we affectionately called her) came first to mind. I vividly recall her standing by the wood cookstove, deftly moving pots around to ensure each received the appropriate heat. While stirring, seasoning and tasting, she was also able to shove sticks of wood into the stove to keep the heat constant (I swear she had an engineering degree to run that contraption), all the while visiting with her guests. I remember reading recipes to her because she did not have the opportunity to go to school and learn English. Watching her cook, following her instructions and sharing time in the kitchen would have a lasting impression on me. Years later (sadly after she had passed away) I would win a national contest with her recipe for baked cornmeal.
I can’t begin to count the times I called my own mother for advice (usually in the middle of a cooking disaster). On one occasion it was to find out why my headcheese wouldn’t gel. (Don’t ask; it’s a long story.) She taught me the little secrets that took a dish from being merely “good” to being “superb”. Her tips helped me produce tasty soups, mouth-watering perogies and tender pastries. But most of all she provided the love, support and encouragement that all beginner (and seasoned) cooks need and for that I will always be grateful.
One of my most cherished recipes is one that was hastily scribbled out on the back of a used envelope by my late mother-in-law. By sharing her excellent recipe for borsch, she made me feel like one of her own daughters. Mother-in-law jokes aside, she was my biggest fan and always applauded my efforts even when the results were less than stellar.
Many of my cookbooks were gifts from friends, but the ones I cherish the most are those peppered throughout with handwritten comments (often on post-it notes). My dear friend Caryn always did this and even though we lost her to cancer several years ago, when I read one of her personal comments she is once again beside me in the kitchen sharing a laugh or a glass of wine.
Both of my children are fantastic cooks, maybe because of sheer necessity since I worked full-time when they were growing up, but I’d like to think it’s because I allowed them to participate and even experiment when it came to the preparation of meals. Today we share culinary tips and they continue to learn from me, but I am learning much from them.
Now my two little granddaughters like to join me in the kitchen to help out, especially making cookies. And so the tradition lives on.
Life, indeed, is a journey of self-discovery and nothing enhances that journey more than preparing food for and with those who share it with us.
Julia Child wrote: “Learn to cook – try new recipes, learn from your mistakes [and a good mentor], be fearless and above all have fun.” Bon Appetit, everyone!
“The chef that grew up with the grandma who cooks tends to always beat the chef that went to the culinary institute. It’s in the blood.” – Gary Veynerchuk