*Originally posted February 24, 2006 on Letters
When I was a teen I wanted to learn to cook, and I did, badly. Later I learned from a neighbor to love Mexican food, so I started buying regional Mexican cookbooks. From there I gained an interest in all kinds of cuisines. I’ve quite the collection now, it even includes a Transylvanian cookbook. The recipe for sheepshead makes for good reading, but it will remain good reading, I ain’t cookin no sheepshead.
My mom cooked because she had to, not because she loved to, she had a family of nine to feed, and so her cooking was perfunctory at best, at the worst it was succotash. That was bad, but she loved it. Dad can manage in the kitchen and is at his best with the grill. I think that’s because it’s a really big power tool that cooks steak. My sisters can all cook, with varying degrees of skill and specialty, Jencha can make cake and pie, Martha is the goddess of the vegetable, Laura can do Sri Lankan curry and Camy can casserole anything, Annie can throw together a meal faster than anyone I know. My brother Fred loves to play in the kitchen. Because there were so many in my family, we had to cook, and we had to cook from scratch if we wanted something like cookies more than once in a blue moon, because we just didn’t have the extra money for bought cookies. I’m comfortable around raw ingredients and actually prefer to make things from scratch. I know how I want it to taste and can usually get there, occasionally failing, but mostly able to produce realiably edible meals.
Watching commercials and walking through the grocery store I’m constantly assulted (to me) by convenience foods. I’m glad they are available for the people who need them, but I worry that we are losing something wonderful to gain something questionable. Home cooked chocolate chip cookies are incredible, and incredibly easy, they contain no preservatives, only pure and happy ingredients and the difference is in the taste. They really don’t take much longer and are sooooooo much better. The same is true with roasted chicken, at least the taste part, that does take time and some know how. Not a ton of know how, just enough to know when the chicken is done. But seriously, even just rinse and thrown in the oven without any seasoning, no salt no nothing, the chicken is so much better than the bird with the bottled sauce in the plastic from the store.
Maybe it’s just me, maybe it’s that I can taste the preservatives and just don’t like that flavor, but it makes me sad to see how many boxes of waffles, cookies, pancakes, ready made rice, mashed potatoes and insta-bag meals are sold when I’m in the grocery store. I’m not advocating a 6 course French high cuisine meal. Just fresh happy ingredients, simply prepared in healthy portions, that’s all.