What’s Cookin’ In The Kitchen

     The smell of fresh sheets and morning baking have always been a clincher for me as well as the sweet combination of Chanel #5, leather and cigarettes on the cold night air. These are scents, some bitter sweet, that are sure to send my mind racing back over the years to childhood. At this moment the house is redolent of pine, chocolate, almond extract and Christmas cookies. I’ve never been a big one for sweets, swinging toward the other end of the palate by preference but I do put on a Christmas spread to die for. After all I am my mother’s daughter.

     My mother seemed to lead two lives when I was a child. She was our mother but she also had a separate secret (to us) life that took up large portions of her time. She would come in very late at night and I remember waking up to her kiss on my cheek. The holy trinity of leather, smoke and perfume would assure me that she was home at last and it wasn’t just a dream. In the morning, if she was awake before us, there would always be something good going on the stove or in the oven. It was the best smell in the world to wake up to. The kitchen was always where my mother was at her best. She was focused and in control. No matter what else happened in our lives or in the world, what came out of the kitchen meant love.

     I learned to can, to bake and to cook from my mother (trust me there is a difference between the three). She never really told me much of what to do but instead set an example that I could follow. There was always a lot of work to do especially in the late summer and fall. Every canning season it was my job to stuff the pickle jars because my hands were the smallest. I learned to pit the stones out of cherries with a bobby pin (sigh….thousands upon thousands of cherries). I remember the taste of apples peeled, sliced and mixed with sugar, spices and cornstarch sitting in the old turkey roasting pan waiting to fill up pie shells heading for the freezer. On cold winter days the smell of apple pie would fill up the kitchen with Indian Summer days.

     I’ve blanched peaches, pears and tomatoes. I’ve complained about the bitter reek of cooking beets and burnt my tongue on atomic spoonfuls of strawberries, sugar and pectin. I’ve strained grape skin from juice for jelly and chopped garlic and onions for chutney. I’ve eaten left over pie dough spread with butter and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar after watching it bubble up in the oven as I anticipated the taste of my very own creation. I can tell by eye if that’s a cup of butter or a bit less. I know what to do with lumpy gravy (other than throw it out). I can cook an entire 5 course meal from scratch, dessert and all, without a recipe in sight. Although I do have a fantastic collection of recipes bound, newspaper leafed or hand written if you’re looking for something special. I know how much "an egg of butter" is and how hot is hot when you need a "slow oven". If I had to I could make a week’s worth of meals out of 2 pounds of ground beef and a bit on the side.

     Cooking is one of those acts that needs to be practiced to be learnt. It is one thing to relate the theory and a totally different thing to apply it. I have learned some things through the application over the years. Always check to make sure there aren’t any toast crumbs in the butter before you start to cream the sugar into it. You can make breakfast, lunch and dinner with eggs no matter what your child says. An unwatched pot will boil over…. especially if it’s filled with something that burns easily, smokes a lot and will be difficult to clean. And if you’re cooking for company something will always go wrong (usually to the delight of the family dog).

     But the basic lessons that I learned from my mother still remain these many moons later. I don’t measure for the stuff I make all the time like chocolate chip cookies, apple crisp or icing. My freezer contains a variety of selections, asparagus, apples, tomatoes (all from my own yard), ready for a quick addition to any recipe. My macaroni and cheese is homemade as well as my pancakes. The crock-pot is a great friend and my gas stove is a dream. Birthdays are a time for kitchen extravagance and Christmas means a veritable plethora of baked goodies that with any luck and a bit of scheduling can last past New Years.

     I do some things a little differently. I don’t pass my yolks from shell to shell to separate the white from the gold. I hold the yolk in my (soap washed and very clean) hand leaving the white to drip out below. I’ve never been able to cook a turkey in a brown paper bag, I use a roasting pan and I’m just fine. And I will never, despite my mother ominous predictions when these items were rejected, make my own ketchup, vibrant dyed green relish or zucchini bread.

     There is no secret Chanel, smoke and leather world for me but I’m still my mother’s daughter. Last week my oven housed pot roast with gravy and biscuits, roast chicken and stuffing, apple crumb and lemon meringue pies, while (separate) pots of chocolate fudge and garlic mashed potatoes crowned the stove top. This week it’s 20 dozen Christmas cookies of a wide variety along with almond and peppermint bark. When my son rises in the morning they’ll be something on the stove or in the oven, I haven’t decide yet.

     He’ll head out the door with a full belly and a full heart because what flows out of my kitchen in a rich aroma of cream, butter and sugar dust is the physical manifestation of my love. You can see it, smell it and taste it. There’s no denying that it’s there and best of all there’s always enough to go around, with seconds if you’d like.

