We all get to that point in our lives when we start to transition from adolescence to adulthood. We go out and get our first job. We find our own places to live, buy our own groceries and cook our own meals.
Cooking our own meals — wait, what?
Yes, at some point I had to start cooking, but leave it to me to do things backwards.
I got a job, saved up, got my own place, moved out, bought my groceries and then stared at the oven and stovetop like they were foreign objects.
I wanted the home-cooked meals my mom made. But I had never watched her cook or worked with her in the kitchen. I just showed up when she would call out, “Dinner is ready!” from the front door. (Remember that era, when kids played outside?)
There I was, a strong independent Cuban woman who could boil an egg (sometimes), but didn’t know how to cook rice, let alone marinate a steak or chicken (what spices should I use?) or how long to even bake a potato.
So I visited Mom frequently, asked questions, copied recipes and started learning.
I perfected making rice (rice cooker does all the work, duh!), learned how to make decent black beans and other staples I enjoyed.
I was holding my own in the kitchen.
The holidays rolled around, and I decided it would be my turn to cook for my family instead of the other way around. I planned traditional items like turkey, ham, stuffing and mashed potatoes. I also added a few Latin sides like plantains and yucca and sliced Cuban bread for Dad. (OK, the bread was store-bought. I never did become a good baker.)
I set the table, tended to the food, watched football with Dad while we had some beers, talked to Mom about events of the past year, basted the turkey, fried the plantains and prepped the yucca.
Mom and I set out the food and brought the ham and turkey to the table.
Everything looked perfect and delicious. Dad grabbed the carving knife and began slicing the ham. After a few slices, he turned his attention to the turkey.
After a few slices I heard him saying, “What the heck?” (In Spanish, of course and he used a different word than heck).
Yes, folks, I was that person — the cook who left the plastic bag containing the neck and giblets still stuffed deep inside the midsection of the bird. I was mortified.
The parental units erupted in laughter while I sat there red-faced and nearly in tears. I had ruined the meal, or so I thought.
Dad pulled out the bag, which was intact. He opened it and offered the giblets to my more-than-spoiled-rotten dogs. He continued to carve the bird.
He placed some ham, turkey, stuffing, plantains and yucca on his plate. Mom and I followed his lead, and guess what?
We ate turkey, we ate ham, and we gorged on mashed potatoes. We rested and then ate again later in the day. We feasted on leftovers. and the incident didn’t kill us or give us food poisoning.
In the midst of all the feasting, Mom told me about growing up in Cuba. My grandfather was not wealthy by any means, but Mom grew up in a home where a nanny/cook made the meals, not Grandma nor my mother.
I didn’t know that.
When she married Dad, she still didn’t know how to cook.
I didn’t know that, either.
It was apparent by the look on Dad’s face that he had to suffer through some pretty bad dinners during those first few years.
Mom had to learn from scratch. She burned many a meal and ruined a few turkeys before she became the great cook she is, still to this day in her 80s.
I hope to be just as good and, in all likelihood, will probably still burn a few meals or forget the main ingredient.
But ever since that day, I always check the inside of a chicken or a turkey.
So with the holiday season quickly approaching, let’s talk a little turkey. Not as far as to how to cook a turkey. You can Google that and get thousands of delectable ideas.
Let’s talk about the art of re-creating the sense of community that cooking a meal for family, with family and sharing that prepared meal with family and friends means.
“The meal is a kind of communion,” bestselling author, journalist and natural food advocate Michael Pollan once said during a TV interview with Oprah Winfrey. “The meal is a place where we take the world, the body of the world, into our bodies … where we engage with one another … cooking is an expression of love.”
The process of preparing a meal, our caring hands measuring, stirring and mixing together food meant to nourish and nurture our bodies and our souls is a priceless gift we can give to ourselves and others in this hurry-up world.
The conversations had throughout the festivities bring back memories and create new ones. Coming together for a meal is a form of prayer. A time for being grateful for the joy that surrounds you. A time to be grateful to be around the people who mean the most in your life and remember those who can’t be there. A time to be thankful in sharing laughter and allowing yourself to be present and in the moment.
And a time to pray that you don’t burn the pumpkin pie. Yeah, I’ve done that, too. I told you I don’t bake, I cook.
You never know what you might learn about yourself or your family that you didn’t know before. And you just might create a future memory the next generation will talk or laugh about when they transition from adolescence to adulthood.