(I haven’t had any Internet connection for the past few days, so I’m filing F, G, H, I, J, and whatever we’re up to, as fast as I can. Gotta keep up.)
I love food. Jack, my late husband, loved food. I love to eat. Jack loved to eat. I love to cook. Jack liked to cook—I don’t know if he loved to cook. I love to try new dishes; last week I made a vegetarian chili verde for my writers’ group and had no idea how it would turn out until it was almost done and I tasted it. Jack had his specialties—broiled chicken, black bean soup, tuna casserole, spaghetti sauce, brownies—which were always very good. I often thought of writing down his marinade for the broiled chicken, but never did—and now it’s too late. But it wasn’t really a recipe anyway: juice, olive oil, wine, dried herbs or spices, whatever was handy or he felt like.
I’m a recipe person myself, wrote about this years ago for a tiny magazine, And/Then. Called “Recipes for Life,” it contrasted two ways of approaching cooking: following a recipe, or sensing what went well together and winging it. At that time in my life I followed recipes. I needed to know quantities: how much juice, how much wine, how much oregano and what if I’d run out of oregano? Then, I was hoping to be more adventurous in cooking, and in life as well. Now I use recipes as guidelines, looking at 1, 2, 3, what ingredients do I know I like, what combos taste interesting in my mind.
I love to cook, but not every day. Even the few years I was a full-time parent, I didn’t cook every day. We ate out a fair amount, and our school-age daughter had her favorite restaurants: Symposium (Greek), 107 West (new American), Japonica (she liked sushi at age 8). When Jack was the full-time parent, he’d go to the farmers market late in the day and buy a quantity of tomatoes and sale price. Then he’d make a quantity of tomato sauce and freeze most of it. We even had a free-standing freezer, which felt very suburban in our New York apartment.
My mother didn’t teach me to cook, though she was a pretty good cook. She didn’t have enough patience, she said. She’d been a home-ec major in college (a compromise with her immigrant parents; she wanted to major in biology) and relished modern technology: frozen vegetables, TV dinners. We did have a garden for a few years when I was a child, and I learned the luscious taste of sun-warmed tomatoes and crisp peas right out of the pod. I also read my mother’s cookbooks from college and started clipping my own recipes as a teenager. Perhaps the first one was a tuna melt from Seventeen.
And I wanted my daughter to learn the fun of mixing ingredients into some new concoction that tasted good. So when she was 4, 5, 6 and had to stand on a stool to reach the counter, I’d have her take a turn mixing the cake batter and frosting, rolling out the pizza dough, filling the dumplings. When she was a teenager, she wanted to make her own meals and start experimenting. I suggested she master some recipes first and improvise once she’d learned the basics. Now in her 40s, she still cooks, makes leftovers to take for lunch, and has found a partner who likes to cook as much as she does.