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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Ungourmand

I'm hardly anyone's idea of Julia Childs. I didn't learn to cook until I went to college where my roommates, quite reasonably, expected me to chip in with all the chores. That entailed cooking.

In time, I learned some basic easy-to-make-on-a-student-budget dishes. Back when chicken was much cheaper, my rommates and I briefly considered writing a cookbook entitled "1001 Ways To Make Chicken" because we were fairly certain we'd made at least 1001 variation of chicken dishes.

Even though two of us were Jewish (and later one was Muslim) we didn't keep strictly kosher. I didn't eat pork, at least most of the time. Massoudah didn't eat pork AT ALL (which sort of shamed me into being stricter). We also stopped braising our stews in wine for her sake. But lasagna was still a household specialty, along with shrimp salad on those rare ocassions when we could afford tiny Bay shrimp.

Going kosher meant a whole lot more than telling The Husband that pork and shellfish were officially OUT. It meant a whole new way of cooking. We adapted. Eggplant lasagna is great. Chicken Kiev can be made with margarine. Chicken Cordon Bleue is a fond memory. One of the great joys of Jerusalem is kosher sushi.

However, I digress....

My grandmother allowed me to cook desserts in her kitchen. I was a whiz at chocolate chip cookies and brownies from scratch. But the fare was otherwise basic Middle America: meat, vegetable, starch (for example, lambchops, peas and baked potato...I could never convince my grandparents, with whom I lived for two years, that peas and corn are just another form of bread and something like artichokes, or zuchini, would be healthier....but since I wasn't either buying the food or cooking the meals, I didn't protest too loudly).

My mother didn't allow me in the kitchen except to empty or fill the dishwasher. My grandmother was a gourmet compared to my mother: overcooked vegetables and undercooked meat, except on the days when we had fish. Fish? Well, frozen fish sticks and frozen Tater Tots.

My real culinary education came in college, law school and after. My roommates taught me to cook; later on my own, I had friends over for dinner once a week once I discovered the joy of trying new things in cookbooks. I DID always warn them I was experimenting, but they came anyway, poor souls.

Kosher cooking was a new adventure, and the rebbetzin married to the Boy's Torah teacher was a veritable mine of recipes, which she gladly shared.

So, now I'm pretty confident about culinary skills in simple recipes. But I've ALWAYS made a mean sandwich. So when it came time to make the Boy's lunch, I was happy to take over from my teenager. It seems he decided to lose weight the old fashioned way -- by not eating. He was walking to and from school and explained that the exercise was causing him to lose weight. He looked great....but as time went on, he was getting thinner, and crabbier, and more tired.

His "lunch" was an energy bar and an apple, I discovered. Not enough calories in that to feed a hungry, growing kid.

Of course, I didn't discover this because I failed to ask the right questions. "Do you want me to make your lunch?" I would ask in the morning. "Naw, it's okay, Ima, I made it already." How mature, I thought. How gullible is what I now think.

Yossi pried it out of him. One day, Yossi picked him up from school for reasons I no longer recall. I seldom see Yossi upset, but when I went down to the cab, sparks were flying out of his eyes.

Apparently my son was more grumbly and sharp than usual, and since Yossi is his favorite person in the world, it was quite unlike the kid to snarl at him. So, Yossi, being an experienced parent in his own right, set about doing some not-so-gentle-guy-to-guy-cross-examination about this Bad Attitude. Bottom line: the kid is hungry. REALLY hungry....which led to more cross-examination about what he eats for lunch and how he shines on his parents.

Yossi put it bluntly: "He's too thin, he's on medication, and he needs to eat. YOU need to make him his lunch every morning, Sarah, because otherwise he won't make a proper lunch."

Agreed. Chagrined at being duped, I insisted on making lunch. And WHAT a lunch!! Sambouki couldn't do better: fruits, nuts, a slice of cake or cookies, and a gourmet sandwich. A sandwich loaded with healthy things like humous, matboucha or zhug, cucumbers and/or tomatoes, with sliced egg and/or tuna and/or pastrami........

He said he liked them. He ate them. He told me how good these elaborate sandwiches were.

Then, one day, toward the end of the month when the cupboard starts getting bare, I looked in the 'fridge to see what I could make a sandwich out of. I had a sandwich role and not much else. There was one left-over hotdog from the night before....okay, I sliced that hotdog into strips, put it into the sandwich role, poured ketchup on it, and hoped for the best. Certainly not up to my usual standard.

I got a phone call later that morning.

"Ima! That was the BEST sandwich EVER!! Thanks!"

Go figure. All I need to do now is start buying Bamba (shudder).

2 Comments:

Anonymous westbankmama said...

LOL! I also came from a household of meat and potatoes, with an occasional salad made with iceberg lettuce (are there any nutrients in that at all?)and a tomatoe that tasted like a tennis ball. My husband had to teach me about fruits and vegetables. I am still a junk food person, but I do enjoy salads with healthy vegetables.

Monday, May 11, 2009 at 7:20:00 PM GMT+3  
Blogger aliyah06 said...

Salad was an unknown growing up....one of the things my roommates taught me. Prior to that, I though a salad was a piece of iceberg lettuce with a slice of avocado and a couple of orange slices on it.

Salads since then have been a voyage of discovery: lettuces, cabbage, carrot, garnishes of eggplants, peppers, cheeses, nuts, fruits; or chicken or steak slices; different home-made dressings....coming to Israel made salad-discovery a whole new endeavor. Salads are MEALS here!

Monday, May 11, 2009 at 7:44:00 PM GMT+3  

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