I was definitely my Daddy’s Little Girl. My dad was my absolute hero and one of my best childhood memories is Saturday Morning Pancakes which Dad made every single week. He cooked ‘em and my sister and I ate ‘em. It was a family ritual which continued with my children and their dad except that was on Sundays.
Dad’s weren’t necessarily the best pancakes in the world—they came out of an Aunt Jemima box accompanied by the ever-so-popular Log Cabin Maple Syrup which probably didn’t have any real maple syrup in it at all. At the time I didn’t care about that. I only cared whether I could meet the weekly challenge of, “How many can you eat?”
I know. I know. This wasn’t the best habit to start at an early age. But it was definitely a tradition which created some golden times with my dad, my mom and my sister. We’d take our time with the pancakes and talk about all kinds of things and laugh about everything. And now that I’m writing this, I look back on it and see that it was one of my earliest great cooking-life experiences.
I’ll never forget the first meal I made (almost) by myself. It was meatloaf, mashed potatoes and peas. Loved getting my hands into the meatloaf to mix the egg and bread crumbs and herbs. Loved mashing those potatoes. This was squishy fun for a ten year old! But the main thing I remember about it is that I made this dinner for my dad and the most exciting and rewarding part was seeing him eat that dinner. I had placed the slice of meatloaf strategically on his plate decorated with ketchup. The mashed potatoes were a majestic mountain with bright green peas purposefully positioned to make a colorful impression.
That was only the beginning of a lifetime of creating meals for the people I love and all the intentions that went into preparing that food. When my dad became very ill and couldn’t eat, I was into protein shakes and made him the most god-awful raw egg conconctions in order to try to get some nutrition into him. And being the kind of dad he was, he managed to force that goop down—not because he wanted to drink it—but because I made it for him. I hoped the lovely pink color from the fresh strawberries I’d blended in would also cheer him up.
And then there were the “Cooking-Love-Connections.” I perfected Veal Piccante for my boyfriend. This was a big deal because I would go to a butcher shop in the little town where I lived and buy really expensive veal for this. I went all out. Pale thin veal with dark green capers and lemon sauce highlighted with bright shavings of lemon zest and green parsley! And he loved this dinner which I then made every weekend. Later on, the meal changed to something with brown rice and seaweed but the intention was the same: Make the best, most delicious food for someone I love.
Next was cooking my first meal for a future husband. And then again for another future husband. When I first met my husband Jack, I was a vegetarian and he was a meat-and-potatoes guy. Hmmmm, what to do. So I invited him for dinner. Luckily he had had a girlfriend who had been into brown rice and vegetables so I knew this type of food wouldn’t be totally foreign to him.
I opted for Deep-Fried Tofu Stew, pressed Chinese Cabbage Salad with radishes and wakame seaweed, and brown rice served with homemade pickles.
I had long since become an excellent cook, had taught cooking for over twenty-five years, and considered cooking to be a creative art. For this meal I was not only concerned with making the food taste good but also making it look beautiful. I went all out! I bought new dishes that would enhance the overall aesthetic quality. I used decorative cuts for the vegetables made with a special set of tools I had. The table was gorgeous!
The man loved the food. We got married. To this day he tells people what a great cook I am and when he makes this statement, you know it is about more than just the food. He gets my intention.
Before you conclude that I’m simply a sicko or psycho female who is bent on enticing men or earning people’s love through food, believe me when I tell you that this is how cooking is for me every single day. Maybe I’m not buying new plates very often, but I do look at the entire picture when it comes to preparing food—even if it’s just for myself. Cooking is art.
I love putting the flavors and details together when cooking a meal. I always serve my food in serving bowls and platters even if it’s just for me and my husband. When my kids were little, the carrots were carrot flowers and the broccoli stood up like trees. My cooking creations are always colorful if nothing else.
I have a postulate—an intention—when I cook that everything about the food and its presentation will bring health, joy, beauty and love. I’ve been practicing this since I was a very young meatloaf cook.
My mother always said that a nutritious meal has lots of different colors in it. I think she was right! And my best cooking instructors said, “The healthiest food will also be the most delicious and the most beautiful.”
And so it is.
What was the first meal you cooked for someone you loved?