Memories of Food & Cooking

I’ve always loved Tea & Cookies for its beautiful writing, but this recent post about food and memory made me stop and think.

I’m heading into Month 3 of tendonitis and I’ve had to cut back on almost everything.  I’ve barely written during that time, aside from short blog posts and story notes that can’t wait.  I haven’t touched an Xbox controller except to turn on whatever TV show is going to keep me from fidgeting for enough time that my wrists can actually rest.

What I have been doing is cooking.

This is a pattern I’ve noticed before: when I’m feeling useless in one area of my life, I’ll try to make up for it by cooking.  If I’m in a creative slump or feeling underutilized at work, I’ll find a new recipe for dinner or bake some bread.  It’s something I’m nearly always good at and it allows a kind of creative release.

In the last month or so, I’ve made:

  • Irish soda bread (a loaf for us plus two for a church thing)
  • fettuccine with seared tomatoes and fresh mozzarella
  • cornbread
  • a pear tart, then apple tarts (which nearly flooded our oven with brown sugar)
  • cheesy ham & potato soup
  • blondies
  • tortilla soup
  • panini with roast beef, peppers, and spinach
  • frittata
  • spaghetti with browned butter and arugula
  • honey-soy chicken with ginger-lime slaw (this one was actually pretty disastrous, too much lime flavor)
  • lasagna (from scratch, when his parents visited)

And those are just the dishes I can remember.  Kevin has to help with a lot of the prep now, which I appreciate, but which also makes me feel insanely guilty.  I work part-time in order to be the primary homemaker; he works full-time and it was not part of my plan to need his help after he’s worked a long day, but that’s the way it is.

I have a lot of great food memories with Kevin.  I remember eating many meals in our hotel rooms in Europe which consisted of bread, cheese, and salami from a local market.  I remember feeling sick throughout our honeymoon, but forcing myself to eat as much of the hazelnut-crusted fish I could stand because it was our Big Night Out and the fish was just so darn good.

I remember making curry for the first time, and later times, when he commented on how my spice tolerance had gone up, and how irrationally proud that made me.  I remember one of our early dates at a Thai restaurant, where Kevin ordered his usual dish, but spicier, and went through five glasses of water throughout the night.

And, of course, I have plenty of food memories from childhood.  Christmas cookies are a major one, the ritual of the sugar dough chilling and the old cookie cutters, the egg wash and the sprinkles.

I remember making my first meal.  It was for a high school health class, and it was overly complicated and not remotely healthy (carbonara and Snickers pie).  My mom alternately documented my progress and helped out when my ability to multitask crashed. I guess that’s where my inability to time the phases of meal prep began.

I remember how my younger sister refused to eat the chicken-mushroom flavor of Top Ramen, even though most ramen tastes pretty much the same, so my mom and I served it to her without telling her what flavor it was until we were halfway through lunch.  I think I was ten?  Eleven?

One of my favorite food memories, though, comes from my junior year in college, 2008.  I had worked on campus over the summer as the special assistant to a group of incoming Japanese students, who arrived two weeks early to get settled and tour Oregon.  I drove the fifteen-passenger van (sometimes hilariously badly – curb, what curb?) to the coast and to 23rd in Portland.  (23rd was especially memorable because Lush was promoting their new lack of packaging by having their employees stand outside clothed only in aprons.  Welcome to the USA!)  I saw those students nearly every day for those first two weeks, but after the semester started, they were mostly on their own.

They sent me handmade thank-you notes – probably at the prompting of an advisor, but incredibly sweet nonetheless. I saved all of them.

We had a couple more meetings and became Facebook friends.  My roommates and I taught them Guitar Hero, and they invited me to their birthday celebrations.  One of the girls got very drunk on one of those occasions, which resulted in one of her friends trying to convince her to go home.  (Keep in mind this was 2008.)

“We can’t drink anymore!””YES WE CAN!”

At the end of the semester, they asked if they could have a final get-together at my apartment.

The ten of them piled in one evening loaded with ingredients: flour, eggs, pork, cabbage, mayonnaise, and a bottle of brown sauce.  They set up mixing bowls, put pans on the stove, and started cooking.

They were making okonomiyaki, which is a kind of savory omelet/pancake thing and a dish I’d never heard of before.  On the surface, it didn’t sound good at all: eggs topped with cabbage and pork, then smeared with mayonnaise and a mystery sauce?  I figured I would try some just to be polite.  It turned out to be delicious.

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When they finished cooking, they tossed the leftover egg, cabbage, and pork into a pan, fried it up, and ate it.  Somehow that was the best part of the whole meal, that these remaining scraps could still be transformed into something delicious.

I haven’t had okonomiyaki since, and even though it was delicious, I’m not sure I want to.  I know I won’t be able to make it right (evidenced by my failure to make good pad se ew), and I like having it associated with a group of students who spent a short amount of time here but left me with such a lovely gift.  I think I hid it well in the pictures we took that night, but there were tears in my eyes.

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6 thoughts on “Memories of Food & Cooking

  1. What lovely memories you have! I especially love the okomiyaki story. It’s one of my favorite dishes as well, but the first time I had it was when I was a kid and my mother tried to recreate it from her memories of time in Japan. She called it cabbage-tuna pancakes and my brother and I were expecting proper pancakes and thought the whole thing was DISGUSTING. When I moved to Japan I had the real thing and became a fast fan.
    I hope your tendonitis clears up soon!

    • Thank you very much! I think if someone had described it to me as “cabbage-tuna pancakes” I would have run the other way and missed out entirely! My local friends are now interested in trying it, so I hope to have a fun new memory of it soon!

  2. Aw, I haven’t had okonomiyaki in ages! I became friends with my first RA in college, and a couple years later, she invited me over to her apartment and made it for me. What a great story and memory to have. Some of my favorite food stories are disaster stories (don’t ask about the time Mom and I tried to have meat fondue on Easter in Switzerland…)–with enough time, it becomes funny rather than terrible. But some good stories are my favorites too, like when I was in Minneapolis and went out to a DELICIOUS dinner with some internet friends. Wonderful food, wonderful people.

    • Oh yeah, I’ve had a couple food disasters – discovering that no grocery stores in France are open on Sundays comes to mind – but they do get funnier with time.

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