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19 thoughts on “What’s Cookin’ In The Kitchen

  1. Hi, I enjoy your regular style of writing immensely but this entry is different . It was written from memory and it sits well in the gut . I love it ! I remember the smell of my mom when she was all dolled up and going out . That only happened twice a year and she made sure we were all taken care of first . She would kiss our faces and then take a tissue and wipe the lipstick off . Ah the memories eh ? Thanks for this one

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  2. Hmm…my mom never really smells like much, and I don\’t think she\’s ever owned anything made from leather, let alone worn it.However, she does enjoy baking and cooking, and while she doesn\’t seem to be quite the culinary master you are, I enjoy her food all the same.

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  3. I like this blog. Sounds you were in a similar frame of mind as i was. Something about christmas…I hope yours is wonderful, filled with joy and love and all things wonderful.Merry ChristmasJulie

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  4. That was a wonderful entry! I loved every moment. Very captivating, and the best part is, it\’s drawn from a memory.I too enjoy cooking. it\’s a craft I aquired as a child and nurtured to be fairly good at it. Thanks for sharing and Merry Christmas!

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  5. @NeerIt\’s funny how memories get all tied up with sounds or smells. We used to get the lipstick kiss as well and now I do it to my son. Somethings never change. =)@LisaI did stop by. That is quite a rant. There are some pretty messed up things and people in the world. I do think it\’s really important to be proactive about issues like this. There was a study done recently that concluded a large portion of the population would not report a suspected case of abuse for fear that they might be wrong. I say it\’s much better to err on the side of caution. I\’d rather be thought paranoid or a pain in the butt than find out later there was some grounds for the accusation while I remained silent.@JonathanI don\’t know that I\’m a master but it\’s very nice of you to say so. My mother\’s family was very large and very poor…creative cooking was a survival skill, if you didn\’t have it you weren\’t going to survive. My childhood was much the same but in most ways I\’m probably better for it.Now I hope you\’re filling up on your mom\’s good cooking because before you know it you\’ll be back to the university grind and cafeteria chow. Any new router fires lately? ;)@SimonSo nice of you to stop by. I\’ve been to visit but haven\’t really had too much to say even though I do enjoy the lively discourse that results from your entries. Merry Christmas to you as well. Stay warm. =)@AmyI posted something on your site. It\’s a bit rambling but hopefully you\’ll be sitting down to a big bowl of mac and cheese in no time.@Julielol It\’s probably the smell of Christmas baking. It has a tendency to trigger that Yuletide nostalgia.Merry Christmas to you and Bear. May the New Year bring you health and happiness.Lorna@Lady DiYou must have some great memories as well! There are people who look at cooking as a chore. I\’ve never understood that. It\’s such a creative process and the end result is so fulfilling. You get to enjoy the fruits of your labour and you also get to bring a little bit of comfort to the people you love. What\’s not to like?Thanks for stopping by and have a Merry Christmas. =D

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  6. So what time are you serving? That leftover baked pie crust with cinn & sugar is actually the BEST part of a pie — especially if the crust is made with real lard. I used to can too – it was always such a reward to look in your cupboards and see all those jars filled with their various goodies – and all the various colors. And did you clean chickens too? Makes it kinda hard to eat chicken for a few days — but hey that too passes.

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  7. @CherylI\’ll shiver a bit in the cold for you so you won\’t feel left out ;)@MafiaManI know, I know… but I can hope can\’t I????@RuthWatch the keyboard! I\’m sure it\’s not waterproof. lol@SalThanks Sal! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you as well. =)@Brendalol We serve all day long. It\’s the holidays and someone is always eating or drinking. We used to roll up jam in the dough as well…yum. I know what you mean about the look of a shelf lined with freshly canned goods. There\’s nothing like a job well done.I\’ve never had to kill and pluck a chicken but my mom has done plenty. From the sounds of it, I\’m not missing anything enviable. ;P

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  8. I really enjoyed reading this…….wonderfully written and so beautiful, your photos of Chistmas look like they could have been taken in my home, and your memory of your mother was so close to my own it was haunting, mine did not possess a \’secret life\’, but she if she could have.."IF" I bet she would have!! lol My mother was so multi faceted…and I too, often think, "I am my mother\’s daughter!" there just is no fighting it!! lolThank you for a wonderfully written piece of you…Kat

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  9. I so admire, strive to be like and relate to this story. This was so beautiful. It made me feel so warm, and reminded me about the true meaning of being a Mother (no not cooking) making my children feel like everything is warm and fuzzy when you\’re at home!!

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  10. @Katlol…I sometimes hear my mother\’s voice coming out of my mouth and I am horrified ;P@My hubby says that\’s fine as long as you get a satellite dish so he can hang out on the couch with you and watch his hockey games =)@LisaMy mom still fills her house with all kinds of goodies. She even has a chocolate bar drawer. It isn\’t about the food though. It\’s about making someone feeling welcome and cared for and she\’s always done her best to do that.

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