There are two reasons why I cook meals when I visit my family in rural Indiana. One because it something different that I can offer them. They appreciate it (usually). The second reason is blatantly selfish. It gives my mouth at least some bites of food that is healthier and interesting while I am there. Northern California has spoiled me, soured my taste buds on recipes spiked with CheeseWhiz, Coolwhip or flavored salt. I am also no longer a fan of vegetables whose color has been cooked to grey or whose perky crispness has been boiled to post stroke limpness.
Now that my mother is in a nursing home, and the new owner is renovating the kitchen in my family home, I cook where I stay, at my cousin’s. His wife is a retired home economics teacher. Legions of semi-motivated girls, and the occasional boy learned basic cooking and sewing skills from her. She still sews. There is a line out her door of women who need dresses they weren’t made to fit into altered for this or that wedding, prom or cruise.
I cook in Sue’s kitchen now, and am happy to do it. She and my cousin like what I put on the table. There is pleasure for me in combing the county for good Amish chickens and fresh vegetables. Still, cooking in this former teacher’s kitchen has its challenges. She is neat. Actually neat doesn’t begin to describe it. The kitchen resembles one in a model home more than one from which a live family is being fed. Everything is put away in cabinets with military precision. Nothing is out of order and when it is, General Sue sweeps in like the commandant of a military school to set it right. Nothing wrong with cleanliness and order I heard someone out there peep. It makes life easier, and the person doing the peeping is right. Unless you happen to be trying to cook. Turn your back on the cutting board to stir the stock, and when you turn back, the cutting board has been swept clear of herbs, the chopping knife is back in the drawer, and the faux marble Corion looks like it did when it came from the factory. Spin back and in disbelief you find the stovetop cleaned, the stock in plastic containers headed for the freezer, and have to step out of the way of Sue’s aggressive mop that is after a drop of olive oil cowering on the vinyl.