Learning to Cook

The first food I ever learned to make was a scrambled egg in the microwave. I was probably about four years old. My mom gently taught me how to crack the egg into a bowl, use a fork to break up the yolk, and tear up slices of individually wrapped American cheese into the bowl. We used an old, ugly microwave with a dial that wasn’t really very precise at all instead of buttons. She told me to set it to about 1 minute and in approximately 60 seconds I had made my first meal.  My mom used to call eggs “nature’s fast food.”

For most of my childhood I didn’t really need to know how to cook anything beyond eggs.  My lovely, good Jewish mother would always make sure we had snacks, that there was always food in the fridge, and that we had a good lunch and dinner. She always made time for food. I think it’s the best way she knows to take care of people, plus I know that she loves to feed people. I was so lucky to have her.

I would “help” my mom bake all the time. My mom had been compiling recipes into books since before I was born and I would sit on the counter and gaze at the tattered, stained pages of cookbooks that had been flipped through over and over, not yet old enough to comprehend my mother’s beautiful, messy script. I would lick the spoon when she wasn’t looking, sweet, sticky chocolatey brownie batter or just plain butter and sugar before she even added the egg. I grew up with home-baked cakes, brownies, cookies, bread, sweet scents engulfing me and the heat of the oven spreading throughout the house. Every time it snowed you can bet my mom would be making cookies.

Years later, I was about 14 years old and my parents were out for dinner. I decided I wanted to make muffins. Though of course at this point I knew how to read, my mom’s script is still difficult to comprehend at times, and this was one of those times. The recipe called for cream of tartar, which I had never heard of before, and I swear I thought I needed cream of “tantan.” I couldn’t find it anywhere. I didn’t know what it was. I had stupidly already started the recipe before checking to ensure I had all the ingredients, so I began worriedly texting my mom.

“mom whats cream of tantan? or tartan maybe? do we have it?”

“i cant find it anywhere”

“mom”

“moooooom”

In hindsight, of course, that was not only annoying, but she was probably busy and I was interrupting her. After ten minutes of anxiously waiting she responded with “Do you mean cream of tartar? We should have some”

Checking the spice cabinet (which my mother had cleverly organized alphabetically) this time with the correct name in mind, I quickly found cream of tartar. My quest to make muffins was back on track. “oh found it thank you” I texted to my mother.

The muffins came out mediocre. I probably got the proportions wrong. When my parents came home to the scent of warm muffins, though, my mom told me that that was the first time in 20 years that she had come home to something freshly baked. The pride and happiness that filled me from the thought of giving someone else that pleasure through food got me hooked on cooking. Nothing makes me happier than feeding others. It’s the best way I know to take care of people.

 

The Specific Carbohydrate Diet

One night, my dad came home from the doctor with a new diet. His cancer was stable, but his digestive system was reeling from all the abuse it endured during the treatment and even months afterwards he was having severely painful digestive trouble, so he was willing to try anything. He had been put on a diet called the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, or SCD, which was mainly intended for those with Crohn’s disease and IBS. He couldn’t eat any starches at all, nor dairy or anything with added sugar (you’d be surprised what that can include). It was dinnertime. My mother had to cook him something.

My mother takes pride in her cooking skills– she’s an amazing cook and it’s how she takes care of people. She sends me home-baked bread while I’m here at school and she bakes cookies whenever it snows. She feeds people to show them she loves them and she takes pride in making amazing, beautiful food. She didn’t know what to do with this diet though. My dad was hungry and she had no pre-made food that complied with his diet.

She helplessly threw some ground meat in a pan with some spices and veggies and maybe a tiny bit of cheese and served it to my dad, who was exhausted from a day at a hospital an hour’s drive away. It honestly looked like dog food. My dad ate it in his room. When I went in to talk to him, he looked pathetic. I’ve seen him bedridden, I’ve seen him puking into a trashcan for days, I’ve seen him sedated and unconscious for a week. I’ve never seen him more pathetic-looking and I’ve never seen my mother more helpless. The one thing she had control over, the best thing she knew to do to take care of someone, had been robbed from her. My dad couldn’t even have any decent food. It broke my heart. That truly, to me, felt like rock bottom.

“Clocklet milk”

When I was young, about 4 years old, my parents would make me chocolate milk (which I would pronounce “clocklet milk”) before bed. They would put it in a sippy cup and heat it up in the microwave. It wasn’t anything fancy, just Nesquik and milk. I remember sitting on my dad’s lap, my little sister across from me on his other lap as he rocked in the rocking chair in my parents’ bedroom, drinking warm chocolate milk as my dad told us a story he would make up off the top of his head. I would be warmed inside and out, by my dad’s embrace from the outside and the hot drink on the inside. Warm drinks in your hands supposedly simulate the warmth of another person. With the warmth of my father enveloping me on top of that, it was safety and sleepy comfort and home. My dad is gone now–he passed away last month–but his warmth and the warmth of a hot drink will forever be intertwined in my memories.