A Recipe for Success

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            I am currently working on a cookbook focused on cooking for family. In addition to preserving our favorite family recipes, it will have family stories along with a number of ‘common sense’ short cuts, money saving principles, and tips for the main family meal preparer. This is a role which I have fulfilled for a number of years for our family.

            As explained in the book, my primary inspiration came from my mom. For years she, as most housewives of the fifties through seventies, was among her many roles, the family cook. Sadly, I never showed her the proper appreciation she so richly deserved. It wasn’t until I left for college that I realized many things which should have been obvious. First, and I really feel stupid about this, mom had a German accent. It was fairly strong, but I had never really noticed until I left and returned some four or five weeks later. Second, mom was an unusually good cook. Beyond that, she was our family chef. As I explained to Lisa (youngest daughter) recently, the difference between a good cook and a chef is that a good cook can flawlessly follow a recipe; a chef can take whatever they are given and create a recipe. Mom could do either. I remember actually being embarrassed when she was disappointed at what a restaurant passed as salad dressing, she requested vinegar and oil. With just those two ingredients, along with sugar, salt, and pepper, she made a better dressing than the chef. It occasionally took dad and me to restrain her from actually going into a restaurant kitchen when she was given subpar food. She had to settle for just embarrassing a waiter or two.

            As with her accent, going away to college helped me appreciate her skills in the kitchen. Cafeteria food will do that. Occasionally, I would bring friends home or neighbors would visit, and mom would cook. They would talk about their meal for weeks. When I finally realized that mom wouldn’t always be there to cook for me, I knew I needed to learn. She not only helped me begin my learning process, but inspired me with her story.

            Born in Germany in 1924, she received her initial cooking instructions just before WW2 began. In those days, it was part of the standard curriculum for young German girls. I’m sure her lessons began with lighting the wood stove. The war years proved almost too stressful for impoverished families, such as hers. Making meals from scraps, government handouts, and the occasional rabbit or cheaper cuts of meat made chefs (by my definition) of many. Little did Mimi (mom) know that, those rough skills would someday lead to her post war job, cooking for American Counter Intelligence officers stationed in the nearby village. The man in charge asked whether she could cook a traditional German duck dinner. Her mom came over to help with that first meal. The man in charge, Siegfried Meinstein, was very impressed with the dinner, as he was with its young preparer. Several years later, mom and dad were married. Dad gained a lot of weight those first few years. I can’t blame him.

            Now that I am well on my way to recreating and preserving many favorite dishes, I often think of mom. I never appreciated the skill or effort it took to make some of those meals. I never understood the physical and mental effort needed to feed a family day after day. I also never knew the enjoyment of watching those you love gathered together at a meal of your creation.

            While I do regret not being more grateful for all mom did when I was young, I think she got the message. Over the years, I cooked many meals for her and dad. She always acted like those meals were something special. In reality, they were just a reflection of her love.

            Similarly, with this book, I am passing something on to our girls. Their excitement about this project hasn’t been lost on me. Every now and then one of them will ask to make sure I haven’t forgotten any of their favorites. Occasionally, they will suggest dishes I don’t even remember making. I will just do my best to recreate those. After all, that’s what family is about, passing on the love.

Crystal’s Corner

            I am glad that Ron wrote this blog about cooking and his cookbook.  My mom taught me how to cook when I was very young.  It was wise of her to do this because when she became very ill, I could make many dishes.  My mom was a wonderful baker and some of her recipes will be included in the cookbook.  It was very interesting when Ron and I met at Bradley University and he told me he could cook.  I was thinking hot dogs, toasted cheese sandwiches, and maybe some canned soup, items my brother could make.  He made a beautiful delicious dinner for me in his apartment, and I was stunned.  He made beef scaloppini, a broccoli casserole, and a real salad.  Grandma Carlson had always told me to marry a man who can cook.  She didn’t like cooking and knew how much work went into the day to day meal preparations.  What was also great about Ron being able and interested in cooking, was that we could share recipes and techniques.  My mom loved Ron’s cooking and he taught her some of his recipes and techniques also.  Mom would get recipes from neighbors, friends, magazines and her homemaker group and try them out on us.  Some of them were pretty good. She also encouraged me to be creative with my cooking and baking.  Ron also attended some classes at a French Restaurant while we lived in Chicago. He can make some delicious onion soup that we all love.

            As a stay at home mom, I was the main cook at our house for a long time. Ron worked long hours and went to school at night, early in our marriage.  He did cook on weekends and sometimes during the week.  The girls don’t remember those years very well, but I do.  After I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my cooking slowed way down.  Fortunately, Ron stepped up and also Elizabeth at 13, could do some cooking.  Michelle and Elizabeth both learned to bake when they were young.  I had them helping me when they were 3 and 4 years old.  As they got older the girls got use to Ron’s dishes and weren’t as thrilled with my spinach casserole or baked chicken with rice dinners.  Many times, I would start dinner before Ron came home and he would finish making it adding the spices to the main dish, and a salad dressing or sauce to a salad or vegetables.  It was almost like a dance with Ron and me in the kitchen, and sometimes Elizabeth or Michelle helping too.

            I was glad I listened to Grandma Carlson.  Not only did I end up with an Eagle Scout, experienced traveler and handyman, but also a wonderful chef.  Before life with Ron, I got lost a lot, fought with the vacuum cleaner, and cooked many meals for our family.  Together, we are more creative, stronger and have a lot more fun.

Christmas Dinner 2010: It looks like everyone, especially mom was having a good time.

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