Thursday, August 9, 2007

Food Genes - are there such things?

I was reading a blog over at Tea and Cookies a few days ago about the blogger's younger years and how she developed a love of cooking. It's a cute story, if any of you want to click over to read it. She poses the question in her posting about how it happened that she ended up with a food gene since her mother doesn't really like to cook and rarely cooked when she was growing up. She wonders how she and her brother ever developed their love of cooking with that kind of background. Good question!

So this got me to thinking about the food gene in my DNA. In the last week or so I've mentioned my mother's cooking a couple of times. Maybe a bit disparagingly. I'm having some guilt pangs about that, although my mother died 10 years ago. I've written some of this before - my mother and father both grew up during the Depression. Money was very hard to come by. Both families were farmers in the San Joaquin Valley of California. They grew some of their own food. Both families had chickens. Neither had cows. One family had pigs. One family grew tomatoes some years. The other grew hay and tomatoes. Or corn. Remember - crop rotation. Can't grow the same crop year after year as the soil is leeched of nutrients that way. My mother and father, both in their 20's, actually met one summer, in line, in their respective family's trucks, waiting to deliver the tomato crop to market, to a group cooperative, I think it was, actually. My mother was accompanying her father to the market that day. The trucks were in side by side lines, and a conversation began, chatting from one truck to the other. Finally, my mother climbed onto my dad's family truck and the two talked and got to know one another. A romance was born atop a truck full of tomatoes. Awww.

So that brings me to my early years . . . my mother never really complained about the cooking she had to do. She was a housewife and stay at home mom when that was the accepted profession for every wife. We had simple meals. Entertaining usually meant gathering in our backyard over a simple picnic table with my dad wielding the tongs and spatula at the grill. We ate hamburgers and hot dogs, home made potato salad and cole slaw and strawberry shortcake. Bisquick was one of my mother's favorites. Along with Minute Rice. We had some canned vegetables and some fresh. Frozen vegetables came into existence during the 50's, I think, and my mom was a happy consumer of frozen spinach, corn, peas which we ate in rotation with occasional fresh zucchini or yellow squash inserted. I think you get the picture!

My recollection about how food piqued my interest started in 7th grade when I took Home Ec. I looked forward to the class, but retain no memories whatsoever of the food we made with the exception of the one meal I made at home. We'd done chicken sub gum and egg fu yung with white rice. So I asked my mother if I could recreate the meal at home. I made it all alone and I was so proud I could hardly contain myself. I was 13. The chicken was quite bland, considering how much I enjoy spices and seasonings now, but my mom and dad gave me all the praise I needed to nurture that little gene somewhere.

I don't remember cooking full meals much at home even after that success. My mother did the cooking. She did enjoy baking, though. She made great pies. She was quite well known in her circle of friends for her great pie crusts. She tried her darndest to teach me her technique (she of the Crisco, ice water type) to no avail. She made great apple, berry and stone fruit pies. And she baked cakes from scratch and other desserts as well. So I learned how to do some of those, but I never got the pie crust thing down. (Now, I use a butter-based crust that whips together in the food processor and succeeds well enough. I still can't do the Crisco type.) So, I began helping her with baking, and I suppose that's a gene I did inherit from my mother.

When I got married the first time I was 20, and cooking was what was expected of me. I didn't resent it - I looked forward to it. I suppose it was a form of relaxation. I worked for some years, stayed home when my daughter was young, then went back to work full time in the 1970's and worked continuously until I retired in 1995. During that time I shed one husband and married the love of my life, who also really enjoys food and entertaining. We're a good match.

Generally, when I'm not down with a broken foot like I am now, I do all the cooking and he does the dishes. Although in recent years he took on breakfast. He enjoys doing that, although we eat the same breakfast every single day, by choice. It used to be fruit smoothies (mango, to be exact), but we're eating more low carb now, so have our single sausage link, half a piece of toast (usually with a tad of peanut butter on top) and a very small scoop of Greek yogurt. Coffee, but no juice.

In all those years I've derived a huge amount of satisfaction from cooking. I love entertaining (although I will say that now that I'm in my mid 60's, cooking a full dinner is a lot of work . . . rarely can I put on a dinner that meets my satisfaction anyway, in less than about 6-8 hours of preparation) and probably the most important thing to me is what people say about the food when it's served. Hopefully they enjoyed it. I cook what I like and not everyone's tastes are like mine.

I love hearing stories from friends about their cooking experiences. About the history of a certain family meal. About the failures too. Those are always good for a few laughs. And believe me, I've had my share of them too. I probably won't share recipes here from something that doesn't taste good or that was an abject failure. I've read other bloggers who do post such recipes. I doubt I'll do that. Since I still have about 300 recipes to go (to post here) I'll be at this a good long time giving you recipes that are GOOD, rather than things that aren't.

So, I know I have people who come visit my blog now and then. Rarely do people comment, though. But, I'd love to know how you happened to get a food gene. Surely you have one since you read this blog, right? Tell me about your food gene.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I remember as a "tween" wanting to have a special relationship with my mom. She loved to read, me, not so much, she loved to cook, me, not so much, but I did help out in the kitchen on occasion. Back then I was known for my salad making skills. I used to think to myself how hard is it to cut up, or rip up some lettuce, cut up a radish, cucumber and tomato and add some dressing. If anything it was good for the ego, and encouraged me to keep making great salads. My mom also liked to shop back in the day, and it was fun to go with her. We would frequent South Coast Plaza and eat lunch at Salamagundies. Not sure if that is spelled right. This was a soup and salad place. Now I am a grown adult, married with 2 kids. I can't say I LOVE to cook because my kids are tooo picky. I do LOVE to entertain though. I did learn this from my mom. I get great satisfaction making appetizers and having a house full of people. Today I have that special relationship with my mom that I have longed for, it just took some time for me to grow up. Now I call her with questions, and to tell her that I have tried something new. My mom has been and still is a great influence in more ways than she even knows. (Shhh - don't tell her, but I am starting to like reading a little more. heee heee) Love you mom.