“You can’t just put the pot on the stove and then walk away!” Clare unceremoniously admonished me very early on in our relationship. “You can’t cook and write a letter all at once.”
“Why not, the water boils by itself,” I answered, put in my place, feeling like you know what.
“Because you need to stir the noodles otherwise they turn into a clump of glue and you also need to watch the beans which don’t take as long as the pasta. Cooking is not just heating up a bunch of stuff. Cooking is, playing, feeling, tasting, experimenting, spicing and above all: timing !”
“Timing,” I said, feeling confident once again, furtively glancing at my watch. “I’ll set the timer to exactly what it says in the instructions. No need to watch the clock, dear.” Looks of exasperation were my just reward.
“Timing relates to everything being ready together. You cook the potatoes and the meat together, have the salad washed and prepped and make sure it’s all ready together.”
It took a while but I finally figured it out. As I slowly fell in love with cooking Clare gently stepped away from the stove, leaving me in charge of the kitchen. I gathered recopies from my mom, my sister who is to this day a gourmet cook and I also started to invent my own dishes and discovered a latent talent to improvise. I became especially good at leftover cooking, probably as much from necessity as design. I can whip up a salad out of a tomato, a leftover baked potato, some onions, a half dozen olives and some oil and balsamic vinegar. I concoct pasta sauces and pizzas out of garlic, bacon and basil or peppers, tomatoes, salami and cheese. Anything goes in my kitchen now and I dare anybody to call me an idiot while I soak the old bread under the water tap and then re-bake it in the oven. It will be just like fresh from the bakery. Which reminds me of a proverb my dad quoted every time we kids wrinkled our noses about the day old bread.
“Old bread is not hard but no bread is hard!” I guess you had to be in the war to appreciate not just the finer things in life but also the ordinary.
I also discovered that cooking is like lovemaking – both require passion, playfulness and attention to details and both go better with music. A slow stew simmers along to the blues, a sizzling steak cooks fast like rockn’roll and enchiladas turn out better with Latin rhythm. I listen to a lot of Lila Downs while chopping tomatoes, peppers and cilantro. For soups I prefer a little reggae and salads go well with country music.
In cooking, as in religion, there are commandments, meaning there are definite do-not-do’s or cardinal sins. I only adhere to three of these:
# 1: Do not overcook unless it’s a stew
# 2: Do not drown unless it’s a soup
# 3: Do not serve cold unless it’s a salad
There are exceptions. For example: you cannot overcook eggplant and there are occasions like parties where cooked food like salmon or roast can be served cold. And there are cold soups like gazpacho or warm salads like potato salad.
The main thing about cooking is that somebody appreciates the results. That’s why cooking is what brings people together, what builds memories and no celebration is complete without food. Lucky for me Clare is the most appreciative benefactor or my cooking skills. She always compliments me, never complains and always eats what I concoct. Happiness is good food and sharing it with the people you love.