KEYS TO THE KITCHEN
It’s exciting. Like the prospect of living in a different place. Or acquiring a new tool that expands what you can do. What I’m talking about here is the new role I’m taking on in our family. The responsibility for food-buying and meal preparation. From now on, they’re up to me.
If I’d been looking, I might have seen this day coming, since I’ve been doing more of the shopping and cooking in recent years. One of the reasons for that division of labor is simple fairness toward my partner. Another is wanting to cook the way I want to eat--a diet more, though not exclusively, focused on plants and grains. And the last part is catch-up: I want to feel less like an interloper in the kitchen, more adept, more capable, more knowing.
This focus on cooking and feeding is not second nature to me, and it's come late. But then, when you consider my upbringing, it's amazing that it arrived at all.
My mother, like most of her sisters and friends, considered herself an emancipated career woman of a young century (the 20th). She was one of a group of independent-minded seamstresses, secretaries and bookkeepers who vowed they wouldn't be chained to a stove.
But with my mother, this wasn't just kitchen politics. As a single parent and sole breadwinner, she had no time to worry about more than simple nutrition. Everything was boiled or broiled and effectively drained of all taste or texture.
As the child of poor immigrants used to the cheapest cuts of meat and the lowest grade produce, she did what she had been taught to do: cook everything to death, so it couldn't kill you. Salt was the only seasoning; mayonnaise and mustard the only other additives. If what emerged from the pot or the oven actually tasted good, that was a bonus.
The result is that I grew up with a taste for very dull, very plain food whose main virtue is that it's reasonably healthy. My wife Ellen and my friend Joe Leo got me to take a few faltering steps beyond that sorry state. I hope this new role as sole food-getter and -preparer will prompt a great leap forward in the kitchen and on the table.