I love Eric Kim's piece on a year of cooking with his mother, which he called "a masterclass in Korean Home Cooking." No children would move home to learn cooking from me. Their father and stepfather did the cooking, while I happily and occasionally baked -- to great acclaim, I might add. Paul Hollywood is my idol -- 'nuf said.
This pandemic forced me to confront this lacunae in my homemaking skills. My daughter Molly took over my food life in gentle steps, first of which was bringing me food in those days when my age group was in lockdown and we were all living in terror of the unknown. Given raw ingredients, could I make something? It was a tad grim at first. Gradually, the meat-and-potatoes recipes I'd learned at my mother's side all fell into place. Beef stew, spaghetti and meat sauce, meatloaf -- you see the pattern here. I ventured into lentil soup and rice and sweet potatoes.
Then we went on a vacation for two weeks and I got to cook at Molly's side. She was at the beginning of a cooking adventure. While we were at Plum Island, meals featured the fresh produce and amazing ice cream and bread that were to be found. Chocolate milk ice cream, fresh corn on the cob. The house we were renting was equipped with a grill, reputed to work once you got past the cranky starter. Molly insisted I work this thing -- I was ready to quit when the starter acted up, but she powered us through that. We made hamburgers and hot dogs and veggies on that grill and ate on the porch overlooking the ocean. We were satiated. We were not afraid.
As we returned, the second wave took off, followed closely by the third wave. We had to stay close to home. Molly took up cooking with real seriousness. She tried many recipes, investigated cookbooks, bought new spices. She regularly shared what she was trying with me, by which I mean, we talked about it, as we rarely got to eat together. We subscribe to the New York Times Cooking app, and discuss Sam Sifton's advice on a regular basis. She encouraged me to try certain recipes that she thought would be easy and satisfying. Thanksgiving was a time for experimentation, as was Christmas. We could only share in our small "pod," which put certain constraints on, for example, the number of pies we might bake. The many satisfying discussions of stuffing were topped by a terrific meal. Molly got me a Challenger bread pan for Christmas, which is one of the best presents I've ever received.
As we come to the end of this year, I find that I am a very different cook. Mainly this shows up in how comfortable I am in my kitchen. My pots and pans are friends. I can throw a meal together from what I have in the refrigerator. I can steam, boil, bake, braise, sear, grill. I chop with ease. It doesn't always turn out well, and that usually happens when I get too freeform. I'm much better off with a recipe. But some things are so clear to me that whatever variations I try they work. At the beginning of the pandemic, I could not make a decent pot of rice and now I can. At the beginning of the pandemic, I rarely ate green leafy vegetables of my own volition. Now cabbage, kale, collards and spinach are friends. I even harvested dandelions from my garden and threw them into the pot of collards I was making. I know how to freeze and unfreeze. I can make a shopping list. These are good things.
The year of cooking with my daughter has been a master class in "try it, you'll like it."