Friday, July 30, 2010

The Joy of Cooking.

I have done a few food related posts. I don't consider myself a foodie wannabe. But, I do get a great amount of joy out of cooking. I find satisfaction when I can prepare a dish that everyone in the family can enjoy. The key determining factor in a successful dish is if Elle says, "Dad, thank you for cooking, that was delicious". I am thankful that I have a wife with a sophisticated palate and a child that not afraid to try foods that have flavor or might be a little different than a brown pressed processed "chicken" nugget.

I have done a few posts where I don't exactly shine a generous light on my upbringing. One thing I do owe proper credit to my mother for is that she was a damn good cook. Having a mix of Puerto Rican and Spanish influence in the cuisine that my mother presented to us is something I don't take for granted. We didn't get "I love you" from my mother but, maybe the love was in the food. There was a magic to the range, complexity and speed that she would bring to each meal. She never told us what she was going to make for dinner. It was just made and enjoyed by all. I never smelled the aroma of burning in the house or saw a moment of stressful hurry when she was in her process. I saw a peacefulness when she cooked, almost as if she let joy stop by to grace her for a few moments. I always marveled that when she arrived home from work she never sat down. An immediate step into preparing dinner was made. The kitchen had a surprising absence of cook books or a secret recipe binder. Everything flowed seamlessly from her mind to her hands to the dish and finally, with a glorious arrival, to the table. Being both medical doctors, there were times my father was allowed to assist with a certain procedure. Those rare occasions usually fell in line with a holiday or dinner party. I enjoyed just watching those moments. I could see my parents doing something together, again with that scarce little imp Joy popping in for a visit. On the kitchen counter a leg of pork would be sitting in a large roasting tray. My father would be standing over it sharping the knives. With a surgical touch he would make the cut and with astounding ease the bone would be removed. My mother would transition into his place and started filling the cavity with a mixture of peppers, onion, garlic, chorizo and other ingredients which I can't accurately recall. Another switch was made and my father was back with a large needle and thread and the leg was returned to a pristine state. Then my father was on to preparing Coquito, best described as a Tropical Eggnog. 

A desire to learn and replicate these joyous dishes grew in me. I tried many times to insert myself into the process but, I was only allowed to watch. In my mother's mind cooking was not a skill I needed to learn, to her it was a woman's place. She would on many occasion try to teach my three older sisters but, uninterested resistance was given back to her. There were items in the house that we didn't even have to be told not to touch. Whether it be my father's CD, vinyl or Quixote collection or especially anything in regards to the kitchen. So, I never dared to break those unspoken rules. My mother was saving her culinary knowledge for the time I brought a girl home that she could properly train. On one of the few occasions that I brought my not-then-wife home, one of the first things asked of her was if she knew how to cook. Then with a quite speed a book was produced and handed to my wife titled "Puerto Rican Cookery". With a deadpan look my mother said, "you will learn". Suffice it to say the lesson was never given. I happily took the reigns of cooking in our family. If my mother knew that would be met with great displeasure.

In our relationship my wife has never felt slighted that I do all the cooking. And no resentment is felt on my part. She was very fortunate to be exposed to a wide range of cuisines and to have parents the have a love for cooking. She has opened my eyes to new food, my first taste of Vietnamese, Thai and Indian food is due to her. During the week I have meals ready for everyone when we get back from picking up my wife from the train station. The weekend is a time where as a family we can collaborate together in the kitchen. My wife will assist me in the prep and Elle will excitedly help throw the ingredients together. I put music on and Elle will take breaks from helping to dance around. While they are both waiting for the meal to cook Elle will often bring books over and read with her mother as they sit on the back staircase. I'll be hawkishly standing over the stove stirring assorted pans. They aide me in tasting and I know when we have successes when Elle wants to keep on tasting and I have to tell her to wait for dinner time. 

Like my mother I have a joy for cooking and share the ability to bring dishes from mind to plate. Unfortunately, I wasn't able share that love with her. It would have been wonderful to enjoy spending that time together, learning the dishes she had committed to memory and the stories behind them. At least I feel that I keep the tradition of the Puerto Rican/Spanish cookery alive. Unlike hers, our kitchen is an open space for all of us to share. I'll be glad to show my daughter or whomever she brings home in the future what I know. I cherish hearing Elle's joy when she say's, "yeah Indian food", or "smothered chicken" or "paella". I am my own toughest critique when it come to my cooking. But, hearing and seeing the satisfaction it brings to my family I relax and I put the criticism to rest and let the joy in.

The beginnings of a Paella.