My sister is the one I credit with turning me into the foodie I am today. I come from a line of talented cooks, but I despised cooking until I was sixteen. My sister delivered an ultimatum that more or less shaped the rest of my life. Either I suck it up and learn how to cook with her, or our time together would be dreadfully boring. Seven years my senior, I decided to oblige her.
The first meal I remember cooking with my sister was quite the production. It was autumn in Atlanta. She decided we should roast a whole duck. Unfamiliar with everything, I just followed her directions. We rounded out the rest of the meal with roasted root vegetables, a pearl onion compote, and for dessert, a complicated custard-based, vanilla bean pear torte. It was a long day of cooking, the process was convoluted and demanded much attention. But that’s just the way she operates. We fed this meal to my parents and brother, who thoroughly enjoyed it. I was exhausted at the end, but also quite impressed with the success of our endeavor.
That was just the beginning.
The next meal that stands out is less complete in my memory. We were making a dish that involved crab, so we went to our farmer’s market and bought several live crabs. Back at home, we were preparing to boil them when they got loose and started crawling across the stovetop. Our cat was simultaneously enthralled and mystified. Needless to say, it was an entertaining afternoon.
As the years went on, I could not escape the cumulative effect of my family’s love for good food and good eats. My mom made dependably tasty meals most nights of the week. In the kitchen, she’d let me help, but also defined her space and let me know when I was being more pesky than useful. Thanks to her, I now delegate very effectively when cooking with others. My dad took over the kitchen on Sundays, making (sometimes more elaborate) meals that employed every pot, pan and utensil in the kitchen. Thanks to him, I am not afraid to get messy. We also ate most meals together most every day. Breakfast and dinner were shared nearly every day of the week. Lunches were impossible except on the weekends, and when we could, we shared those too.
It’s no wonder that I appreciate good food and good company – it’s in my blood. But it goes far beyond that. Cooking, and sharing food I have made with people I care about, is an essential part of who I am. As a relatively newly single person, the adjustment to cooking for just myself again has been clumsy at times. I’m newly faced with the logistics of determining the right quantity to make, the obligation to swiftly and appropriately store leftovers so as not to let them go to waste, and the challenge of creating a varied enough weekly menu so as not to bore my palate.
Yet through all these transformations and trials, one thing has remained entirely constant: I haven’t sacrificed the commitment to making imaginative, elaborate and satisfying meals – even if the table is just for one.