Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Recipes and the Critical Mom

I love fancy ones.  But I'm a Fannie Farmer cookbook kind of a gal.  My ideal is Ruth Reichl; my reality is somewhere between Peg Bracken and inspiration.  I'll take the tried-and-true cookies and banana bread and scones and cakes from Fannie Farmer--also the meatloaf, if we're still eating meat--and in a pinch I'll go very nineteen fifty-three and pour a can of Campbell's mushroom soup over four chicken breasts salted and peppered and paprika-ed and then a few fresh mushooms over that and then a container of heavy cream.  In the oven that goes at 375ºF (190ºC) for an hour.  When true guilt about cholesterol hits me I fry tofu in vegetable oil, drain it, stir fry bok choi or ming choi or any Chinese cabbage that looks good with baby corn cobs that have been boiled for five minutes, Chinese scallions, the kind that are really skinny, all with lots of finely chopped garlic and finely chopped fresh ginger.  Then throw the fried tofu back in, heat and stir, and at the very last minute add a few drips of very dark (the very aromatic kind) Sesame oil, and a dash or two of soy sauce.  Voila.  Forgot to mention you serve that with the Basmati rice you've been cooking.  It should be the very good kind, which means the kind you need to soak for half an hour before starting it boiling.  This kind of rice has a lovely aroma.  
Now, my mother hated cooking.  Following recipes meant some restriction on freedom that reminded her of her parents putting metal caps over her hands when she wanted to suck her thumbs.  They did that to babies in the olden days, and they put nasty stuff on her thumb, too, so she wouldn't want to suck it.  In revenge she made mud pies whenever the recipe told her to add precisely this or that, imagining that you could substitute honey for corn syrup or that a Sachertorte could be made from angel food cake with a little jam smeared on it and some chocolate sauce.  Or maybe it was just the joy of mixing that did in her cooking:  creating textures and colors--the perfect technique for painting portraits, her greatest talent--did not work well with cooking.  My father adored cooking, and though his recipes tended toward the extremely eccentric--boiled cucumbers, one time--they were always delicious.  He favored cholesterol-high foods and my mother cholesterol-free foods, except when she's wolfing down chocolate ice cream in the middle of the night.  On days when my father comes to mind, I cook shepherd's pie with globs of butter and cream in the mashed potatoes.  On days when thoughts of my mother ascend, it's more likely to be tofu.   A smorgasbord of memory and food.

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