One of the best gifts my Mom has given me is the ability to cook. She was an avid home cook, both for frugality and because she thought home-cooked food was so much higher quality than what you got in restaurants (she was right, mostly). Cooking was her way of expressing her creativity and was her best way to take care of the family. Arthritis has robbed her of the ability to do much cooking anymore, and probably will one day be my fate, but I’m so grateful to what she taught me, of the times I stayed home sick from school and we’d watch not just the Prize Movie, but Jacques Pepin and Julia Child. She said that making mistakes was how you learn, that experimenting was how you made a recipe yours, and even though it wasn’t polite, if you made something great in the kitchen, you should brag about it.
She was into quality sourcing before it was cool. She knew the hamburger in the grocery that says “fresh ground” comes coarsely “pre-ground” and that they re-grind it on site to be able to advertise it as fresh, so she got a meat grinder and ground up roasts herself to make hamburgers and meatballs. She couldn’t abide all the sugar in jarred spaghetti sauce, so she made her own, and taught me how at her side. She showed me how you cook eggs on a lower flame, and taught me how to time things so they were all done at once.
Working in restaurants and living and being friends with chefs and other epicure type people has only served to strengthen that. Tonight I was going to get some takeout, but so many places are closed because of the holiday, and I thought well, I can probably make the thing I want from stuff I have around. I’d seen the dish in some ads that popped up on Facebook and thought, I can make that. I looked up a couple of recipes, glanced over their instructions, then I went in the kitchen and made it. I didn’t measure anything, I didn’t time anything. I just figured it out as I went along. It was a saute dish with pasta so obviously I had to make that first, and then while that was going, I prepped my other ingredients. I cleaned as I went (thanks, books about Thomas Keller, Michael Ruhlman) and tweaked and tasted. Honestly, it was really fucking good, and I was proud I had made it and saved the money. And it really took no time at all, maybe a half hour start to finish. I also made some meatballs while I was making my main dish, so I’d have some protein for the week ahead.
This is a thing a lot of people really don’t know how to do. They don’t have the confidence. Or are grossed out about getting their hands dirty. Measuring is smart and a good idea a lot of the time. Part of why I don’t bake is I am not that exacting of a cook; I just look at what’s in something and throw it together, whereas baking takes precise measurements, patience, and lots of time. I don’t have those qualities. So that was “Easter” dinner, as much as anything.
Last week at the Science Fair at my kid’s school, we read someone’s exhibit all about the science that proves that being around trees and in forests is actually good for your health, physical and mental. The next day, we were both off work/school, and I made him walk to a nearby lake preserve near me, and then take a long walk on the trail, and back home. He complained a lot about his feet hurting and whined about how long it took, but he was better than he used to be, when going for a walk was just impossible as he didn’t want to walk, he just wanted to stop and look at EVERY SINGLE THING along the way; leaf, tree, water, bugs, bridge slats, whatever. So we got that done. We went to a playdate that evening at a friend’s house and had such a good time. They are very casual people like I am, and the kids sort of fend for themselves while the adults do their thing. In our case, that meant gossiping and talking about how hard relationships are and how complicated love and life and parenting is, while a bunch of guys moved a piano in that my friend got for free on Craigslist.
It rained yesterday morning, so I couldn’t take the kid to the Easter egg roll. He was not really into it, and neither of us minded not going. We spent most of the day getting ready for some professional “mommy & me” photos I sprung for. I never have these types of professional photos done, but I have a friend who works wonders with these things and charges reasonable prices so I decided to go ahead. I’m trying hard not to mind that I look old and fat and I’m getting gray, and make myself get into pictures with my son as often as I can, as I know one day he will treasure every one of them. And he’ll like these formal ones too, I’m sure. Getting old is getting even more difficult as I approach 50 sooner rather than later. Body doesn’t work the way it does, and doesn’t really respond to diet and exercise, though I do it anyway. I’m just how I am, and that’s how I am. Luckily, the friends and lovers I’ve had as I age don’t seem to mind or notice, and like me just fine the way that I am. So I’m lucky there, as well.
I went for a very long and difficult hike today after I dropped the kid off at his dad’s; the one I wanted to go on a few weeks ago but which had to be shut down because I fucked up my ankle again. I’ve been taping it every day, and that seems to be helping. It’s still unstable and loose, but I was able to do a little bit of trail running today during my hike, and I managed to scale a pretty big hill to get around an area of trail that was completely muddied out, so I felt fairly spry. The ankle is singing tonight, as is my back, but I’m glad I went. I thought hard about my stay in the hospital a few weeks ago while I was hiking, and how supremely fucking glad I am that I don’t actually have something wrong with my heart. I just have so much more to do in this life. So much more love to give, so many friends to hug and pictures to take and stories to write.
It’s going to be a busy week. I got another essay accepted and have an extremely tight turn-around window so I have to get on that. I have something to write for the PTA that’s due before the end of the month, too. And I have social plans every night this week. Maybe I can write the piece over lunches the next couple of days.
For now, with a glass of wine, the patio door open, a sunburn on my face and even the throb of my ankle, I’m grateful for what I have, and am able to do.