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AUGUST 23, 2011 9:55AM

Love in the Kitchen

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Mom, before I leave for school will you write down some of your best recipes for me? 

I am washing dishes at the sink as my daughter appears in the kitchen with this unusual request. We look at each other for a moment and burst into peals of laughter. Okay, so there will only be about three of them, but I'd like to have them, she tells me.

My daughter knows I have many wonderful qualities. She also knows that cooking is not one of them. She knows she can come to me for advice about anything. Nothing is too big or too small.   I am open for mothering twenty-four hours a day. The part about not being a great cook has always bothered me. I blame my tiny postage stamp of a kitchen. I blame my own mother (a true gourmet cook) for not allowing me in her kitchen.

My husband oohs and aahs over my cooking. He will say, Oh this is really good, several times throughout the meal as my daughter and I are scraping the remains on our plates into the trash.  I am pretty sure that it is crazy love that makes him say these things about my cooking. I also know that his own mother's cooking was worse than mine, so there's that too. 

My mother was not a talker or a listener. She did not hug, and did not want to be hugged. Once, just once, she revealed a secret about herself to me.

Food is the only way I can express love. I was shocked not only by this revelation, but that she would share it with me out loud. 

My mother's cooking was beautiful. It was a pleasure to eat every single thing she cooked or baked. It was her talent. It was her way to say "I love you," to her family. The beautiful roasts, the traditional Jewish foods, the brownies warm from the oven after school, these were her "I love you's."

When I had my own daughter, I too wanted my cooking to say, "I love you." If that was all my daughter received from me as a mother, it would be some shaky love. My cooking has the intention of being a loving act. It just doesn't always translate. 

So yes, I wish I could cook. I wish I made meals to savor. Meals that would make my daughter run to the table when dinner is ready. I see her poring over a food blogger named Deb. Deb from the Smitten Kitchen.

 I turn into Hurt Mother. 

I don't see what is so great about her cooking, I say. Although I clearly do. Deb's food blog is homey and delicious looking. Deb irritates me.

My daughter will be leaving for college in a few days. She will be moving into her first ever off-campus apartment. She wants to take on the role as the main cook for her roommates. So after a summer of talking and laughing and discussing everything from the Tea Party to frat parties, she will leave with the knowledge that no, her mother cannot pass on a talent for fine cooking. 

And in the end, I've made peace with it. I can give her most everything else. 

She'll be fine in her new kitchen. Deb is only a click away. 




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I suppose I am giving Deb from Smitten Kitchen a bump here...
My Dad's mother was an excellent cook - her food was love on a plate. My Mom's mother was a good cook - her food was nutritious and filling. My Mom eventually became a decent cook - although you'd never know it to talk to her. Here's what I think: given a choice between love on a plate and love expressed in all the ways you do as a mother, I pick the latter. Also . . . the gourmet gene may end up skipping a generation . . . perhaps your daughter will end up cooking for you!
Clearly, your food did say "I love you". At my mom's funeral, I spoke about how she only made five things, none of them very good, but how I would give anything for a slice of her dry ketchuppy meatloaf this minute, even though I've been a vegetarian for 38 years. Your daughter will remember your meals forever, just like you remember your mom's.
We seem to bump often.
This gets sent to Sam Kass.
He cooks in the White House.
He shaves his head so no hair
fall into Michelle's good soup.
We 'ought' to check the kitchen.
I hope there are no lil' roaches
Wonderful piece, Joan.

My old boss, another non-cook, always used to say it is better to do a few dishes well than to make everyone feel insecure about your cooking prowess. Because most people are not in the Smitten Kitchen.

You are fortunate to have a husband who goes nuts over your food. Some men don't even go nuts over Michelin-rated cuisine.

Glad to know you and your daughter will be fine.
Great post. My father was a great cook--an army cook for fourteen years but ironically never cooked for us.
Nothing says lovin' like something from the oven. . .
There are many ways to tell people you love them, sometimes not cooking is one of them. You are so lucky to be loved.
Well, my dear, we seem to have this shortcoming in common. My mother is no great shakes in the kitchen, but HER mother was Paula Dean from another mother. I'd much rather eat than cook! lol

nice piece, joanie. every mother has gaps in the perfection picture. you've learned that being a not-so-good cook isn't one of the more important ones. on the glass-half-full side, there *are* those three. :)
Owl, thank you for stopping by! I have a feeling my daughter will be an very good cook.

greenheron, you can put something in perspective with just one sentence...xo

Art, I would love to taste HIS cooking...

