“I was 32 when I first started cooking; up until then, I just ate”- practical words by Julia Child, popular television chef and author. I can relate, but unlike her, I was 26 when I showed an interest in the culinary side of life. Up until then, I just enjoyed being the taste tester and bottle washer.
Growing up in Kenya, we had an abundance of fresh foods. Mum was an exceptional cook, and we enjoyed every dish that she prepared. I recall Dad’s words till today “Learn from your Mother, you will live to regret it if you don’t”. But I paid no heed to his advice, and sailed through my early teens and twenties just about learning to make a decent cup of tea and toast. When I lived in a flat in London, England in the early 70’s, I was young and carefree and had no desire to be in the kitchen. After a hard day’s work I was happy to open up frozen meals – fish fingers, pork pies and mushy peas were the norm.
Fast forward 5 years later in Toronto, Canada, I shared an apartment with a room mate, and it was around then that I developed an interest in cooking. We cooked together and tried various recipes. When I married in 1980 at the age of 29, I would say I was still cooking by trial and error, but ever since then persisted, and to date, (tooting my own horn here), I’m not too bad after all :). Stay with me to learn the progress of my culinary skills.
Over the years, we’ve enjoyed having folks over to break bread, our biggest gathering was around Christmas time. We’d invite around 30-40 people, I did all the cooking myself, and at no time did anyone suffer from food poisioning :). I later learned to accept offers from friends, if they insisted on contributing to the menu. I loved to plan the dishes I had hoped to serve, it was a complex task trying to figure out what meats and greens would go together, pairing wines with seafood, red meat etc. The photos below display just some of the dishes that I came up with.
On a trip to Madrid a few years ago, I fulfilled a wish I had hoped to experience, and that was taking a cooking lesson in a different country. I had signed up with 4 other tourists to learn to make paella and sangria. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the 4 other participants did not show up, so I had the pleasure of a private lesson with the chef. When I got back to the USA, I wanted to practice what I had learned, so invited a group of friends to sample Spain’s national dish. Here is a picture of the authentic paella pan that was given to me as a souvenir from the kitchen in Madrid, and the finished product for my friends.
With today’s resources at one’s fingertips, it is so easy to follow recipes, like watching the Food Network for inspiration, beautifully illustrated recipe books, or even teaching oneself various cuisines of the world. That is exactly what I did when I learned the art of sushi making. I first trawled the internet, my iPad on the kitchen counter searching YouTube videos for step-by-step instructions. At first I thought it would be hard to follow as I’d seen it prepared at various sushi places and have to confess, I felt a bit intimidated. I did however succeed , I love sushi, and what better way of enjoying it, than trying it at home and tweaking it to suit one’s own taste buds? Here’s my first attempt.
I pretty much taught myself how to bake too, if at first you don’t succeed, then try and try again, and that has been my motto all through my cooking expeditions. I baked these miniature cheesecakes with a gingersnap crumb base for my daughter Carol who has a birthday a few days before Christmas, hence the Charlie Brown Christmas tree. I have quite a weakness for desserts, but the only time I bake now is when I have friends over or our girls come home for a visit.
I have really enjoyed the joys of cooking and teaching myself new and innovative ways in the kitchen. I would never have thought that these aspirations would have crossed my mind, given my lack of enthusiasm when I first learned to boil an egg. All I can say is if Dad were still around, he’d have been mighty proud of me.