I have always loved to cook. Even as a little girl I can remember happily busying myself cutting carrots into coins with a dull knife my mom gave me. When I was about eight or nine my mom let me use the stove. I made things like cooked pudding from the box or Jello; I heated up canned spaghetti or the previous night’s leftovers for lunch. In sixth grade we girls got to take “home-making” and the teacher let us make pizza from frozen canned biscuits and egg-salad for sandwiches. We also got to make chocolate chip cookies and brownies. The boys would somehow find us girls on our way back to class and try to cajole us into giving up our culinary prizes.
By the time I was in high school I made dinner for my family every night. My mom would let me know what meat she had defrosted for dinner that evening and I would be left in the kitchen for the next hour to make whatever I wanted (of course limited by what other ingredients my mom had on hand). Sometimes I would use my mother’s old, grease -spattered cookbook for inspiration or a recipe that I found in a magazine. By college I had quite a repertoire of recipes that I could make without much thinking.
When I got married I was a pretty good cook and enjoyed having company over for dinner. I liked trying new dishes. My first husband and I moved to Nova Scotia right after we were married (he was a Canadian) and I had the opportunity to experiment with fresh seafood which was so cheap and abundant there. After five years we moved to Toronto and I got the opportunity to try an array of ethnic foods in the restaurants around that city–Chinese, Korean, middle eastern, Indian, Jamaican–what a cornicopia of flavors. I bought ethnic cookbooks and took classes at night to learn how to reproduce these cuisines. But the most satisfying thing for me was to see the look of delight on my husband’s face each night as we dined together in our little kitchen. My cooking made him happy! It was one way that I could show him how much I loved him.
So tonight as I sit here writing this blog I am also going over in my mind how I will prepare the eggplant and hatch chilli peppers and avacado that I have in our little boat refrigerator. I have stopped using recipes and cookbooks for the most part. After fifty years of cooking I know what works and what doesn’t. I like to “experiment” and make my own recipes. It is rare for me to make chilli the same way twice–I like to try new ways of making dishes using the ingredients I have on hand. But one thing is always the same–my cooking is love–love for the people that gather around my table. Food is love.