Today (September 14, as I know I removed the date stamp from the blog!) is my mother’s birthday. She would have been 60 years old today.
I can’t say these days are easy for me, but I will say that SO FAR I’ve been enjoying the memories I’ve dug up from the recesses of my mind. I’ve been looking at pictures, recalling favorite times and just living inside my own head where my mother is still very much alive.
One of the biggest ways my mom (whose name was Rikki, by the way) influenced my life is her approach to food and cooking. Yes, I eventually became obese but even as I was losing weight after surgery I began to see, and embrace how her outlook on food was not only very realistic but, in many ways, pretty darn healthy.
So here are five things my mother taught me about food, along with five recipes inspired by that advice.
Lesson #1: If it tastes good, go with it.
Chefs are very concerned with making a dish to specification. Yes, there are distinctions between pan-frying and sauteeing and Beef Bourguignon is different than pot roast but her point was this. Instead of being so hung up on a dish being perfect, make sure it’s enjoyable. And enjoy cooking it! One of my favorite dishes of my mom’s was her spaghetti. She was not, in any part, Italian but she made some delicious spaghetti! Nowadays I have to skip the noodles so I compensated by making my sauce chunkier so it could survive in the bowl all by its lonesome. Here’s my recipe.
As a child I was the sous chef and it was my job to chop veggies and get them ready to be put together in the meal. This brings me to the next lesson…
Lesson #2: Never cook alone…it’s no fun!
One thing that bums me out right now is that my kitchen is not conducive to having more than one person in it at a time. I am a big believer that people should cook together. As in the times I spent with my mom, cooking tends to bring out really good, heartfelt conversation, great jokes, belly laughs and good memories. If you want to spend more time with your kids, try cooking with them! Your spouse? Cook with them!
One thing I loved to cook with my mother was her macaroni and cheese. It was an institution! After surgery I’m not to good with pasta so I started making Cheesy Mashed Cauliflower. This is my white cheddar version. I think she would have liked it!
Lesson #3: Food is not just fuel
I know some of you tell yourselves it is in order not to miss it too much or be too obsessed with it but food is not just fuel. It’s history, it’s culture, it’s tradition. What we eat, how we eat it, what we eat it with all make a statement about who we are and how we relate to the world. And that’s not bad! Food being a core function of life, it’s supposed to be important to us on some level. Embrace that. One thing I learned about food since surgery is that you don’t have to eat it to participate in it!
That’s also why I don’t shun the idea of comfort food. Especially now, there are some dishes that comfort me in the making and eating of them because they make me feel closer to her. This is a remix of my mom’s corn, tomato and okra. She used to make it as a side dish. More often than not I serve it with meat in it as a main dish. It’s warm and comforting and reminds me of cool fall evenings at home with my mother.
Lesson #4: If something is too salty, add something sweet
This one is both a food and life lesson. Follow me, here. At times I can be a bit heavy handed with salt. My mom taught me about throwing a potato in a pot of soup you’ve over-salted (though a few Foodies recently argued this is an old wives tale, I’d say the placebo effect at least made it work for me) but she also taught me another trick: a pinch of sugar (or whatever you use). Yep. If you put a little too much salt in something, put a little pinch of something sweet. It balances it out and often you can salvage your dish.
Life is sort of that way too. In slang, to be “salty” means to have a not-so-great attitude or that you’re angry. When I get that way (and provided I want to UN-get that way) I try to do a random act of kindness. This gets me outside myself and my problems and it feels good. And then I feel good. And then I’m not so salty anymore! But this piece of advice also reminds me that my mom instilled in me an enduring love of sweet/salty combos, like my Salted Butter Toffee Protein Oatmeal! Since the weather is turning cool, give this a try!
Lesson #5: If you’re going to cook something, cook something good
I hear from many of you that since you can only eat a small amount of food, why bother with cooking? Why bother pulling out pots and pans, chopping things, mixing ingredients, just to take two bites and be full.
Because, good food is good. And you deserve good food. And I’m here to tell you my Curried Chicken with Cauliflower Rice is gooooood food!
Cooking for yourself and others is an act of love. Feeding is an act of love. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Such being the case would you give someone you really loved a half-hearted hug or kiss? (Provided you’re not secretly mad at them) Same deal here. Whether you’re making something for just yourself, your significant other or an entire family, cook something good. Not only because they’ll be more likely to eat it, but because you love them, you are learning to love yourself and, as such, you all deserve good food!