Sunday, July 7, 2013

Surfing For Side Dishes (Main Courses, too.)

I have been collecting recipes all my life. It began in high school with 3x5 index cards and a file box. Well, actually, it began far earlier with the fascination I had with all the little cookbooks my mother had stashed in the bottom drawer of the stove. I'd read those again and again and again as a child. 

When I first moved away from home, my file box went with me. I used it to decide what meals to make, but I could just never really get into the cooking part of the picture. I wasn't that good at it and simply didn't enjoy being in the kitchen. Obviously, if you see my photo, I enjoy eating what is prepared (I need to lose weight, but that's another story for another time), but I could never find the pleasure in the creation of meals like my mother did. She lived for and loved cooking for anyone who wanted to eat. She didn't need a recipe (which is why I was the only one who looked at those cookbooks) and often recreated meals she'd enjoyed elsewhere. That gene simply didn't find a home in my body.

Then my aunt gave me an old cookbook that I just loved. It was full of every day recipes that anyone could make - 
nothing super exotic, but real down-to-earth cooking. The title was The Modern Family CookBook and the author was Meta Given. A nondescript hard-cover, grayish in color, it was vintage when she gave it to me back in the 70s. I loved that cookbook and was heartbroken when, after a couple decades to find it missing from my collection. I happened upon another copy, I can't even remember where, and immediately bought it because 1) it evoked my aunt and the memories of the visit during which she gave it to me and 2) I still really like that little book.

Later, I bought the Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer. That was the second cookbook I ever owned and I was so disappointed. Not that it's not a good cookbook, but I just didn't get the "down home" comfortable feeling from that book that I got from the Meta Given book. It was so clinical, almost scientific. I simply didn't enjoy that cookbook at all. 

The same is true for a cookbook I bought years later called How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. I was disappointed there, as well. Honestly, I don't know how exactly to explain it, but it just didn't "feel" right as I went through it. Plus, many of the foods found in it and in the Joy of Cooking were foods I would never eat, let alone serve. Some of the instructions, while perfectly legitimate, were meant for those who hunted for or raised their own stock for food. I'm grateful that I do neither.

But, now there is the Internet. And Facebook. And Pinterest!! I share recipes on FB and I pin so many things to Pinterest, you'd think I cooked for a living. LOL But, I still love the pursuit of a good recipe and, now that there are images, I can also include how it will look when it's made. Pinterest has become my modern-day index file of recipes!!

I also am a better cook than I used to be, although I still want recipes that aren't labor intensive. I want foods that taste like I worked on them all day long when I did no such thing. The things I make these days taste far superior to the things I used to make. I'm a better judge of seasoning and know more techniques than I used to. Despite my having been
an female only child, I was never brought into the kitchen to be taught to cook. I struggled for years to become comfortable in the kitchen. I was more comfortable with Dad's tools than I was Mom's. Taking care of my mother and cooking every day for her helped a lot, though. She was a willing guinea pig for most of my efforts.

Anyway, the title of this article is pretty much what I do on a daily basis. I love looking for new meal ideas - the easier, the better. But, they have to taste great. I've learned a lot in the past decade of my life with regards to cooking and cooking techniques. But, I still make the occasional burnt offering. Some things just are.

First published on by me.

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