I grew up in an Italian family with a mother and a grandmother who could cook, and cook well. There was always a competition over Sunday Gravy between my mom and my grandma, but gram always won. Her gravy was always a little better. Mom’s meatballs trounced gram’s though. My father told me that when he married my mom and she made her first pot of gravy, it was terrible. For my father to say it was horrendous was an accomplishment. He grew up in a Lithuanian family eating kielbasa and Franco American canned macaroni, so anything should have tasted better than the latter.
Mommy always tried to teach me how to sew and crochet but I was disinterested in it all. Growing up I never paid much attention to cooking either but I knew what I liked. When my grandmother tried to slip in a jar of Ragu, I could just tell by the smell and wouldn’t touch it. She also tried to pass off my pet rabbits as chicken but I knew something was wrong and wouldn’t even try it. Just think of how I felt when I found my rabbits missing.
I attempted to cook few things when I was younger but they never worked out. Once I tried to fry egg rolls when my mom and dad were out. My mother hated the smell of frying so I wanted to get rid of the evidence. So what do I do? I throw water on the hot oil so it would “cool it off”. What a disaster! There was hot oil spewing everywhere. I jumped under the ice cream table mom had in the kitchen and waited for the geyser to stop. It was on the walls, the ceiling, the furniture, the appliances, you name it. Cleaning up that mess was a giant task so I shied away from cooking all together. Then I moved to Paris.
Paris is over 3000 miles away from Bloomfield, New Jersey and I had to fend for myself. I started going to les restaurants universitaires with my friends and quickly realized that the food would not cut it, even for 10 francs (about $2). When they served stinky kidneys over lentils I almost vomited and took matters into my own hands.
My first dish was boiling a hot dog. Yes a hot dog. I called my mother and asked her how to do it and was promptly scolded for calling her for a stupid reason. It wasn’t stupid. I really had NO idea. So she explained and my next question was, “How do I know when the water is boiling?” I think she was amazed at my stupidity and once again shot me her favorite line, “Jacq, you’re so smart, you’re stupid.” Thanks Mom.
A woman like me, now considered a gourmet cook, did not know how to boil water literally! This is why I say that anyone can cook.
My French kitchen was equipped with a small fridge and a propane gas cooking ring that Monsieur La Jeunesse paid to fill. This was my arena. This was my school. My first dish was a family recipe called “Hot Dogs & String Beans” which came out really well. I progressed to omelets, chicken parm, macaroni salad and so on.
When I returned home I had the cooking bug. I subscribed to Bon Appetit Magazine and made my first meal for my boyfriend. I can’t remember what it was but it was good. I started baking elaborate cakes and trying out more complicated meals and it all came so naturally. When I finally moved out I took over my favorite holiday, Christmas Eve, and have been cooking gourmet ever since.
I work a full-time job but cooking is my therapy. There was a time when I was working, coaching and going to school at night and still made time to cook something good for dinner. I’d rather whip up a small pot of marinara than open a jar. I’d rather make a quick Stracciatella soup than open a can. I like to watch Judge Judy while I cook dinner and drink a glass of wine. A mon avis, this is life.
Our lives are filled with food – good food – greasy food – diet food – gourmet food. I am a food snob. I love to cook simple meals, unusual meals, gourmet meals, all meals. Try cooking. Take a class, watch Food Network or subscribe to a great cooking magazine. Just do it and you might surprise yourself like I did.