There are things you do because they feel right & they may make no sense & they may make no money & it may be the real reason we are here: to love each other & to eat each other’s cooking & say it was good.
That’s what it says on the Brian Andreas’ Story People print on the left. The one I had copied onto a tile and permanently set into the backsplash behind my stove. Because that’s how I feel about cooking and about life.
I will admit here that I enjoy cooking. Not every day. Not when I have a million other things to get done. But cooking for me, is another creative outlet and the truth is, I really enjoy sharing food. I volunteer every week at a food pantry; I’m the one always bringing meals to the sick, the injured and the bereaved. I firmly believe that I make the world’s best ruggelach and it’s my (not-so-secret anymore) ministry to share them with people in need of cheering up.
One of my sweetest and most fulfilling memories of living abroad – and specifically in northern Uganda – was finally mastering the art of cooking – fine meals – up in the bush. Living 500 kilometers on unpaved road from any major city, we certainly didn’t have supermarkets, bakeries, gourmet specialty grocery stores to supply us. Most shops in our area didn’t even have refrigeration. Like it or not, we were forced to eat locally and fresh.
After a cranky and hungry beginning, this turned out to be great fun. When I had a hankering for beef and scallion rolls in Teriyaki sauce, I figured out how to make them (including the Teriyaki sauce). When I saw something that resembled jalapenos in the market, I taught myself how to make fried stuffed jalapenos. Just when I thought I would kill for some good chocolate, my Dutch friend taught me to make my own chocolate truffles (mind you, we had to make our own butter first). We made wonderful bread, pizzas, ice cream, pasta, yogurt. I experimented until I’d figured out how to make fried green tomatoes and I learned how to make the world’s richest chocolate cake. (Later, when I was pregnant and whining for bagels and lox, we never did quite manage the lox – but I know how to make a bagel!) It sounds kind of odd, but there we were living in this rural Ugandan outpost, sometimes under difficult and even dangerous circumstances, having these amazing dinner parties!
I still enjoy cooking – when I have the time. But I have to admit, cooking in America – with my easy access to whatever I might need – has never been as much fun as cooking in the bush. At first it was wonderful, having everything I could need – or want – at my fingertips. But now, there’s just no challenge in it. I mean, anyone can make a fine meal with reliable water, gas and electricity in their kitchen and a mega supermarket down the street. But where’s the fun in that?
I did get a little charge while I was working at the food pantry last week. A client came in, looked wistfully at the cornmeal and said he’d wished he could bake some cornbread but didn’t have an oven. Ah, I told him, all excited, and proceeded to teach him how to build what we called in the Peace Corps, a “campo oven” so he could bake on top of a hot plate! Who knows, maybe soon I’ll be giving courses on how to decorate cakes with edible flowers while avoiding landmines and the latest ebola outbreak!