Food is a very big deal in my family.
Or at least, I thought it is. For as long as I could remember, we always had food at our home. My mother seemed to be able to cook up something, even the simplest thing like fried rice or a simple vegetable soup. And my dad would be full of praises of her cooking.
Now that I’m older with kids of my own, I realized that the times when my mom cooked the “simple” food, it was really because my parents were short on cash. I understood that my dad praised my mom because she managed to pull off something edible for everyone when he couldn’t get her everything she needed to cook. I realized that my mom probably scoured her fridge to find any bits of anything so she could cook something for us.
Because that’s what I do too nowadays, when I’m short on cash.
All I know is, I have to put something on the table for my kids and husband to eat. It makes me sad that sometimes all I have to offer is a pot of potato broth, steamed vegetables, fried eggs, and rice.
Being someone who loves to cook, I revel in the notion that I could prepare extraordinary dishes day after day, twirling away in my kitchen preparing them.
The reality is often far from that.
Between writing, housework, sending kids to school, I’d be lucky if I could pull off a decent meatloaf or even a proper course of nasi lemak. I want to be able to stuff my kids with delicious food, with heavenly desserts that they would forever remember me as a mom who made the best chocolate cake in the world.
It gets to me, sometimes, when I can’t cook the food that I wanted because I don’t have all the ingredients since I couldn’t afford to spend a little extra on those fancy things I need for a dish. But most of the times, I just whip up anything I have in the fridge based on the idea of the dish I wanted to cook.
Then in 2010, I saw a cartoon where one of the characters said,
“Food always comes to those who love to cook.”
To tell you the truth, I cried when I first heard these words because I felt as though Gusteau was speaking directly to me. I felt like that’s what I have been doing my entire life – making something out of nothing.
It was then I stopped feeling sorry for myself for not being able to cook what I wanted, but instead, focus on what I could cook.
Most of my cooking comes from whatever ingredients I have on that day, and figured out what I could make out of them. While it helps to understand the basic of a dish, it’s quite easy to improvise once you get the hang of it.
You see, the one thing that tends to get to me is, “What to cook today?”
I’ve been asking myself this question every single day as I stepped into my kitchen to prepare a meal for my family and it has been almost 9 years since I’ve had a family of my own. No matter how much I know how to cook, I have no idea what to cook that I have to ask myself that question every day.
But once I’ve started cooking, it feels like dancing to me.
I’m caught up in this music only I could hear. I move in steps of which the choreography is my own. I feel the food simmering and boiling and cooking and I capture the aroma wafting from my pots, searing them into my memory.
Cooking no longer became an obligation. I’m not slaved in the kitchen, preparing food day in day out for little hungry mouths. Even something as simple as fried eggs, I take pride in preparing it. You’re scoffing, I suppose.
I’m not sure I could ever describe it in words, but even something as easy as frying a sunny side up means a lot to me because I want to see it perfect. There’s a certain satisfaction in knowing that I got the pan hot enough, when to break the egg in, how long to wait, and how to remove it so it would stay the perfect shape.
I guess that’s why I tend to cook food that others find delicious. I put my heart and soul in it, I dance with it, I smile at it, I even talk to my food sometimes where I praise it for giving me this wonderful smell in my kitchen.
I completely understand if you don’t like cooking and you find cooking is just another chore in your day. I’m not trying to change your mind; I’m sharing what it does to me.
Cooking doesn’t have to be hard. It can seem like a daunting task to some because you’re dealing with food that others are going to eat and you don’t want it to suck. What more if you’re a woman and a wife, people expect you to “know” how to cook.
I say, nonsense!
Cooking knows no gender. Above all, it doesn’t judge, it doesn’t laugh at you, it doesn’t ask you to stop trying. Every time I failed at trying to cook a new dish, I know there’s something in it that’s begging me to discover what went wrong. It calls to me to fix it, it speaks to me to figure out what I missed.
It’s an art that anyone can master.
To close this, another quote from the same 2010 cartoon,
“Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.”