Guest blogger's thoughts on cooking

My sister is also a writer. Tonight she had one of those "writerly urges". Alas, she has no blog. Which is how it came to be that I have a guest blogger post tonight for your reading pleasure. Tra la la!!! Enjoy!

Joy's Thoughts on Cooking 

Before I became a mother, I was a pretty good cook. I used to make a mean herb roasted chicken; at the end of one dinner party my friend Amber, who called herself a vegetarian at the time, was left picking meat off of that bird’s carcass like a vulture.  I can also make a pound cake that will “put you in the mind of” your Great-Aunt Evie May’s.  I’m not saying it rivals hers or anything.  But it might just bring back the memory of that moist and buttery piece of heaven.   But since I became a mother, my cooking has mostly been limited to heating up chicken nuggets and peas.  Every now and then, I’ll cook a good meal, just to remind myself (and my husband) that I can.  (I was a good cook once, and I will be a good cook again.)1.

But this week, for some reason, all I want to do is cook.  I’m not quite sure what it is, but I think  part of it was of tasting this chicken cooked with cilantro in a restaurant last week. It reminded me that I really love cilantro and that I really need to cook something with it.  The other thing was that I rekindled my love affair with my iron skillet. 

Last week my husband made fried tilapia.  It was really good.  I’m not sure how he made it, but he likes to use Old Bay in seafood, and I think I detected it.  It was fried perfectly, all flaky but moist.  Crispy on the outside.  He used my iron skillet, and he didn’t wash the dishes for a while after (come to think of it, I believe I washed those dishes in the end.)  Somehow, leaving the oil sitting around in the skillet left that pan really nice and seasoned in a way that I could never get it in spite of all my best efforts.  It looked like one of my BigMama’s iron skillets.  I just had to cook in it.  So the next day, I decided to make Quesadillas.  Except I discovered that I didn’t have any tortillas, so I made some chicken the way I was planning to make the filling for the quesadillas.  I started with some thin sliced onions and sautéed them in olive oil with a little garlic. I didn’t rush them, but let them get good and caramelized.  I’d been marinating the chicken in what I thought was olive oil, lemon juice, salt & pepper and cumin and coriander.  Turns out, instead of grabbing the coriander, my hand had fallen on this spice mixture that my mother-in-law brought me from the spice market in Egypt.2.  It’s a blend of flavors I associate with Moroccan cooking – it has clove and/or allspice and/or cinnamon.   I served it over basmati with pico-de-gallo.  Call it fusion cuisine.
I’ve been cooking all week.  Tonight, I wanted something light.  I made this delicious salad Melody taught me how to make years ago – very simple, just tomatoes and basil and fresh mozzarella in balsamic vinegar with olive oil. The tomatoes came from my garden and they are a bit of perfection.  I have no time for gardening at all, but I am very lucky.  My husband has been fortifying our soil with compost for years.  At this point, I pretty much have to plant the tomatoes in the beautiful rich dirt and they grow like magic.  I found an hour to tie them up when they started getting out of control, and that’s about it.  (I was a good gardener once, and I’ll be a good gardener again…) I’ve never had such good tomatoes – bright red, sweet and flavorful.  I went out to the herb garden and cut the basil fresh.  Keeping an herb garden is really one of life’s great pleasures. It takes almost no time, and even if you rarely use the herbs, it’s worth it.  I have a rosemary bush that almost makes me cry it’s so gorgeous.  When it rains, you can smell the rosemary in the air.  If you have a square foot of dirt in your yard, you really need to plant some basil and rosemary.

So anyway, I was making this salad tonight.  The munchkin was walking around the kitchen, moving the rugs to positions more to his liking.  I was feeding him his dinner like that – he’d walk by and I’d put a bit of strawberry or peas in his mouth.3.  I gave him a little fresh mozzarella. Although I have to say I have some misgivings about getting a 17 month old addicted to expensive cheese, I just had to let him taste it.  It was incredible – I wanted the love of my life to share that flavor with me.

105053-947882-thumbnail.jpgReally, I think that’s why I’ve been cooking again.  It’s easy to get into the habit of coming home from work and heating up some pre-cooked food for him, but really, I want my child to grow up eating delicious home made goodness.  I want him to smell garlic and onions sautéing in olive oil, to run out to the garden for me and cut a sprig of rosemary. When he hears the word chicken, not to picture something that comes breaded in a freezer bag, but to conjure up the image of a bird stuffed with lemon and garlic and herbs, getting golden brown in its coating of butter.  I think I’m cooking for him.

  1. My husband and I used to cook really big meals together, but cooking with him is really an extreme sport.  You could easily lose an appendage, but it's pretty fun.
  2. That sentence is one of the cool things about being married to an Egyptian.  It sort of makes up for the hassle of going through airport security.  My mother-in-law introduced me to coriander, really.  I hadn’t cooked with it til she brought me some from the spice market and used its subtle deliciousness in many of her recipes.  Cusbara, they say in Arabic.  Since I didn’t have a lot of experience with it, it took me a while to realize that cusbara is coriander. 
  3. But aren’t you spoiling him by feeding him this way?  Shouldn’t you teach him to sit at the table and eat like a civilized baby?  OK, sure, I’m spoiling him.  Apparently, even he is aware of this; the babysitter reported today that she asked him “Who made you so rotten?” and he replied happily, “Mama!”  At least the child is eating.

Melody's note: this photo captures a hint of evidence that her wish will one day come true. Mr. Pie already loves to pick herbs and carry them around, smelling them intermittently.