For the Love of Cooking

I love to cook. I suppose it’s one of the best things I got from my mother: the knack for cooking good food and the right food at the right time.

When I was a child, I helped my mother with the cooking. Okay, the truth is that my mother worked, and from the time I was about 10 years old, I cooked dinner for the whole family three times a week. By myself. And at holidays? I was practically an indentured servant for the two huge holiday parties my mother always put on.

At the time, I was not a fan. I mean, what 10-year-old girl in her right mind would rather be cooking dinner than playing with her friends? And my mother was exacting; it had to be a complete meal: meat/fish/protein, grain, green vegetable, yellow or orange fruit or vegetable, and salad. Every night.

But, boy did I learn to cook a meal and cook it well:

  • The rabbit, that I didn’t want to cook, but it was there for me to prepare for dinner. (Julia Child led me through her recipe, and she’s been my friend ever since.) When I tried to refuse to eat it at the meal, my mother replied: “The French eat it, you were born in France, you can eat it, pretend it’s chicken if you have to.”
  • The family recipe for creamed spinach and bacon casserole that broke the blender every Christmas Eve (not to be confused with the Cranberry Ice family recipe that we made every Christmas Day with the new blender we bought late on Christmas Eve). Some of my best memories of my mother are when we laughed as conspirators in the kitchen every year.
  • The best (and simplest to make) baked macaroni and cheese you’ll ever taste, that my own kids adore.
  • The one-pot-meals we made on camp stoves in rustic kitchens in Kenya (yes, they still met all the food group specifications).
  • The knowledge that I can make a nutritious, complete, and delicious meal out of a crazy empty refrigerator.

I also collect recipes, especially recipes that remind me of people. When I make the recipes of my mother’s, I sense her in the kitchen, stirring whatever’s in the pot with the tip of her paring knife (her famous cooking technique).

But in addition to my mother, I think of others whose recipes I’ve collected:

  • Carolyn’s Krautburgers—that always remind me of sitting on her deck in Colorado, watching her dogs romp through the fields and laughing for hours with a wonderful friend!
  • Tatjana’s delicious pumpkin swirl cake and muffins. Lunch of bagels with melted cheese and tossed salad with garlic vinaigrette, followed by Cassis liqueur and conversation that goes on until dusk (and truth be told, you never want to end).
  • Aunt Marsha’s matzo ball soup and potato latkes—both melt in your mouth—served with generous portions of love, affection, and dancing at holidays.
  • Ramon’s beans and rice—simple to make, delicious, and utterly nutritious—from a high school friend’s friend from Mexico. Now a family favorite.
  • My Russian grandmother’s stuffed cabbage; my Ohio grandmother’s black walnut cookies, made from nuts from the tree in her garden.

Each dish has a story, shared with deep love and affection. As I prepare them, I remember the cook who first made them for me. And I don’t know which is better, the taste or the memory. Both are equally delicious and nourishing.



p.s. What are the foods that bring back memories for you? Are there recipes or foods that remind you of people or places?