“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” ― Pablo Picasso
Food is integral to our lives, it is necessary for survival, both a blessing and a bane. I was raised by two wonderful cooks, who associated with other wonderful cooks and therefore my culinary experience growing up was rather extraordinary. I admit that as an adult I often still wish I could be the recipient of all of that wonderful cuisine, instead of being responsible for producing it. While I did spend some time in the kitchen in my youth the majority of hours were logged in the pursuit of baking cookies and cakes. I didn’t learn to properly cook until I was married with a family of my own. Even then, it wasn’t until I had tired of skillet dishes and goulash that I knew I was going to have to get serious about figuring out 'this cooking business.'
I married young and along with my dashing husband I opened my heart and my home to his two small children. Fortunately, I can say with all honesty that in our 16 years of married life there are only a few meals that go down in history as entirely inedible. The first one was an eggplant lasagna and another particularly horrible incident was a salmon noodle casserole. It is clear with regard to these atrocious dishes, I was working with a stacked deck to begin with. In each case I took one bite, narrowly avoided getting ill, and declared dinner a disaster. It was a bit of a bumpy road out of goulash town.
As will happen when one enthusiastically takes up a new hobby or sets out to learn a new skill, my motivation tended to blind my sense of practicality. I recall an especially unimportant Wednesday evening that I chose to make a multi-course Chinese dinner. Not a quick stir fry, but a feast fit for Lunar New Year. Homemade egg rolls, salads, sweet and sour soup, fried rice AND an elaborate stir fry topped off with homemade mooncakes. Sauces, techniques and ingredients as foreign as could be to me. Somehow we managed to eat before midnight. If anyone said anything to me about my over-the-top menus, I didn’t listen. Over the next year I hosted my own mock UN around our dining room table several times a week. I owe it all to the Sundays at Moosewood Cookbook. To this day it’s an all time favorite. The cover is burned, torn, stained and splattered. It has never let me down.
Looking back now I laugh more than I cringe, which is a relief because frankly the newlywed period can be rather awkward. In our case, integrating a freshly formed family into everyone's life certainly didn’t diminish the challenge. All of the nights spent earning grease stains on my Sunday at Moosewood really paid off. Adding Julia Child’s The way to Cook to my repertoire rounded out my education. We came to refer to that cookbook as, The Bible. That first year of our marriage I learned how to cook and my family ate incredibly well. But what is more, I eventually found a level of commitment to the process that I could sustain. Elaborate meals every night of the week will burn out even the most devoted student, as an eager young bride, I was certainly no exception!
The concept of ‘meat two veg’ radicalized my kitchen routine. This was especially important when the children were in school and I had also returned to University. One ‘veg’ was always salad and that left only two relatively easy choices to make. Meal planning and shopping were streamlined into militaristic precision. Stocking up on whatever the butcher was offering on sale week to week and putting the freezer into heavy rotation mode made life easy… and predictable… and a little boring. However, once I knew the rules, I could break them. Enter the elaborate Sunday Dinner scheme. Throw one wild card night in the mix and a happy balance between interesting food and eating dinner on time was finally achieved.