Sunday, July 6, 2008

The way to a man's heart...

"The way to a man's heart is through his stomach."
John Adams Richard Ford, Miss Mulock and Fanny Fern have all contributed to this quote. The last three changed it. Whoever the source, it was one of my mother's favorite saying but her adaptation was: "You may get his attention with your looks but you will keep him with the way you cook." and "A man wants a good meal on the table when he comes home tired."
Alas, where was the romance in her words? Nowhere, but though at fifteen I didn't want to hear things like that, I know a shared love of good food provides part of the glue that holds a marriage together.
I dared not say anything like that to my daughter, who's reply would probably be: "We share everything fifty fifty." Luckily, she married a young man who though he had never cooked a thing before he was married, took to cooking like a duck to water and is now a chef in the kitchen. My daughter for her fifty percent shops for the food, preps it for him and washes up, plus takes care of a two year old and a four year old.
Our son in law takes after his parents, who are both GREAT at whatever they cook.
HD (Hubby Dearest) who had lived abroad for a good many years before we were married and a good cook himself showed me the ropes initially. He was relieved I liked cooking.
I had come equipped with a cookbook of family recipes and those copied from the blackboard at cooking school for four years, and some practical experience. In my mind's eye, I still see my first cooking mentors: my mother getting me to help the cook in the kitchen at home and setting the greatest example by throwing her energy into the making of consistently wonderful dishes,, Sister Rita Mary with her blue eyes twinkling when we did things right in cooking class, Miss Rane, the teacher who came after Sister Rita Mary, urging us on to becoming better cooks, my sister giving me her recipes, and a favorite aunt who's hands worked magic in the kitchen while she labored over a wood stove. The list isn't done without one more great example and inspiration: Joan, an English lady, married my brother in law's brother, a South Indian. They met in England while in college and after they married they lived in India for some time and then came to the States. By the time I came out Joan had learned to cook every single Indian dish possible. She made them like a pro, planning her meals so work and raising her family, didn't come in the way of the full meal she produced every night: rice,chappattis, two veggies, a non-veg dish, rasam and curd. She's kept this tradition up for years, making it seem like such an easy feat. More remarkable than all this: At festivals, she makes the appropriate Indian sweets for each festival, while I place fruits and an apology in front of the Gods. Her husband, Prabhakar Bawa has inspired her with his love for, appreciation of and interest in good food. I can discuss any recipe with him and he will try to trace it for me on the Internet/through his records. Together they collect and record her recipes and share them generously with all of us.
Joan showed me how to cook one day a week for the rest of the week so she's the originator of the idea for my Food Bank too. She rushed out and bought me my first tawa (flat iron pan) and kadai (frying pan), when she heard HD had told my mother we get EVERYTHING here and not to send anything with me. She was the first one who told me the truth...there wouldn't be much available in the way of Indian ingredients in the small town I was going to.
Joan and Prabhakar've certainly helped me on this road.

During my early years here I honed my basic skills with daily practice. Urgent letters were sent home with requests for recipes. Frequent references were made to my cookbook till I became more confident. A sister-in-law's visit, during which time she and I cooked all HD (Hubby Dearest's) family recipes, gave me an idea of the dishes he had grown up with.
Nowadays,my interest is fed by friends, cooking shows and these blogs I love where I can find any recipe I want or could possibly think of and more. I cannot make as many as I would like to, but I still love collecting them.


Cynthia said...

That is the thing I like about cooking, it is a communal thing where we learn from so many people throughout our lives. said...

Yes Cynthia and it's a common bond too among people...the universal interest in food.
As an army brat, I can't remember a station we were posted in, where my mother did not exchange recipes with ladies from all over wonder that our meals were always a blend of Indian dishes from all over India not just South Indian dishes...with English additions of baked dishes, biscuits and desserts.