I took over cooking full time after Ken’s surgery in early 2010. It was quite a shift for us because this role had primarily been Ken’s. He was a supremely creative man and his cooking was no exception. His improv skills played a role in everything he did–particularly cooking. He often commented that he loved when we cooked together–which ultimately served as great training for me. I learned to get comfortable experimenting–no matter what the result. It was about the journey, after all. As his illness progressed and he relied on me solely for cooking, he took great pleasure in the meals I served up for him (and, frankly, so did I) and always complimented me on them. And of course, he took great pride in knowing I’d learned from him.
Since he died I’ve made note of the ebbs and flows of my interest in cooking–without judgement. I was really into it last summer, but it sort of waned after the holidays. Of late, I’ve ordered out more than I’ve spent time in the kitchen. I think it’s akin to why I don’t like spending time in the garden: because it’s something that was Ken’s domain, and in spite of the reality and the time that’s passed it can feel a little “trespassy” to work in these areas–and sometimes even harder when taking pleasure in it. (In this capacity, far cooking for exceeds gardening in enjoyment.)
As I prepare for my leave from work, I know it’s important and economical to plan and cook my own meals. In an effort to push myself in that direction I put a pile of cookbooks on the coffee table so I could thumb through them to get inspired. And it started working. I couldn’t ignore them long before I started perusing them and MacGourmet, my recipe database.
I realized after Ken died–even while he was sick–my relationship with food changed. Eating it doesn’t excite me the way it used. I’ve forgotten to eat countless meals since last summer. But it’s in creating and cooking a meal where the enjoyment and satisfaction lies for me. Last weekend I spent a couple of hours embroiled in a cooking adventure, and I loved it. I created “Asparagus Bleu Cheese Stuffed Chicken with Prosciutto” (with some jazzed up brown rice with mushrooms.)
I couldn’t help but think about how much Ken would have loved what I made–and the sense of play I felt while creating it would have made him positively giddy. It was special and I felt so in-the-moment, and I didn’t want it to end. But dinner was ready, so I didn’t have a choice.
Fast forward a week to today. Chicago offered up a beautiful Mother’s Day. Probably one of the nicer weekend days we’ve had since…February. Weird, I know. I felt “something” looming behind me today as soon as I woke up. And I made the conscious decision to stay ahead of it. A trip to the lake while I sipped my coffee helped me stay in a good place. I wasn’t running, but I just wasn’t in the mood to “give in.” Not today.
I’d had had taste for one, and thought it would make a distracting challenge, so I made a free form apple tart from scratch (including the dough), and am happy to report it tastes as good as it looks with an astoundingly flaky crust. Quite a coup since my apple pie disappointment last year.
In addition, I had a hankering from some fried chicken. I’d read a lot about grape seed oil of late, and it’s goodness and high smoking point. After pounding out three breasts and spicing up the dredge, my new best friend grape seed oil helped churn out these crunchy, flavorful goodies. I highly recommend using this non-greasy, smokeless oil.
No doubt May is a tricky month for me–for my whole family, and the shadow of June 1 looms distinctly in the distance. Beginning my leave that day helps put a little different spin on the day, but unlike what has stalked me today, the gravity of that fateful day will be unescapable. And that’s okay. That’s a bridge to be crossed when it needs to be crossed.
As for today, I felt satisfaction, pride and a special connection to Ken as I puttered around the kitchen, creating and improvising.