What My Mom Taught Me About Cooking – Treehugger | Directory Mayhem

For someone who doesn’t like to cook, my mother was certainly good at it.

I was raised by a woman who claimed to hate cooking, yet was spectacularly good at it. “I’d rather paint,” she said, getting lost in her art for hours while we kids waited hungrily, hoping she’d realize what time it was. However, as soon as she looked at the clock and put down her brushes, she would prepare a heavenly meal in record time.

When I was 10, my mom got pregnant and was so sick she couldn’t look at the food without getting sick. Cooking and shopping fell to me and my little sister. Every week she gave us $100 in cash and lay in the car comatose while we both wheeled a shopping cart around the store buying whatever we thought she might need. Cashiers suspiciously asked us if our mother knew about our money. “We buy vegetables!” I remarked indignantly.

During those long nine months, I learned how to cook out of necessity, but then I never left the kitchen because I caught the cooking bug. It was – and still is – fascinating to me that ingredients can be combined and manipulated to create such different and delicious dishes. The more my sister and I cooked, the more Mom seemed to like it too – maybe because she finally had company in the kitchen.

Over the years Mom has taught me many valuable lessons about food preparation and serving. These had a profound impact on how I now cook for my own family. Here are some of them:

1. If you are not sure what to prepare, put on a pot of rice and start chopping an onion.

Mom’s philosophy was that this is the basis of most recipes, so you might as well get something started and then figure out what you’re making.

2. Cook based on what you have in the fridge and pantry.

Mom didn’t plan meals or buy special ingredients. She was given the same staples each week, with specials or clearance items for a change, and then squeezed 6-7 dinners out of what she had. Meals were always based on what needed to be consumed first. My sister and I became adept at examining the pantry and refrigerator and listing all the possible meals that could be prepared. (It’s actually a fun game… and yes, we’re that cool.)

3. There is always a substitute ingredient.

We grew up in the woods, half an hour’s drive from the discount store where we shopped weekly. That meant we had to make do with what we had. No yogurt? Acidify some milk with vinegar. No vinegar? Use a lemon. No sugar? Try maple syrup or honey. No white flour? use whole grains. Or grind up some almonds. Mom taught us to be fearless, to think outside the box, not hesitate to try new combinations, and to use ingredients with similar textures to substitute for ingredients we ran out.

4. You can make everything from scratch.

Growing up in a very frugal, rural household, we didn’t have access to many store-bought goodies, so we learned to make them instead. Cookies, cakes, potato chips, donuts, caramel popcorn, milkshakes, popsicles — we only get these things when we’ve made them from scratch. The same was true for other staples like bread, scones, tortillas, naan and bagels, and condiments like curry powder, harissa, barbecue sauce, etc. It taught me not to assume that something needs to be bought, but rather to question how first it could be done.

© K Martinko – Family eating hot soup in a cold cabin during the Christmas holidays… Mom’s idea, of course!

5. Create a repertoire.

In the early years, before she had a large cookbook collection or access to fancier ingredients, Mom would cook the same dishes over and over again. Minestrone soup, pea soup, mac’n’cheese, homemade pizza, chicken baked in honey, and several Greek dishes she learned to make as a teenager on the island of Crete (moussaka, avgolemono soup, spanakopita) were all in heavy rotation.

As a child, I found solace in that repetition. Children love intimacy; They like to know what’s for dinner and anticipate its flavor. And there’s a lot to be said for perfecting recipes and teaching people to associate them with you. In this way, they acquire greater importance.

6. Presentation matters.

Mom always insisted that presentation was half the appeal of a meal. She placed rice pilafs on platters and garnished them with parsley and sliced ​​tomatoes, or poured boiling soup into a large pottery tureen to serve. I hated washing the extra dishes but it made a more elegant meal. She has always insisted on setting a nice table, lighting candles and sitting together as a family – and these are rituals that I have continued with my children. It makes dinner an occasion we all enjoy.

7. Food is the best gift.

I have so many memories of balancing pans of sticky buns and glasses of hot soup on my lap while Mom drove to drop them off at someone’s house. She always delivered food to friends who had fallen ill, had a baby, or as a thank you. She also gave food in the form of hospitality and invited people to our home several times a week to eat together. “There’s always room for one more,” was her philosophy, and that’s something I try to emulate (though I sometimes marvel at her ability to attract eccentrics!).

8. No special meals.

Mom had a zero-tolerance policy on picky food. My siblings and I ate what was served, no questions asked. This arose from necessity—they were short on money and couldn’t squander it on special meals—and from the strong Mennonite “don’t waste, don’t want” philosophy she was raised with. Children should eat what adults eat, she stressed. I have maintained this philosophy with my own children and it has worked well.

It was interesting to see how Mom’s attitude towards cooking has evolved over the years. Now she runs a wood fired pizza company with my sister and brothers during the summer months and loves it! I’ve never seen such enthusiasm in the kitchen before.

Also, she regularly cooks gourmet dinners for herself and my father at home, which still surprises me. What has changed? She told me it was the lack of pressure of not having to put food on the table to feed four hungry children in a limited time frame. She didn’t enjoy cooking would have to do, but now it’s more about creative expression.

I will be eternally grateful to my mom for everything she taught me in the kitchen – so thanks mom for reading this. And now can I teach you a quick lesson? Please add more salt!

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