From Eggo Waffles to Eggs Benedict: How My Mom Learned to Love Cooking
When I was growing up, my mom did hardly any of the cooking for our family. She could microwave frozen fish sticks and toast Eggo waffles, and she had one signature dish of meatballs with jarred Ragu sauce over spaghetti, but that’s about as far as her culinary prowess extended. There were a few times when she attempted to make slice-and-bake cookies, but they either ended up burnt or she walked away without preheating the oven and would come back hours later to find sad blobs of dough still waiting on the baking sheet.
As president of a video production company and a singer in a blues band, my mom had many talents — cooking was just not one of them. So she deferred to my dad, a wonderful cook, when it came to feeding us. But all that changed some years ago when my dad’s ability and desire to cook was thwarted by illness.
At first, my mom’s only reason for cooking was purely a practical one. She slowly realized that, if she wanted to eat more than potato chips and wine (although this is one of her favorite meals) or tuna sandwiches for dinner, she would need to learn how to make a few more dishes to keep in her back pocket.
To get some help in this department, she turned to recipes and cooking lessons on Kitchn (she might be a little biased, but she loves the site!) and magazines like Cooking Light. She’d scroll around on her computer, or page through her magazines, bookmarking the recipes that sounded most appealing (and doable) to her.
And that’s how my mom’s culinary education started. Her gateway recipe was a tray of roasted vegetables. She quietly built up confidence by chopping various root veggies, tossing them on a sheet pan with olive oil and salt, and roasting them until tender. She marveled at how delicious something so simple could be. She relished in the knowledge that a sprinkle of lemon juice and a shower of Parmesan could take that simple dish and transform it into something spectacular. She was learning to cook.
Her lessons were not without trials, though. One day I got a panicked call from her while she was in the grocery store. She’d found a ribollita recipe, but wanted to know, in her inimitable New York accent, “What the hell is a wheat berry?” I couldn’t help but laugh. I mean, my mother — She Who Does Not Cook — was buying wheat berries. For a ribollita no less!
Soon, amidst our chats about our weeks and the latest episodes of our favorite TV shows, my mom would start telling me about this amazing quinoa salad she’d made, or a minestrone she loved. She started sending me photos of all her “creations,” as she calls them — iPhone shots of stuffed portobello caps and corn and tomato salad with gremolata. I think it was when she was going on about the cauliflower rice she’d bought that it hit me that my mom was actually excited about cooking — that she was proud of all she was learning in the kitchen.
And in turn, I have been so proud of my mom. It’s been sort of surreal to watch her learn to cook over the past few years. And even more surreal to hear her say that my passion for food and cooking is a big part of what inspired her to take the plunge.
Food magazines and websites are littered with stories of moms teaching their daughters to cook, but I could never relate to them. I didn’t teach my mom to cook, but I have been her confidant as she tries new ingredients or learns new cooking techniques. And I’ve gotten to watch her learn, which is an opportunity children don’t often get with their parents. After so many years of my dad manning the stove, it comforts me to know that my mom can take on the cooking role now — and not out of necessity anymore, but joy.
Did your mom teach you to cook? Or was it the other way around?