I have often talked about the importance of cooking with love. It is that secret ingredient which people seem to be able to taste in your cooking. However, I have found that love without humility seems to affect the outcome of the dish. One of my favorite stories about this is told by Mary Beth Crain. She tells the story of making a dish for her mother which she should not have been eating as it was not a diabetic friendly dish.
I feel, however, that I must issue a warning: cooking with love doesn’t always bring great results. Over the holidays I got an old American Home Magazine from 1937, in which I found, of all things, an ad for Royal Baking Powder featuring a recipe from none other than the mother of famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart. For some odd reason I was entranced by the tinted color photo of white-haired old Mother Earhart, looking maternal and saintly, presenting her beautiful platter of fried chicken, gravy and biscuits made with foolproof Royal Baking Powder. The promo read, “’Amelia’s Favorite Dish is My Fried Chicken and Biscuits!’ Says the Mother of the World’s Most Famous Woman Flyer.”
I think I was intrigued for three reasons. The first was that the issue was dated March, 1937, two months before Amelia Earhart’s fateful final flight. What a collector’s item!
The second was that the food looked scrumptious. And the third was that Mother Earhart looked like the embodiment of the loving cook. Damn, that ad worked! Suddenly, although I’d never made either fried chicken or biscuits in my life, I had to make Mrs. Earhart’s.
I invited my own mother over for the grand occasion. I was so excited! That afternoon I cooked with love, joy and anticipation. I coated the chicken with flour and egg and prepared it just the way Mother Earhart said to—frying it in oil first, and then cooking it over a low flame for 45 minutes to an hour. I made the biscuits, and then it was time for the gravy, which was to be made from the chicken drippings.
Well. The drippings were black and burned, the gravy turned out gray and revolting, and some of the chicken was still slightly red inside, even after an hour’s cooking. The biscuits were OK, but nothing to write home about. The only thing that was edible was the frozen corn that I’d nuked.
I had never before in my life made such a total, unmitigated disaster of a meal. Even my Chihuahua, Truman, turned up his nose at the chicken and stared at me as if to say, “And WHAT the HELL is THIS?”
“This corn is delicious!” my mother kept saying, as she pushed the rest of the meal to the far end of the plate. “And the chicken is very good too.”
“No it isn’t!” I snapped. “It’s disgusting!”
“Well, it isn’t your best,” she agreed.
At least there was dessert to look forward to—my famous pumpkin cognac pie. This is a pumpkin pie made with four eggs, heavy whipping cream, condensed milk, pecans, spices, candied ginger and cognac. To die for. I’d been making it for, like, 20 years. Only this time it turned out too heavy on the cognac.
“This pie is sort of bitter,” my mother announced tactfully.
I couldn’t figure out how the whole thing happened. Me, the great cook, creating such a fiasco. I finally decided that maybe God had decided to spare us. High food consciousness or not, that meal would have put our cholesterol on Mars.
There is a happy ending to my night of humiliation, though. I decided to bake the chicken for another hour, and it turned out great. Then I threw out the gravy and made one of my own, using a white sauce, paprika, salt, pepper and country sausage. It was a definite improvement and I re-served the meal to friends with happy results.
Anyway, the next time you’re making dinner, try adding the extra ingredients of love, joy and gratitude, with a dash of humility thrown in. Treat the food and all your utensils with love and respect. Work slowly and serenely, and meditate on all you have, and all you are about to give. Involve your kids in the process, too. Serve the meal with a big smile, say grace or have a moment or two of silence before you eat, and remember Sri Chinmoy’s words:
“Because food is life and life is God, both food and God are one.”