Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Cooking Lessons

When Billy and I got married, I knew how to cook. Really! I could cook…As long as it was tacos, enchiladas, green chili stew, refried beans, quesadillas, homemade salsa, even tortillas from scratch, Mexican meatloaf, and Mexican cornbread! I even made Mexican macaroni and cheese. You name it, I could turn it into a Mexican meal. I could also make homemade bread, chocolate chip cookies, hot dogs and spaghetti. Oh, yeah, and just about any dairy product you can imagine.

OK, I’m being a bit tongue in cheek, but that’s not far from the truth. I grew up on the Mexican border for much of my life, and we ate Mexican food many times a week when I lived at home. Billy graciously ate the many Mexican meals I cooked for him during our courtship. After we married, I found out that while he will eat it and even occasionally wants it, Mexican food is not his favorite. He’s perfectly happy to have Mexican food once a month or less. What’s more, he has to severely limit dairy, which cut out the other half of my expertise.

This presented a problem, since that is what I always gravitated toward when I cooked. Furthermore, I did not know how to make gumbo, crawfish etouffee, boiled shrimp, Cajun red beans and rice, fried chicken, fried catfish with French fries and hush puppies, melt-in-your-mouth roast with purple hull peas and crisp-crusted cornbread baked in a skillet, and other staples of Billy’s diet. For that matter, I hadn't even tasted most of it. When you’ve grown up with that kind of cooking, someone who’s known for a mean bean burrito just can’t cook. And the truth of the matter is that Mexican food or no Mexican food, I married a guy who can out-cook me by a long way!

At first it hurt my feelings a little that my specialties weren’t on his list of wants and that I apparently “couldn’t cook”. Then I figured I’d better learn. Probably my only saving grace is that a friend had already introduced me to Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning which is as common on the table as salt and pepper and is eaten on everything but dessert (and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s not the secret ingredient in some sweets as well). This is a skill that’s taking a good while, and there are still a lot of things on that list that I don’t yet know how to make. But learning how to make the kind of food Billy loves has become a joy. I can make red beans and rice and a few other key recipes any day of the week, and each year my skills grow. Watching my mother-in-law and other women here cook these foods so effortlessly, I realize that this knowledge is an art, a legacy passed from generation to generation like Grandma’s china, precious and easily lost. Already no one remembers how to make the legendary biscuits. Fortunately other soul foods are not so easily turned into convenience items, and the only option for their survival is the ritual of mothers teaching their daughters (and sons) how to create these one-of-a-kind masterpieces, with many ingredients and much time.

When bad weather threatens, Billy always goes to the store and buys what we need to make gumbo or his famous red beef stew. All afternoon we chop, simmer, and taste while storm clouds gather, and even if we get iced in (never snows here), we have quantities of good comfort food to eat. Last time, he brought the ingredients home and left me to make gumbo myself. Quite a vote of confidence. Or maybe it was a test!

I spent a couple hours cooking and de-boning chicken, slicing sausage, and chopping huge quantities of onions, peppers, and celery. I pulled out a Cajun cookbook and refreshed my memory on how to make roux. I melted the butter in my heavy cast-iron skillet and slowly stirred in flour. I continued to stir it over a low heat until it began to brown, and then continued as it grew darker and darker. I felt a little breathless…waiting…watching for that fine line between dark brown and burnt.

Billy came in just as I finished the roux. “How does this look?” I asked, really not sure at all if I had done it right. He looked and stirred. “Perfect,” he said. “As good as any I’ve ever made.”

I smiled. I passed. I can cook.

5 comments:

Pastor Steve said...

Hey, we've been there too. Not that I don't appreciate how Leah cooked when we married, but I am so thankful that she was willing to learn to cook things pleasing to me as well. When you don't grow up down by old Mexico, it does take some getting used to to have green chilis in every meal. But now we have reached a good balance that isn't all her family or all mine, but rather all OURS! Traditions are the same way and we like it that way.

Rebecca said...

Would you be willing to post some recipes, or at least some links to recipes, for Mexican food? That is the one thing I really love and cannot figure out. The community I grew up in has a large Mexican population and the best Mexican food, so it's real comfort food for me.

Billy - dh said...

Recipe #1
Beans
Rice
Cheese
Tortilla
Some kind of meat
Peppers


Recipe #2
Tortilla
Beans
Some kind of meat
Cheese
Rice
Peppers


Recipe #3
Some kind of meat
Peppers
Rice
Beans
Tortilla
Cheese

Charity Grace said...

LOL!!! Well, I went out for Mexican food with my Sunday school class last night, and I have to admit that my plate had a combination of beans, rice, tortillas, cheese, chicken, and pepper sauce. Hmmm...:)

Rebecca, I'll see what I can come up with. I really didn't use many written recipes, they are mostly in my head. But I could probably figure some of them out, or at least get some cookbook recommendations from my mom. I'll have something up soon.

Rebecca said...

Sounds like a winner to me! My husband's hobby is growing peppers and I love cheese!

lol