Mary, thank you. I've come to terms with my kitchen deficiency, I guess.

Christine, my husband is a really good cook. But he almost never will do it. (Sometimes we beg.)

Kathy! I'm trying to prove just the opposite here!

Buffy, you are right. Sometimes *not* doing something says I love you! :)
Awww Joan, what you've given Julia is worth so much more than some good recipes.

Besides, if she got to choose between a mom with writing talent and one with cooking talent, I'm sure she'd pick the former, anyway. :)
Lezlie, me too! I do love to eat someone else's cooking...

Candace, right? pfft. I'd take me for a mom any day. :)

Miriam, thank you. Coming from you, high praise.
Recipes, schmecipes. . . recipes are so over-rated. I stumbled upon Deb's Smitten Kitchen searching for something over-the-top for a OS Kitchen Challenge. - I enjoy the site for its entertainment value -- and the photos. But on a day to day basis, I much prefer the Mark Bittman minimalist approach. Recommend "How to Cook Everything" or better yet, the website.

Your daughter will find her way -- you've given her all she needs: love in the kitchen. :)
Vivian, thank you. Yes, I think Mark Bittman might be just the man for my daughter. (And me.)
I never could get past the drugery of cooking--peeling potatoes, etc. I'm sure your daughter feels your love anyway.
My beautiful bride lost her mother when she was about 5 to breast cancer. She grew up with a father who didn't remarry and two brothers. Starting in middle school she did the shopping and cooking, and it was simple fare but sustaining. She also got twice the allowance her two older brothers received. I think she got cooked out. Being a strategic planner, her first give to me was an industrial sized cuisinart and a cookbook. She has regressed now to the point that I jokingly refer to as being able to burn water. And I had to succumb to the mother of invention.

We all have good and holes in our lives and abilities. I loved reading about your husband's affection, the nature of it, and you both instill your strengths into your daughter. For having one of the largest hearts on OS, I'm not surprised, nor by the simple beauty in this story.
I am one who cooks to show love, for sure. However, there is a huge line drawn in my mind between "cooking" and "making dinner." Making dinner day after day, year after year is not cooking!

Your daughter will be fine. Top Ramen is hard to mess up.
Wonderful and relatable post as always! I am right there with you. In our house, Justin is the cook. He has now designated one night a week as Jacob's chef night- Jacob gets to plan the menu and assist in cooking. Me, I can make pizza, enchiladas and kung pao chicken really well. And that's it! (Oh, but I can bake cookies, which I don't think really counts as cooking, per se.)
My mom was a good cook, generally. I do recall the time she basted a roast, however, in vanilla. (Not kidding).

I wouldn't be too upset at not passing on cooking skills. You have given her so much more.
I, too, get irritated by the Debs, Rachels and Marthas...if only because they also make it look so easy.

I sense your daughter will be taking a lot more than recipes from your kitchen.

I am not a great cook either, so I really enjoyed this. I fully understand your husband, though. Great piece, Joanie!!!
MY mom was a moderate to very good cook. Nothing fancy, but man she could make a greate cobbler and I always loved her spaghetti.

My dad, on the other hand, had a phrase if he wasn't barbecuing or making Shit on a Shingle (that's Navy talk for toast with chipped beef and gravy) and it was: Shut up, carbon's good for your teeth.

I turned into a great cook. Not a chef, a cook. I don't really use recipes. It's more of a intuitive affair. Thus, my best works tend to be one of a kinds, though I do tend to remember the general amounts and methods used.

I used to check out cookbooks from the Library after I got out of the Air Force to cook for my buddies once or twice a month. It was a sure fire way to get them over to see me, because they all loved to eat what I made. This can be a trick when your closest friend lives over thirty miles away and the furthest one is about seventy.

I'm sure your daughter will be fine. I have not adopted my dad's catch phrase. I don't think my mom had one, she just hummed and sang a lot while she cooked.

