Monday, February 8, 2010

An F in Cooking

I have been cooking since I was in the 7th grade. My maternal grandfather had a serious heart attack right before school was to let out that summer. My mother needed to go to Florida and help take care of him for the next month or so. My dad could not take his vacation for that long, so he, my brother and myself would stay in Huntsville while mother went to Orlando. We really couldn't expect Daddy to cook for us, as he only had one hand that worked. His right arm had been shot off in WWII. It was re-attached but he never really had any use of it after that. Cooking was definitely out. I would be expected to take over these duties pronto.

Mother bought me a small card index file and recipe cards before she left and we spent several hours plotting out the dynamics of my new cooking career. She gave me the meal plans for each day and we wrote out the recipes and cooking instructions on how to complete meals. Mother was an excellent cook and she gave me directions that were a sure no fail if followed as per her details. Back then we did not have microwaves to defrost, so she even spelled out exactly what time of day to take out the frozen meat to be prepared for dinner that evening. She thought of every detail and I jotted them down on the cards. I kept this card index all these years and only recently gave it to my daughter for her to use too.

Thus I began my culinary career by preparing the dinner meals for my dad, brother and myself that summer. We all survived and they definitely seemed to enjoy my cooking right off. The more I practiced and followed mother's cards, I seemed to get better and better at cooking and developed a real interest in it.

When mother returned home, we began working on cooking projects together that grew in complexity and I excelled in cooking more and more. We even took a Wilton cake decorating course and made birthday cakes for people. My mother could do just about anything she set her mind to and she always encouraged me to try new things too.

I loved experimenting with new recipes and especially international foods. I can't say that I didn't have some failures, but practice makes perfect. I once tried to fix a chicken curry dish for my first husband and nephew. I misread the recipe for the curry and put in 1 T instead of 1 t. Boy was that a huge mistake. The smell alerted everyone that this might not be something they should try. As I was entering the dining room, I heard my young nephew asking his uncle if they really were going to have to eat this. I knew then we would be going out for burgers right away.

But my experience grew and I seemed to really perfect most attempts that I made from pastries, beef wellington, barbeque, cooking fresh lobsters to you name it. I have grown my own vegetables and canned them. I have made jellies, preserves, homemade bread and any type of desserts, candies, cookies and cakes that you might want to experience.

I have always enjoyed all aspects of cooking from selecting the recipes, shopping for the ingredients, using unique cookware and the final presentations. I specially designed and remodeled the kitchen in my last house to accomodate all of the latest appliances and tools that one might need for a pseudo-gourmet cook. I loved my kitchen and the wonderful cooktop, double ovens, convection oven and side by side refrig. This kitchen and my wonderful screen porch were the two rooms in our home that I loved and spent the most time in. I was most desperately saddened to leave them when we moved.

Needless to say, this newer house which is only 7 years old, has a nice enough kitchen but was built with contractor grade appliances, cabinets and countertops. This has been a huge adjustment to revamp my style of cooking with. Since I have been here these past 6 months, I have had one cooking disaster after another. I can't seem to get adjusted to the heating and cooking time of the range and the oven. The microwave also cooks way to fast and I usually end up way over cooking anything that I am just trying to heat up. The dishwasher howls as it washes the dishes and they never really seem to come out sparkling and clean. I am in a total dilemma about what to do with this kitchen. Everything is too new to just scrap and replace and besides that would be a huge investment again.

Now I am hoping that it is just that these appliances are my nemisis and I will soon get accustomed to using them properly and instead not losing all my cooking abilities! Poor Andy is getting tired of eating bread that is way to hard and meat that is always too tough not to mention the expense of throwing away much of what I prepare.

Tonight was the worst yet. I caught some sweet potatoes on fire in the microwave. The smoke detectors began howling and smoke was billowing out of the bottom of the microwave and all out into the kitchen. This house has a 20 foot ceiling in the foyer right off the kitchen so it quickly filled up with smoke and billowed over the railings into the upstairs bedrooms.

Once I got the burning potatoes out of the microwave and threw them out onto the back porch, I ran and begin turning on ceiling fans and opening doors and windows to try and get rid of the smoke. It was just at this time that I also noticed that it had begun snowing again like a blizzard and the house now was not only filled up with smoke but the cold air was racing in too. I had a magazine racing around trying to fan out the smoke when Andy walked in to this wonderful welcome home atmosphere.

Once all the smoke was under control, we tried to salvage what was left of the meal to eat. I am really second guessing myself and my cooking skills. Right now I should definitely get an F and my cooking report card. Take out is looking better and better.