When it comes to hobbies, cooking is one of my favorites. Nearly every day, I cook, but I do it for more than just providing a meal for myself and my family. I enjoy everything about cooking. From the prep work to the act itself. I love learning about new ingredients or new techniques and improving my abilities in the kitchen. I especially love the feeling of a job well done and the praise of anyone happy to eat what I have made.
I wasn’t always interested in food. As a kid, I was a picky eater. I was the type who would order five plain hamburgers without anything on them rather than eat one loaded burger. If I were feeling adventurous, then I might add ketchup. Definitely no cheese, pickles, or lettuce though.
These days, I am the complete opposite. I will eat almost anything, at least once. I have even grown to really enjoy vegetables and other side dishes. I rarely limit myself to meat and potatoes.
My dad cooked too but most of our family meals were prepared by my mom. She had myself and my brother to feed, and we were both picky in distinct ways. That meant dinner was always a challenge, but she somehow managed to find a balance. Some nights were geared toward one of us more than the other and it worked.
Everything changed when my brother died.
For our entire lives, mom had perfected her menu. When he died, her appetite went out the window and, worse, everything she could cook only reminded herself of him.
And, instead of forcing her to make the same meals attached to the same memories every night, I decided that we would do something different, together. It started originally with a bread machine. It had gone unused for years, but when I realized it could be used to make pizza dough, an idea was born: weekly pizza night. Only, instead of getting our pizza from the gas station (seriously, I am from a small town), we would make something fresh and unusual ourselves!
We made some weird ones too. I don’t think we once made anything traditional. Instead, we did things like a Shrimp Creole Pizza (spicy tomato sauce with Cajun spices, covered in shrimp and mozzarella). My dad’s personal favorite – and he still raves about it to this day – was our Irish pizza. It featured a white sauce, crumbled sausage, thin slices of potato, cabbage, and a mix of cheddar and mozzarella.
I had little experience in the kitchen, but my tastes were rapidly changing. I would plot an idea for what to make and mom would help me make it a reality. Not only did it become a regularly weekly thing to do, but it also gave us something to talk about and focus on for the rest of the week. It generated excitement in the kitchen again. More than a cure for empty stomachs, cooking together was a fix for our broken hearts.
From that summer on, food became more important to me. I wanted to understand how to prepare more meals and I wanted to widen my palette. Cooking went from a hobby I had zero interest in to one of my most cherished activities. Better yet, it gave me an endless supply of things to talk about with my mom and my dad. To this day, now that I have gained substantially more experience, dad will ask me for advice on what to cook or how to cook what he has.
What to eat is a question we ask ourselves every day. Why not answer it together? Even if you cannot get a hand in cooking the food, you will almost always get a hand in eating it. Food is important. It reminds us who we are and where we are from, and it shares a story with new people who enter our lives.
I am learning so much sharing my culinary passion with Diane’s mom, especially since she is Korean and has an entirely different background from my own. I love getting to eat her food, especially the things she thinks I won’t like because I am ‘just some white kid from Alabama’. At the same time, I like surprising her with my own talents and impressing her with all the lessons I have learned in the kitchen over the years.
But the one thing I especially love about sharing a passion for food with the people I care about? Being able to combine our favorite things into new dishes! Chicken & Rice is a Southern staple, but add a little seaweed to it like they use in Korean cuisine? Even better! Sriracha or similar Asian hot sauce go great on the fried foods that my mother perfected such as her fried chicken fingers or tater logs.
Not only does food bring us together in our homes and our hearts, it can bring our histories together too. With the right combination, you can tell a new story. With a new story, eating never gets old.
I am sure many of you have similar stories or similar experiences.
All of the above pictures were taken by me many years ago around my parent’s home. I apologize about the quality. Cameras weren’t what they are now back then.