“What’s the first dish you ever learned to cook? How did it make you feel to cook it?”
Milestone meals started popping into my head, and in reverse chronological order I worked my way back to the first thing. Okay… perhaps not the first thing. That would be Roast Beef with Pickle Gravy, lovingly prepared in Imagination Land as a very small child. My dad made me a yellow toy stove in his basement woodshop, complete with real stovetop dials, electric burners painted on, handles leftover from their kitchen remodel, and one door which opened the same way an oven would (with a sliding rack inside too!). I remember playing with that stove all the time.
My first proper independent cooking was breakfast. Eggs to be precise. I started with scrambled. Maybe sautéing some onions in some butter before pouring in the beaten egg and chives, then mixing in some cheese or cut up salami. My parents had a white, glass-topped, electric stove, and it was awful. The breakfast preparation process involved putting the pan on the stovetop, turning on the burner, tossing a pat of butter in the pan, and walking away. Only then would I bother with prep work; cutting up onions, harvesting chives, cubing cheese, getting a plate, etc., because it seemed a full 15 minutes before that butter even started to melt. But in any case, that routine became a rhythm and many mornings before school I got up to make my own breakfast.
It was not long before scrambled eggs became omelets. To me, omelets feel like the first real dish I ever learned to cook. I think I was around 12-years old, and it was utterly empowering!
Omelets were the first dish I made for someone else. The scrambled eggs were always for me. I cannot remember if my little sister ever ate the scrambled eggs, but the omelets were for everyone. As if the act of sharing food with others is the last real step in preparing anything. I remember getting praise from my parents, and being brave enough to cook breakfast in other people’s kitchens after an overnight. I remember my mistakes in judging how much filling was too full to fold without cracking, which fillings got too runny, and how to get all the egg to cook without scorching the bottom too badly. In point of fact, these omelets were more like a folded and stuffed frittata than a proper omelet, but they were tasty and very close to what my father made on the weekends.
Not long after, say 7th or 8th grade, my parents had me get dinner started once in a while. I have few memories of being confident in middle school (who does?), but yet I have clear recollections of standing at the kitchen counter after school and enjoying these tasks. I felt comfortable in my own skin. It was never anything challenging. These were uncomplicated assignments with clear direction. My father is always one planned meal ahead. He wakes up contemplating dinner, and he goes to bed thinking lunch. But even without being complex cooking, these chores built an underlying ease with simple routines: adding marinade to meat and getting it in the fridge, peeling potatoes, forming hamburger patties so they were ready for the grill as soon as the folks got home. One frequent recipe in particular was simple baked chicken with a combination of garlic salt and brown sugar. In college I asked my dad for the recipe, and he humbly sent a scrawled recipe entitled Dad’s Incredible Chicken. It was met with acclaim by the roommates, and The Spouse and I still regularly make it, lo these many years later.
The remarkably addictive thing about learning to cook is that the learning feels good. The process of diving into something new. Deciding to try. Learning how to fail. If we succeed in passing these skills onto The Child, this already gutsy and resilient kid just might feel empowered too. The Spouse commented last night that it is his hope The Child will find herself heading off on her own already “just knowing” how to cook. I taught myself technique in my mid-twenties, but I already just knew how to cook. Thanks Dad!
Dad’s Incredible Chicken
1 chicken, quartered
¼ – ⅓ cup brown sugar
Arrange chicken skin side up in lightly oiled baking pan.
Season fairly heavily with garlic salt.
Sprinkle generously with brown sugar.
Bake at 375°F for one hour.
Cover with foil after 30-40 minutes if chicken appears too dry.
May be served hot or cold.
Share with friends and gloat.
I have so enjoyed reading the memories of the other contributors to the project. Check out Shauna’s post to read more: http://glutenfreegirl.blogspot.com/2010/06/first-meal-i-ever-cooked.html
What was the first thing you ever cooked?