Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Stretching the Limits: Cooking as Art

Lordy, I use to hate cooking.  During her childhood, my oldest existed on chicken nuggets--for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  I once caught Carla sucking on a nugget right out of the freezer.  Nuggets:  Pressed chicken parts dredged in dangerously orange crumbs from some unidentified source.  "Chicken lips, " I called them as I plunked yet another plateful in front of her. My youngest  
was into dairy--cheese and butter.  Seriously, I couldn't keep a butter dish unattended on the table.  At 18 months, Maia grabbed a stick waiting to become cookies and took a bite.  By the time I got her to let go, she had ingested 1/3 of a cup.  Pure bliss. And cheese was the mainstay of her diet--slices, chunks, gratings.  Sometimes I could slip a noodle into her mouth, but it had to be slathered with cheese.  She even licked the cheese off of hamburgers.

Then entered my middle child, adopted at age five and out of birth order.  Joli plunked herself down between her older and younger sister and shared with them her passion for food.  Coming from northern China, this tiny girl came with a love of garlic (raw and dipped in soy sauce), savory sauces, and hot chilies.  She craved complex and layered flavors.  Her idea of chicken was served with the head on to prove freshness.  No cheese had touch her lips.  

Not only did Joli have an appetite for the unique, she also had a very assertive (insert "bossy") personality.  She would shove a spicy tidbit into her younger sister's mouth via a very dexterous and dangerous pair of chopsticks.  She would scowl at her older sister's attempt to maneuver a "nugget" on her plate.  "No good!"  she would say, and use the same chopsticks to deposit it into the garbage.

Cooking became fun again.  I had an ally.  It was two against two.  Oh yes, the cheese and nugget crew suffered a bit, but they gradually came around.  Our kitchen stopped being my sole (and very lonely) domain, and it became the gathering place for the family.  All three girls were as interested in tying on an apron as  tucking in a napkin. 

And oh, do we love to cook and eat.  As I make my commute home, I look forward to grabbing my favorite knife and pouring a glass of wine as I begin dinner prep--a sometimes dangerous combination.  My oldest is now heading her own household, but my two younger girls are still around, and they have much better knife skills than I, thanks to several years of culinary classes in high school.  Also, being underage, the wine isn't even an option.  It is easy to pull them into the kitchen to attack an onion (medium dice), a carrot (julienne), or celery (brunoise). 
Jo and her amazing knife skills.

In home economics way back when fire had just been harnessed, I learned how to poach an egg.  Maia has learned how to make a rose out of a mushroom and a Marsala sauce to die for.  Joli (the one who still has a taste for garlic) has mastered puff pastry and produces croissants that can bring me to tears of  joy.  I have accumulated a wide assortment of platters that I like to use for my personal culinary canvases.  We collect recipes in a plastic tub.  It totally lacks organization, but holds many treasures.

This summer the three of us are sharing the cooking duties.  Right now Maia is rustling around the kitchen making dinner.  The "artist" never has to clean the studio after the meal is complete.  Her sister and I will do that.  Tomorrow Joli is head chef.  I was told to buy two Thai chilies, a lime, and a pound of ground pork.  

Prairie Sherry's extended  family "tucking into the vittles."
And do you think I would leave you without a recipe?  Here is my favorite recipe for classic pesto.  This would make a great side dish with your salt pork or freshly-shot prairie jackrabbit.

Classic Basil Pesto

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts or blanched almonds (cheaper)
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 cups fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup good grated Parmesan (good means it doesn't come in a round shaker)

Throw everything into a food processor and grind into a mish-mash (just pulverize with a rock if you are living in a claim shanty).  Toss with 1 lb cooked pasta.  Sprinkle with some additional Parmesan (because as my youngest will tell you, you can never have enough cheese).  Enjoy.  Alas, I do not have any recipes for salt pork.

Prairie Sherry    

No comments:

Post a Comment