...Especially a man who loves to cook, and she will readily rhapsodize about how your "legs are hollow!" whenever she brags, agreeably, about how you love to eat, especially when the food is something she prepared.
My Mother died much too soon.
She died at 61, in 1990, having lovingly cared for, and fed, her bachelor, live at home son, for the 1st 30 years of his life.
From deep within the bowels of The Mad Macedonian Broadcasting Network Compound and Think Tank, in Santa Ana, Ca., Chef Kiril says welcome to the Introductory Edition of Cooking Like Mad (That's as in me, the Mad Macedonian!)!
As I sit here fondly remembering what I can of those long ago years I find myself regretting that I did not comit to memory, or to notebooks, all that I watched, and helped, Mom do in the kitchen.
My memories begin with my early teen years, and the smell of pots of apricots, and peaches, cooking on the kitchen stove in our house, and the homes of my Uncle and Aunt, and a woman I called "Granma", beginning around 1972.
In 1969 we moved into a house on Merrywood St., in Pomona, Ca., next door to one owned by my Aunt Pat and Uncle Pop, and across the street from their friends Lester and Leona Wood, a Pentecostal minister and his wife, a woman whom my Mother quickly grew to rely on, learn from, and help out as a babysitter for her 6 mentally-handicapped women she cared for, and raised.
This woman was someone I grew to know and love as my "Granma" Leona.
The fence separating our property from that of my Aunt and Uncle had a wonderful grapevine the length of it, and they had several apricot trees just as Lester and Leona had apricot, peach, and lemon trees in their own front, and back yard.
In our own front yard we also had several apricot trees.
I and, occasionally, my sisters, as they grew older, helped pick the fruit which, of course, we also got to eat.
It's a wonder Cesar Chavez, or his later disciples, didn't show up to "organize the workers", and protest the use of child labor! ;-D
We kids got plenty of exercise as we learned the value of hard, outdoor, work, and I later even got paid by Leona for my labors, including mowing her lawns, and that of a couple of other neighbors, well into the late 90's when some moved away, and then Leona died.
And here's where my exposure to the mysteries of the kitchen began.
Leona, and Aunt Pat were devoted canners, and not long after our family moved in, and my Mom had to find ways to scrimp, and save to feed 3 kids, after our Dad became ill, they took my Mom, 15 years. their junior, under their wing, and taught her the benefits, joys, and skills, of canning, too.
Like Lester and Leona, my Uncle and Aunt, and the wonderful character of a woman, named Joyce Tolbert (Former Detroit, and Vegas, stage singer, and performer, and life long gambler, and raiser of Champion Boxer Dogs, not to mention a financial contributor, of $1000, to the campaign of Lyndon LaRouche, in 1996!), who took over for her 2 friends (My Aunt & Uncle) upon their deaths, ran Group Homes for mentally disabled women, and the men built rows of wooden shelves to line the walls of their garages, as places to store their canned goods.
My Uncle had also built similar shelves for the previous owner of our own home, and Mom followed their lead for storage once she took up canning.
My Mom, and later I as well, learned the best sizes, and brands (Ball and Kerr) of jars, lids, and rims, to buy when needed, and she bought a pressure cooker, and the other things she needed to get started.
I remember the women, each in their seperate Kitchen Kingdoms, spending all day, and half the night, for several days, cooking and storing.
With windows, and doors, open a person could smell, depending on the season, fruits, or vegetables of all descriptions, some off the tree, others bought at local Farmer's Markets, or the supermarket, half way down the block, in either direction, from our houses.
5 of our immediate neighbor families also benefited from this bounty, from time to time over the years.
I remember carrying boxes of empty jars into the kitchens, and boxes of full jars back out to the shelves, as well as back, and forth between the homes, and wondering, later, why I never developed the strong muscles of a bodybuilder after all those years of lifting, and carrying! ;-D
By age 16 I learned to fix my own scrambled eggs, and sausage, or bacon, for breakfast, my 1st successful efforts in the kitchen!
3 eggs, spiced with salt and pepper to my liking, 6 Farmer John Links, or bacon, made into 3 breakfast sandwiches on toast, to satisfy the hunger of a growing teen, and later young bachelor, well into his 30's.
I learned to cook my own hamburgers, and hot dogs, mac and cheese, hash browns, fried chicken, and steaks, and other meats in the pan, brew a pot of coffee, and some other simple things, long since forgotten in the years after the death of my Mother.
Of course I also became expert at putting together peanut butter sandwiches, tuna sandwiches, various lunch meat sandwiches and assorted other delicacies essential for a bachelors very survival. ;-D
I remember watching adoringly as Mom made my favorite of her special homemade pies...Mincemeat (God, how I miss her Mincemeat Pies! I have not had a piece of Mincemeat Pie since the year she died).
I also wish I could re-create her wonderful Tuna Casserole, as well! That is something else I've not had since she died.
I never thought to save the recipes! Moms are supposed to live forever, right?
By the time I entered college it was pehaps innevitable that I'd be interested in taking a cooking class. ;-D
The teacher, and I, both survivied this one sememster experiment (The last semester of my Senior Year), both physically, and mentally, with me earning a passing, "D", grade. ;-D
The only thing I remember of the class was buying my first apron, a somewhat raunchy, and humorous, affair in the words, and images, printed on it, that I wish I had kept (What eventually happened to the little darling I've long since forgotten!).
Somehow, cooking for a grade, and not for the joy of it, didn't dampen my enthusiasm for what cooking I learned at home, and over the next decade I continued to pick up a few things from Mom.
For most of the 90's I lived alone (The rest of the time I shared the old homestead with my sisters, and their Husbands), fending for myself, in the kitchen, as best I knew how, cooking what I knew how, and buying frozen dinners, especially those wonderful little veggie/meat pot pies, and eating out at favorite Fast Food places (A place close to my work, called K & F, was a favorite, and the place is still in business today.).
A hint that I could do more soon occurred when a co-worker gave me a recipe for cooking Pot Roast, and I latched on to that thing like a drowning man would a life-preservor, cherishing it ever since. ;-D
The first Kitchen Toy I remember buying, aside from the latest Microwave to replace an old one, was a bread making machine that I used for a few years, making loaves from favorite store mixes.
In recent weeks I've been restocking my kitchen with new gear.
By the time I moved to the OC, in 2002, I had somehow lost the will to fry chicken, and cook other meats, among other things I had relied on in the previous decade, but I had begun to collect cookbooks of various types, as well as a collection of electronic Kitchen Toys, all with the intent to put them to good use (I HAVE used some of the Toys!).
In many ways the 90's represented a low-point in my life, and things only slowly began to change when I got a computer in 1998, and later moved to the OC.
As I sit here remembering the last 40 years I can't help but mourn lost opportunities, and since I know damn well that I can fry a chicken leg or breast, and cook various meats, I think it's time I channel that early love I had for cooking, and try to give my baby sister some competition in the kitchen!
This evening I cooked my breakfast sandwiches for the 1st time in years, and did my best to make a baked potato recipe a friend gave me last week (The Baby Red Tater slices came out OK, and tasty !) .
In the days to come I will begin to put my collection of Kitchen Toys to use as well.
Baby Sis, the one I call Sister Deputy (For her career in Law Enforcement.), of the 3 of us, is the one who inherited most of the cooking genes from our Mom, but I'm sure there are more than a few stray ones swimming around in my own veins, somewhere, just waiting for me to rediscover, and awaken them from their long slumber! ;-D