Thursday, February 18, 2016

Con Can Cook

Mother Connie

Public television carried a wildly popular cooking program long before most of you who are reading this existed.  It featured a charming and talented Asian gentleman named Yan.  He called his show, as you might expect, "Yan Can Cook."  I watched every episode I could.

Because I'm a bit of an imp, I pinched that title and restyled it a bit for the title of this piece:  "Con Can Cook."

Many cooks become foodies because their mother or grandma tutor them in food prep.  The family takes out bragging rights on the stories about culinary successes and failures and they become legendary.  Food and the rituals around it are central to family lore.

My own mother hated to cook.  She was creative and conscientious about getting good meals on the table but she loathed the process.  When I was 10 years old Mom broke her leg and convalesced from the couch for six full months in our living room, which overlooked the kitchen in our basement apartment.

Mom was able to tutor me in the  art and science of meal making from her new perch.  As her fracture mended, she talked me through the process of meal making, which I lapped up eagerly in that miniature kitchen.  My first foray into culinary territory was a menu featuring fried pork chops with cream gravy; canned green beans and "from scratch" biscuits.  I vividly recall chopping iceberg lettuce for our salad and Mom taught me how to make a mayo/vinegar dressing to drizzle over my masterpiece.

Even though I knew precious little about food and what to DO with it, those 6 months of planning, shopping, chopping, stirring and serving  during "Cooking Class With Mom" were unspeakably valuable to me. *I strongly suspect it was meaningful for my mother, as well.

For a high school graduation gift my parents arranged for me to have a series of Culinary Arts lessons from a retired Home Economics teacher who lived nearby.

SIDEBAR: For Millenials and those who were offered no such class, "Home Ec" covered clothing construction, food preparation, child care and floral arranging as well as etiquette and table setting.  END SIDEBAR.

As newlyweds, our kitchen consisted of a 3 burner apartment sized gas range, a base cabinet with a lone drawer and a set of china and cookware from my Hope Chest.  The cooking utensils were hand-me-downs from relatives which I still have and use!

The meals I fixed in those days were pretty much what you'll find in the Better Homes and Gardens or Betty Crocker cookbooks.  Many of our recipes in that time frame came from the Martha Gooch and Kitchen Klatter radio shows.

SIDEBAR:  Yes, we had radios all those years ago and homemaker programming was a staple of the mid morning lineup!  END SIDEBAR.

As our youngsters arrived one by one I had more cooking to do.  I was not a fabulous cook but at least I never cooked eggs in dish washing detergent like Dorothy Dixon did!  Her family of 9 were not fed this disaster but the event prompted the family to buy breakfast cereal by the case so she never had to cook again!  *True Story!

When our family was invited to a Saladmaster Cookware dinner I sat up and took note of all that shiny kitchenware being demonstrated!  It was in the 1970s that I became a demonstrator for the company and found myself preparing meat loaf, chicken, vegetables  and dessert for a dozen people or so two or three times a week!

I took my young daughters with me so they could help with clean up.  They took turns demonstrating kitchen cutlery.  Adorable little girls who are gregarious and verbal can really sell knives!

Everything in my experience has informed me about food--growing it; preparing and serving it; and using it as medicine.  By the time The Normanator and I moved to our retirement home the price of food was rising at an alarming rate.

I was making lunch one day, thinking about how much a gallon of milk set us back.  I recall sticking my head into the fridge as I gathered what I needed to make us our midday meal...I distinctly remember saying aloud, "How on EARTH will FAMILIES ever manage?"

The answer to that question raised another.  "What might I do to help them?"

The solution, as I saw it, was to put up a blog dedicated to users of Public Assistance.  Holders of EBT cards for WIC, SNAP, or people who depend on Food Pantry food or Food Commodities could learn about low cost, densely nutritious meals.  If they had not learned to cook, for whatever reason, we could help with that.

I was warned it would not work.  I was reminded that "poor people don't have internet access" and there was a long list of reasons why it would never happen.  I made a lot of phone calls, chatted with a number of experts, and finally played deaf.  I launched the blog Food Stamps Cooking Club and invited visitors to the website to "join."  When they do join they are sent a series of cooking tips. There is nothing to buy so it really does offer assistance with no strings attached.

NEVER did I envision how my little corner of the internet would impact so many in need.  I have heard from Members who have used the information to help homeless people to cook in California! Members have sent us recipes, stories, tips--I could not have foreseen that I would forge tender bonds with other bloggers or that we would host a French Chef in the Clubhouse!  There are videos on YouTube, I've participated in Cooking Classes at the Action Center  and all this makes Mother Connie feel all warm and gooey inside.

Knowing that Con can cook really made me happy last week.  The Normanator got in on the fun, too...we roasted lots of chicken thighs, de-boned the meat and prepared noodles to pair with the meat to feed a crowd.  This food was prepared for our little town's traditional Lenten Luncheon series.  We did our work to honor the memory of one of our recently departed church members, Delilah Laue, who always gave of herself and did everything she could to prepare food for this yearly event.

Cooking is a joy for me in so many ways.  This very morning I saw one of our Club Members at the convenience store ....We hugged hello and she regaled me with her latest cooking success:  homemade noodles!  Her husband raved about how good they were and how they were just like the noodles his mom always made!  She recalled the cold winter night she had come to the Clubhouse and helped to make a dinner so she could learn how to make gravy and plan for good nutrition on a tight budget.

So I don't know where Yan is these days but I am in hog heaven!  YES.  Con CAN cook!

Connie Baum

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