But you can’t tell people exactly what to use, they have to see what they have in the fridge! – my mom.
When I decided to officially leave home – Vancouver being home at the time – and move to Los Angeles on my own, oh so many moons ago, I knew I couldn’t survive more than a week without a home-cooked meal. One of the downfalls of being raised on home cooking: nothing else will suffice. Specifically a Persian meal. Rice, stew, the staples. It was then that my culinary skills were truly put to the test. I knew I had a lot to learn and a lot of cooking ahead of me. So I bought a brand new notebook, leopard print cover and all, and sat down with my mom to write down the recipes for some of my favorite meals. This was a harder task than I had anticipated.
You see, everyone in my family cooks. And cooks really, really well. A typical dinner party at my mom’s house means no less than 15 people, regardless of her dining table only seating 6. Of course, she has slowed down some over the years but she still cooks in the same generous spirit of Persian hospitality: everyone is welcome. My brother, Italian by birth, is “L’Enfant Terrible” of all things culinary and beyond. He may leave behind a storm in the kitchen, but sitting down to one of his simple pastas or more complex creations is truly a treat. In our house my dad’s spaghetti carbonara is simply known as Baba’s carbonara. That’s all the girls (and my husband) need to hear to come running to the table. My step-mother Kumi is Japanese. Delicious and fresh homemade sushi. Enough said. And not one of this colorful cast of characters cooks from a recipe. In fact, it’s rather looked down upon to do so. This does not apply to baking of course; that’s another story. The only time I can recall seeing my mom use a measuring cup or a measuring spoon is when she would bake, and even then I think she used a scale. The general feeling in my family goes something like this: if you cook from a recipe you are not cooking, you are following directions. Anyone can follow directions. Cooking is a personal creative art form. You use all your senses, taste, smell, sight, touch. You use the best ingredients you can get your hands on and taste as you go along. If it doesn’t taste right, tinker with it until your taste buds are happy. Did I mention my family happens to be quite direct, opinionated and most of all, very passionate about things that matter most – like food?
For me, recipes are something to be admired, respected, studied, tried once or twice – and then rebelled against. Over the years I’ve found my own way around the kitchen and recipes. I’ve discovered I don’t like being told exactly what to do (hence the baking allergy), and I’m kind of lacking in the patience department. Cooking for me is stress relief, and as my brother put it not so long ago – escapism. When the 5pm meltdowns start I find myself slowly backing out of the living room and into the kitchen. The chopping board becomes my yoga mat. And all sense and order return to the world. There are times I will follow recipes exactly as written, but most days I’m at the mercy of what’s in the fridge and the pantry. A recipe becomes more of an inspiration.
As I’ve started to develop recipes for you here, I’ve realized that I have been raised in a culture where recipes are passed along not in the written word, but through the spoken one. And as my sister-in-law Sarah can attest, much to her frustration, I am also guilty of this. When asked how something is made I get very animated, hands gesticulating wildly to show you the pinch of salt, sound effects to emphasize the pouring of the olive oil, and yes I always start by saying oh it’s so easy. So I look forward to actually putting down all this performance art into some kind of cohesive written narrative – a recipe.
A couple of things –
I always cook with leftovers in mind. Especially on a weeknight for the school lunch the next day, which includes Drew’s (Mr. Husband) lunch as well. If we don’t finish it in a couple of days it gets portioned out and put in the freezer – a life-saver on a rushed weeknight a month later when you’re about to reach for the phone to order in. This is something to keep in mind if the serving size seems too large and you’re thinking of cutting it in half.
I also like to season in layers. I find the individual flavors of the ingredients are really drawn out this way. So I’ll add a little pinch of salt when I first throw in the onions, and might add another little pinch when I add the carrots. I’ll mention this if I do it, but I can’t quantify it for you. A little pinch is just that.
I hope you find inspiration in the recipes here, and after you follow the recipes a few times, I urge you to rebel and add your own twist. And when you do, write it down and tell me about it.
As is the case in our house, beware of little fingers in the salt bowl.