Becoming a Cook

I have been cooking since I was a little girl.  One of my earliest food memories was when I was probably three or four, perhaps younger.  My mother would sit me on the kitchen floor or at the table with a pot of water and a spoon and tell me to stir.  Over time, ingredients slowly were added to my repertoire as my mother’s sous chef (that is not what she called me at the time).  I always loved baking with my mother.  I was not so crazy about cooking with her; I developed my interest in cooking as a survival technique as she was not the best cook.  However, I loved baking with her.  I remember how meticulous she was.  She had her dry measuring cups and her wet measuring cups and there was always a knife present as she prepared to bake one of her amazing creations like her lemon ricotta bobka cake or her rugelach.  I still make her lemon ricotta bobka cake today and it still fills the house with the same aroma I remember as a child.

Over the years, I have become increasingly comfortable in the kitchen.  I have never considered myself a chef, nor have I ever had any formal culinary training.  The most formal training I have gotten has come from watching the food network and from what I have learned through experience over the past 50 plus years of cooking.  While I knew there was much about food I did not know, I am not sure I realized how much I did not know until I began reading the section called Becoming a Cook in Deborah Madison’s cookbook, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

It was one of those humbling and brain dribbling experiences.  I found myself reading and rereading this chapter and knowing that I still had not absorbed all the information that she had included.  Some of it I knew.  Things like how one item can be referred to differently in different places.  Some of what she said made complete sense when she wrote about it.  For example, the importance of what she calls the intuitive process or what I call listening to your spirit.  Sometimes something might not seem as if it would or should go together, but if your spirit is telling you to try it, you should.  I remember an experience I had recently when I added some curry paste to a macaroni and “cheese” dish I had made using butternut squash.  I would never have thought about mixing butternut squash and curry paste.  However, once I did I realized I really liked the way it tasted.

One of the things this chapter made me realize is how important it is to think about the bigger picture.  So often in life, we stress about the small things, and lose sight of where and how it fits in the bigger picture.  Cooking is like that.  You have to think about all that is being prepared and what needs to be done for all the dishes and in what order. 

Sometimes in our journeys, we are in such a hurry to get to the end we lose sight of the importance of taking baby steps. Whether it is a cooking or spiritual journey, it is just that – a journey.  We master one thing at a time, one recipe at a time, one knife cut at a time, one spiritual discipline at a time.  It is all about the journey.

While I would like to immediately take in and fully understand everything she wrote about in this chapter, this is not going to happen over night.  I had to remind myself that she did not accumulate all this knowledge over night and I will not do so either.  So today, I am giving myself permission to grow, learn, and master one piece of knowledge, one skill, and one technique at a time.  After all, it really is all about the journey.

I have come to realize there is far more to vegetarian cooking then I realized.  My friends love what I cook and to be honest, I am not sure I ever really thought about how simplistic my food was and how much more I could be doing.  I never thought about what wines went with what vegetables or even how the taste of those vegetables changed depending on how and with what it was cooked.  While her list of what wines might go with what flavor combinations was helpful, it was also overwhelming.

For once, I found myself remembering what it must be like for some of my friends who feel overwhelmed making a simple salad.  In the midst of my excitement about what I am learning and the journey I am embarking on, I found myself having this greater sense of compassion for those I know who find being in the kitchen stressful and overwhelming.  It has been so long since I felt this way; I have forgotten what it might feel like for others.  It made me realize how important it is to remember what it is like to be the least of thee.  It made me think about the times my mother, grandmother and Bubby were patient with me as I learned from them.  Once again, I found myself at a place looking at my own journey and how important it is to meet people where they are.  Whether I am working on becoming a cook or becoming my authentic self, it is all about the journey and my willingness to embark on it.