April 3, 2014

C Is for Cooking

My fascination with cooking started when I was four years old. That was the year my sister was born, and my paternal grandmother came out to California to help with the new baby. She arrived late at night, but because she was on East Coast time, she was up at the crack of dawn getting set to make my mother's favorite blueberry turnovers. She asked me if I wanted to help. It was the most misshapen turnover ever, but I ate it anyway because I made it.

My mother was pretty smart. She knew that if she took the time to show me how to do the basics, she could get off the hook for nightly dinners. (Mom didn't much like cooking, and it showed. The joke was, "My mom didn't cook; she opened.") Until I was ten, I did all the prep work. My mom would fire up the stove and finish everything I had started. Shortly, I graduated to finishing up the cooking under supervision.

And then I spent an entire summer with my grandmother in New York. We did all kinds of cool things in the kitchen, including making fresh pasta: noodles, raviolis, gnocchi, and a whole bunch of different sauces. Plus desserts. It was great. I hated to leave.

At home, the big day came when I was ten. I put my first solo meal on the table. It was meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and canned green beans. A decent first effort, and my mom jumped at the chance to get off the weeknight cooking merry-go-round. I was on for once a week, using her recipes (boring) and her instructions (actually pretty good).

The summer I was 12, my mom came up with a clever idea — I would do the shopping and cooking Monday through Friday. Any money left over from the shopping was my allowance that week. (I quickly learned that you can't cheap out on the ingredients if you want to make tasty meals.) I used my mom's cookbook (circa 1945) and did some serious experimenting. The book was a hoot, though. There was even a section at the end called "Entertaining Without a Maid." Seriously.

Mostly it worked out fine. However, there was the day I made Spiced Ham Loaf. It took forever to hand-grind the ham and prep the meat for the loaf pan. The result: I flippin' made Spam! It was pretty good Spam, but still... My dad had been in the Navy where Spam was a mainstay. He couldn't eat it anymore. That night, we went out for pizza.

At the end of the summer, my dad took me aside and said, "Do your old Dad a favor, will you? Your mother is great at a lot of things, but cooking isn't one of them. Could you cook during the week from now on?" I was a daddy's girl, so I went along with this. And I'm glad I did.

Because, like most skills, cooking is mostly practice.

Over the years, I have made some elaborate meals. My favorite things to cook are anything Italian or Indian (which is tricky at first because it is spice-oriented rather than herb-dependent). These days, however, I am so busy with other things that I default to the easy stuff like pasta sauce, tacos and taco salad, and chicken breasts in some kind of sauce with rice.

Here is my new favorite quick and easy sauce for pasta:

Avocado Cream Pasta Sauce Recipe
Servings:  2

 8 oz. thin spaghetti or pasta of choice
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Zest from 1/2 lemon
1 avocado, halved and pitted
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 to 2 cloves of garlic
Chopped fresh or dried herbs: Oregano, Parsley, Thyme, Marjoram (you pick) OR
  2 tsp. Trader Joe's 21 Seasoning Salute
Salt and pepper
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

  1. Bring salted water to a boil in a medium sized pot. Add in your pasta, reduce heat to medium, and cook until al dente, about 8 to 10 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water just in case you need a bit more liquid in the sauce.
  2. Zest the lemon before juicing it. Put aside.
  3. Meanwhile, make the sauce by placing the garlic, lemon juice and olive oil into a food processor. Process until smooth.
  4. Now add in the pitted avocado, herbs, and salt. Process until smooth and creamy.
  5. When pasta is done cooking, drain and rinse in a strainer and place pasta into a large bowl.
  6. Pour on sauce and toss until fully combined. Garnish with lemon zest, black pepper, and freshly grated Parmesan. Serve immediately. 

*Dish does not reheat well due to the avocado in the sauce.


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  1. What a great idea, creamy avocado sauce! I will definitely give this one a try. Thanks for sharing, Geri--both the recipe and the story. ~Sandra

    1. You are very welcome. The recipe is one of the new favorites at our house. It takes advantage of the fabulous avocados available here in Ecuador.

  2. Wow that cookbook was ancient. I love to cook and experiment in the kitchen.

  3. I hate to cook but I suspect that's because my mother did and she had no real skills to pass along to me. Glad hubby loves to cook!

    D.B. McNicol
    A to Z: Romance & Mystery...writing my life

  4. A great post, thank you, and lovely to hear about your childhood. I loved hearing about the cookbook your Mum used! It made me think of the old tradition of passing recipes down through a family from generation to generation :)