On Pleasing the Mouth

“…cooking is about emotion, it’s about culture, it’s about love, it’s about memory.” – Massimo Bottura

It’s a common phrase around this house and my friends: “Food is love.”  It’s one way of showing love.  From the soup your mother made when you were sick, to the bride and groom feeding each other cake, to the ice cream your best friend brought over after your terrible break-up, feeding each other is an act of love.  Sharing food is an act of bonding.

Food is also a part of culture and memory.  Traditional foods are traditional because of sentiment.  My mother makes an astounding array of cookies at Christmas.  She is a baking machine for weeks on end.  These are not slice and bake cookies.  These are linzer tarts, Russian teacakes, and rainbow cookies.  Turtles, nut cups, and almond cookies.  The basic chocolate chip and sugar cookies turn up as well.  My childhood was filled with my mother baking double and triple batches of cookies in December.  When we put out cookies for Santa, it was an array of our favorites with a glass of eggnog, and a carrot for his reindeer.

When my grandmother was sick, and my mother was caring for her, my father stepped up to do a lot of the cooking.  My father makes a good meatloaf.  However, the food I remember most from that time is frozen cheese ravioli and canned sauce.  It wasn’t haute cuisine by any stretch, but ravioli of any kind were my favorite food.

When we drove down to the city to visit my grandparents, they always ordered a cheese pizza when we got there.  My grandfather hated all cheeses, so it was my grandmother’s opportunity to enjoy it.  Ravioli and a good, cheese pizza remain among my favorite comfort foods to this day.

I learned my style of cooking from my mother.  This can be described as “to taste.”  My mother cooked by eye and smell quite a bit.  I got instructions like “cover the bottom of the pot with diced onions” and “add enough oregano.”  This was a challenging way to learn to cook, but is a very rewarding way to know how to cook.  Instead of learning recipes, I learned guidelines, flavors, and techniques.  Most importantly, I never learned to fear failure with food.  Most failures will still be edible.  If not, there’s always take-out.

“Good food” is in the eye of the beholder.  And something doesn’t need to be “good” to make you happy.  All cooking and food comes down to the idea of pleasing the senses and the heart.  Cooking is a remarkably forgiving art.  (Baking is another story, and another post.)  “Anyone can cook,” to quote a rather sweet children’s movie.

I plan to write about my musings and memories, my reviews of restaurants, and my own recipes.  I’d like to have a new post every other week to start out.  I invite you to cook along with me.