It is more than just about the food~
For me, cooking has always been about more than just the finished product on a plate. It is about the journey you take while getting to that plate.As a child, my mom got up every morning and cooked my breakfast. Sometimes, it was as simple as pouring cereal into a bowl or as involved as making pancakes shaped like animals. She really had it easy after a while because the only animal I ever wanted was Mickey Mouse. But still, she cooked for me. Those silent, intimate early morning moments of sitting at the kitchen table while she stirred the cooking oatmeal are burned deep into my memory. As a child, those moments are never realized for they are until much later in life; however, for a child they do provide solace and comfort. Of course, as soon as my brother and sisters woke up and shuffled or bounded into the kitchen turning on the AM radio to WLS (www.wlshistory.com), the mood was destroyed—but never forgotten.
My great-grandmother (Big Gram) used to cook for us when we visited her in Ohio. All of our favorite desserts were prepared in anticipation of our arrival, and after crawling out of the car, crippled by the eight hour drive inside the overly-packed family station wagon, we couldn’t hobble up her limestone front steps fast enough to get to the kitchen. She always prepared my dad’s favorite foods—simple, unassuming dishes that, no doubt, made him feel like the prodigal son returned home.
The local Methodist church up the hill from my childhood home offered neighborhood summer programs to occupy our time and get us out from under our mom’s feet for more than two seconds. Most of us in the neighborhood weren’t Methodist and I doubt that most of the kids cared at all about the subjects or activities that were offered. It was just something to do. One summer, a cooking class was offered. Trust me, it wasn’t Julia Child or Emeril, and I think the hardest thing we ever did was open cans and jars. Wait, I do remember making a cake or maybe it was brownies. Hmmm. Regardless, I really enjoyed that class. I liked the idea of creating something that I could share with other people, even if it did involve a can of creamed soup.
For a brief time after college, I worked for a manufacturing company in customer service. The second floor administrative department had a holiday covered-dish lunch during the week of Thanksgiving where the company provided the turkey and drinks, and all of the employees would sign up to bring their most prized covered-dishes to round out the meal. I signed up for GRAVY that year, not because it was a category on the list—but because it WASN’T on the list. I was horrified that we were going to be fed turkey with all the holiday trimmings and there was going to be no gravy. How can anyone eat mashed potatoes, dressing, and Thanksgiving turkey without gravy? NO GRAVY. How could anyone be thankful for that? I made gravy for 200 people that year. Don’t ask.
In 2005, I lived with an Italian family in Viterbo, Italy, and took cooking lessons from Nonna, the grandmother—another culinary milestone in my life. That experience is what my book is about. This November, it will be complete enough to starting sending queries to literary agents. I’ll let you know the progress of that process as it unfolds.
I had so much fun in 2005 that when Richard and I went back to Italy in 2007 with his nephew, Paul, and his nephew’s wife, Rachel, I made sure that they got a taste of what an Italian cooking lesson is all about. The agriturismo (http://www.italylogue.com/agriturismo ) that we stayed in just outside of Castellina in Chianti (http://www.castellina.com/history.htm ) was charming. They had vineyards and olive groves that they harvested to produce their own wine, extra-virgin olive oil, and honey, too. (I forgot to mention that they had bees.) I secretly arranged with the owner’s wife, Giuliana (Julianna), to have her give us a cooking lesson. Giuliana did not speak any English but she arranged for her daughter to be there and help translate. Her English was much better than my Italian and between the two of us the language barrier was overcome.
With the guidance of Giuliana and her daughter, we prepared a torte with Limoncello (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limoncello ), skewered pieces of chicken and lamb seasoned with salt, pepper, and fresh sage were roasted over a fire in the dining room fireplace, and we made fresh pasta. Paul was really excited about roasting the meat on a rotisserie over hot wood coals in the fireplace—he loves to grill. We had great fun with our household aprons on. Giuliana and her daughter got a big laugh out of seeing the three of us men in women’s aprons. I think Paul would have worn a dress in order to cook meat in the fireplace.
We laughed and had a great lesson, which was only topped by the three-hour dinner with Giuliana’s family and friends on their farm (http://www.tuscanenterprises.com/index.php?p=dettaglio_immobile&l=eng&cod=040102). Our lesson tasted better than we imagined—that may have been helped by the bottomless glasses of the family’s wine we drank. We had new friends in this foreign land—all brought together by the journey to the plate.
If you have the chance to cook with or for someone you love, I suggest you do it. The time spent will be worth more than gold—and the memory will be priceless.