Cooking is not my forte. Not that I can’t cook, I just don’t enjoy it the way other people do.
My daughter, my sisters, my nieces, my mother, many of my friends (including sisters-in-law) all love to cook. How did I miss the lesson on loving cooking?
Perhaps when you grow up with six younger siblings, the process and preparation, not to mention the clean-up, of getting meals on the table becomes an ordeal 3x/day. Perhaps when helping your mother in the kitchen involves your doing the scullery maid activities, it’s the fun part you watch, not do.
But you would want me to be in your kitchen – I am an awesome assistant. Part of perfecting the scullery maid role was figuring out how to manage the list of tasks my mother issued. I kept her list of tasks in my head in the order in which they were received (yes, just like waiting on a phone queue); and I performed them in opposite order: doing the last item first and working up the list backwards, unless one item further up the list made sense to do before one later on the list. The goal was to figure out in what order a task “ought” to be done and then execute it at the proper time. Degree of success was determined by the number of commands issued only once.
When my sisters began to help in the kitchen, they, too, began to work the commands backwards. It was, however, my brainchild to perfect and share – which I did. If you could have see us when we still had Christmas at our parents’ home, you would have been awestruck by our ability to move around a large or small space, handing my mother ingredients and freshly washed measuring spoons just as she reached out her hand. She would frequently address someone by name to do a task, but we had the list, and the person for whom it made sense to do the task just did it. As long as it happened in the correct order, she really didn’t notice. We were a kitchen force to be reckoned with, a well oiled machine, monitoring Mother and each other. I hesitate to say it was like operating in a surgical suite (I don’t like that metaphor for obvious reasons), but I would liken it to a marching band creating beautiful images on the field while playing music.
All my younger sisters probably learned to love cooking for the reason that they were born #4, #5, and #6 of the seven of us (Cheryl Bobby Tommy Suzie Julie Molly Billy – yes, everybody else got an”y or ie” name but me – another story). As each succeeding child left home, there was more money for interesting ingredients and fewer people to feed. In other words, my sisters had more resources to experience cooking as an art, not as a chore. Suzie turned out to be a fabulous baker and pastry maven; Julie loves hosting dinner parties with hors d’oeuvres and fancy main dishes; Molly is the queen of desserts.
Cooking remains for me a job to get done in the most expeditious timeframe with the least number of pots, pans, bowls, and utensils as possible. What I did learn in the kitchen was an organizational skill that has allowed me to ‘cook with gas’ elsewhere to great success – in many places and in the context of the many roles I have held.
I will be doing what I do best in the kitchen this holiday season, assisting my daughter in her kitchen. My assisting her will be the reverse of what takes place in other homes over the holidays. In the kitchen, doing things in reverse IS my cooking art form.