Don’t fry bacon in a bikini…and other kitchen things I learned from my mom
The first thing I ever learned to cook, as soon as I was tall enough to reach the stove, was a can of soup. Campbell’s chicken and stars, to be exact. I remember being desperate to learn to cook as a kid and nagging to be taught. As a picky eater home alone after school, cooking meant independence — I could feed my hunger on my own time, in my own way. It meant the power to give myself that happy and content feeling of a full stomach.
The more I hung around the kitchen with mom (when she got home from work) and the more I learned to cook, the more I realized that the kitchen was where the magic happened and who wouldn’t want to know a few magic tricks?
I’ve come a long way from heating up a can of soup. Over the years my mom learned to cook more (and better!) and I learned from her as her apprentice, chopping vegetables and watching as she planned and executed meals and menus.
Here are some things I picked up from hanging out in my mom’s kitchen aka my favorite restaurant.
First things first: have a snack
Most bad moods and resulting problems are just hunger. Better to risk spoiling your appetite than a good mood. So eat something! Now!
Everything is better with butter
Fat is not the enemy. Fat provides flavor. And butter is the best way to cook vegetables so that picky people will eat them.
How to make something out of nothing in the fridge
You know how it goes: you peek in the fridge/freezer/pantry and there is nothing to eat. But then mom comes home and an hour later there is a full meal on the table, assembled from stuff in the house. Where the f*%$ did that come from!?
This is the problem I think all those meal delivery services are trying to solve: how to take seemingly random ingredients and magically turn them into something delicious.
This is the magic I’m talking about, and I’m not quite sure how the trick is done but I think it goes something like this: learn a few basic dishes and a few basic skills. Shop for those ingredients and keep them in the house so in a pinch you’re prepared to make your go-to dishes. And then improvise, adapt, mix and match. Know that the worst what will happen is something will taste bad and you can get take out.
You can bake most stuff at 350–400 degrees.
Go with whatever your oven is set to and move on with your life.
Don’t be precious
The birthday cakes my mom always made for us looked like something the dog threw up. But they were delicious! The point of food is how it tastes and nourishes, not how it looks so don’t worry if a dish doesn’t look Instagram worthy. Being freed from that pressure is a great first step to cooking.
Related: just start with fresh, (ideally) organic ingredients and you don’t have to worry too much about fancy herbs, presentation and all that. Don’t worry about complicated dishes, either. Our go-to meal is roast chicken, rice and gravy. Not fancy but nothing is better!
True fact: Cooking dinner from scratch often takes the same amount of time as ordering take out.
It’s cheaper, better and just as fast and maybe faster! See above about having some fixings for go to dishes in the house.
Cooking is meditation
My mother worked a demanding full time job and then came home to make dinner, not to be Have It All Wonder Woman, but for practical reasons. I also work all day and then cook. For me, for us, it’s transition time from business to pleasure and from work to home. Chopping vegetables is meditative. Cooking three things at once is mentally demanding — which means I don’t have room left in my brain to worry about other things. When I’m cooking I get into that magical flow state where I am relaxed — and the best ideas feel free to pop in to solve whatever problem I (figuratively) put on the back burner.
Good food is love. Cooking is love.
This one you might just have to feel. But I suspect that when a meal is freely made with love and accepted (and devoured) freely, we are truly satiated deep down.
The kitchen is where the action is
The dogs know to hang around when mom is cooking in case she inevitably drops some meat or something. I learned to hang around because this is where she talks about work, school, family, the news, books, etc. You learn things about life and the people you love when you hang out chatting in the kitchen. You can also watch her a make meal out of the nothing to eat in the fridge. Ah, so that’s how it’s done…
You know dinner is done when the skin is crispy, the juices run clear, the smoke alarm goes off or you’re so hungry you can’t wait anymore.
How to roast a chicken
Put the bird in a pan breast side up — but don’t worry if you get it wrong (I’ve done it and the worst that happens is the skin doesn’t get crispy, which is a minor tragedy, but no one starves). Maybe splash on some olive oil, salt and pepper. OR NOT! It’ll be fine! Stick the pan in the oven and bake until the skin is crispy and the juices run clear.
Don’t fry bacon in a bikini
Because the fat might —okay, will — splatter and burn a girl. Yes, this was learned the hard way, thanks for asking. But it’s worth it, because bacon. And good food and home cooking. Related: get an apron or two.
PS: My mom wrote a cook book!
Scratch is all about how freaking easy, delicious and nourishing it can be to cook from scratch. And like a great meal, it’s also about family, friendships, how food is grown…all that good stuff. Check it out and cook and eat happily ever after.