Me? Eat what you love, love what you eat, is what makes a good cook. Hope Deb's Kitchen makes your daughter a better cook. You, on the other hand, did everything right, from what I can see. She did ask you for recipes.
My grandma wasn't a cook so she didn't teach any thing to my mom. My mom learned all on her own 'cause it was* in* her. Y our girl may too if shes into cooking. May be she wanted to have some kitchen (not real cooking) memories with her mom just for fun. = - }
As someone who hails from your mother's end of the spectrum (I love to cook although I'm no gourmet chef) I've found cooking passably covers up a multitude of sins, at least when they're little. I always thought if I fed them well they'd overlook my numerous maternal shortcomings. Unfortunately as they get older they also get smarter. You're much better off; Deb's kids probably hate her.
We all have our talents and skills to pass on, and that's a lesson for our children as well -- no one is great at everything. Focus on the skills that bring you joy because your joy will shine through, and forgive yourself for those sincere interests and intents that never develop into true talent. Showing love isn't about the result it's about the trying!

I was glad to be able to pass on my love of cooking to my children. My son is working as a chef and my daughter is learning to be a good cook as well. They are both very appreciative and adventurous eaters. They'll have to learn gardening from someone else!!! It should be in my blood, but I'm hopelessly unskilled. (I do love Smitten Kitchen's blog. She's a natural teacher.)
Maybe you cook like I take care of my car. Tough love.
We can't be perfect in all things. Remember my posts titled "I hate to Cook"? The odd thing is that 2 out of 3 of my daughters are GREAT cooks.
I'm not a great cook, either, and you know what - it's not the most important thing at all! I mean, look at your own mother - what you're giving to your daughter means so much more than scrumptious meals and enviable recipes and skills. I say, continue being a great and loving mom, and let Deb handle the food stuff!
Ha! I so relate to this. My daughter the writer makes fun of my cooking in her stories. She has been a cook in spite of me.
You're an "interesting cook." Didn't someone say that once? Can't be perfect at everything - it keeps you human. :o)
If my daughter asked for my best recipe, I'd write, "Put bread into toaster ..."
All of our talents, however modest, can be used in the service of love for friends and family. Your daughter knows your cooking -- and everything else you do for her -- is an act of your love. Probably not a defining one, but one she can take with her and share with others. Lovely piece and best of luck to her in college!
"Open for mothering 24 hours a day" Sounds like you've already given her everything. Wonderful piece.
How sweet she wants the three recipes!!
I remember the first time one of my sons clearly found something lacking in me that he did find in another grownup. My first experience of not being able to be everything for my kids....
That son came home wishing "everything in our house lived in tidy cubbies, just like in Miss Gurarro's room" (that irritating, highly organized, first grade teacher of his...)
Good to know love comes in other packages besides food... thanks everyone for reading and for your great comments.
Your writing makes up for it.
nobody cooks like mom, even when mom kind of doesn't do it very well. screw deb from smitten (sorry deb). blogs like that are for people who want to learn how. but even hannibal lector knew how to cook like a champ.

the rule is the love comes from the mom. the recipes are never as good as the mom cooking them.
Boobs and certain talents skip a generation. Won't it be nice to have her cooking for Thanksgiving in a couple of years!
Deb irritates me, too.:) Nice post. I really enjoyed this, and your honesty.
I never had a mom, so I had to invent them.

You pass, dear! On golden wings, that fly over kitchens...

I am always glad when I read your writing. You tap a sentimental place in my heart with each piece. This is really sweet and funny and touching. I can't cook either, and I worry about it, but I never do anything about it. At least I can say "I love you" to my kids -- and I do -- many, many times a day.
There is no better cooking than that Mother does and later her offspring...Family recipes rule...
You have given the best recipe -love. Great post. Cheers -
I love Deb from Smitten Kitchen. Oh, and by the way - I think the intention is what counts. I, personally, can taste both love and indifference in food, regardless of its objective "quality.
My dad's mother was such a good cook, her baked goods and breads helped support them throughout the depression and beyond. They were absolutely love on a plate. She loved in other ways as well. My mother's mother was a decent cook as she worked in the kitchen of a well-known local restaurant (no longer in existence). She was the only one who knew the recipe for their famous Ceasar Salad. Mom would have her make it for BBQs, but she could only make it from memory, it is written down nowhere, same with my other grandmother.

My mother cooked, but she couldn't cook, dad did all the cooking he learned from his mom. I have so many recipes I have created out of thin air and have been forced (in recent years) to put to paper those same recipes for my daughters. No one really taught me. I also tried to balance mothering (your kind) in there too. Some days I think I did it well. (Today isn't one of them.)

Your daughter has much more than any recipes could ever recompense!