A Story by Malati Marlene Shinazy
My mother was sufficiently committed to cooking that my father built her a kitchen cupboard to house a fifty-gallon rice storage drum.
My Grand Father (see, Grand Father’s Little Girl), whose career path included being Chief Chef on merchant ships, consistently served me works of art for breakfast: Cantaloupe skillfully separated from the rind, magically converted into a serving dish.
The most talented chef, however, was my maternal uncle Tony, who worked at a prestigious restaurant on San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. Watching him prepare holiday dinners was like watching a master conductor at the New York Philharmonic.
In college, the unspoken agreement was: my roommates cooked; I was responsible for the cleanup.
Alas, the goddess Nemesis entered my life when I married. My husband, a kitchen alchemist, created nutritious and visual lovely family meals seemingly out of nothing… To contrast, my pancakes looked horrifically asymmetrical, no resemblance to the cookbook images. These amorphously shaped blobs of dough were followed by similarly shaped cookies, biscuits, crab cakes, etc.
The first and only time I attempted to make mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner, I misread the cookbook and boiled too many potatoes. Uncle Tony rescued me. Even then, it took two gallons of milk to turn my clumps of potato cement into something resembling mashed potatoes … expecting them to be creamy would have required divine intervention.
Nemesis had indeed incurred her revenge. I became a defeated cook and retreated from the theatre of the kitchen.
Fortunately, my young children enjoyed helping me prepare the four dinner items I knew how to assemble: tacos, mac & cheese, steamed broccoli, spinach salad. As they matured, they each in turn became masters and I, the sous chef. Balance was restored to the world.
As my last child left for college, I developed compensatory tactics for nourishing myself: Non-fat plain yogurt and fresh fruit for breakfast, an ethnic restaurant for lunch, salads and the occasional sautéed tofu sandwich for dinner.
I learned how to scramble an egg because frying anything over-easy was beyond my skill set.
I think I’m sufficiently healed from the post-traumatic stress of my early cooking attempts, so I’ve decided to overcome this personal deficit and take tentative steps toward using, rather than just storing, the pots, pans, bowls, measuring spoons and whisks I own.
But first, a final offering to Nemesis… Recently, for a potluck party, I purchased a one-of-a-kind artist-signed cheese plate, Brie Mons Sire, a baguette and organic black raspberry preserves for guests to assemble.
Perhaps Nemesis has tired of her assault, will accept my humble gift, and allow me to join the world of the cooking.
photo by ndrwfgg