A friend of mine recently asked whether I like to cook or bake. I immediately dispelled the notion that I could bake by describing the number of ugly birthday cakes I had made in my lifetime.
Why, just last week I tried to make a cake for our daughter’s birthday and it fell into five pieces coming out of the baking tin. Even extra frosting couldn’t have fixed it. A trip to Giant Eagle resolved the crisis.
Additionally, for at least 10 years Mary Ann and I tried to make fudge that always became ice cream topping instead. For years I had the same liquidy result with jello, but I’m proud to say I have now mastered that art.
My mother, Doris Gorske, was a great pie baker but it did not rub off, undoubtedly due to lack of effort on my part. When Mary Ana, now 35, was born, Mom gave me a pie crust lesson. It involved blending the basics, then storing the dry ingredients in a peanut butter jar in the fridge to mellow. Thirty five years later, that peanut butter jar is still waiting in the back of my fridge. If I ever get around to it, that’s going to be some pie!
But I do love to cook.
The question followed, “What is your favorite thing to cook?” I was momentarily stumped as years of recipes flashed through my mind. Now that I’ve had time to think about it, I’m ready to answer. (Sort of.)
First I thought of all the things I’ve always wanted to make like my mother did. Her pork chops were fall-apart amazing. Mine always end up a bit chewy and lack the same flavor. I try to imitate her chicken salad and mine’s OK but never as perfect as hers.
That salad did not come around to our table often enough since Mom was not a fan of chicken or, for that matter, fish. Our diets consisted of beef, mostly, with some pork tossed in when I would beg for it. The year both of my sisters were in college were particularly frugal and we had cube steak (I cannot stomach it to this day), beef roast, and meatloaf pretty regularly. Just as I am an epic fail at baking, Mom was a disaster with the meatloaf. She tried every recipe she could scrape up and the result was always bad, bad, bad.
So that gets me to my favorite thing to make. It’s meatloaf! I am the Queen of Meatloaf. My kids, as young children, liked it and they still do. Joe likes it. I like it and so finally I found something I could make that Mom could not!
I have two seasons of cooking. When we get to the end of winter cooking, I celebrate that the grill will be ready to thrill us with summer fare. Nothing tastes better than something cooked on the grill, though I admit part of that wonderfulness may come from the fact that Joe does that grilling while I just deal with side dishes. Mixing interesting salads, zesting up veggies (my sister Pam always says that vegetables should not be the quiet corner of a plate!) works more easily in the summer with all of the fresh, local produce available.
Yet, even that wears thin after several months and I happily haul out the slow-cooker again to launch into winter cooking.
There are hundreds of ways to make chili and throughout the winter I try them all. My beef bourginion (more commonly but not as impressively known as beef and noodles) tickles the taste buds and fools people into thinking I’ve slaved over the stove all day long.
I used to truthfully slave over the stove for five hours when I made my homemade spaghetti sauce for lasagne. Joe and I were newly married and living in Philadelphia where I had access to genuine fresh food from the Italian market. My recipe took Frankie’s homemade sausage and homemade ricotta cheese from DiBruno’s plus freshly grated Parmesan and mozzarella. It was a lasagne to die for.
One night, when we were just having spaghetti, I didn’t have the time to make my sauce so opened a jar of Prego. Joe took a bite, paused, sighed, and said, “Ah — your sauce is magnificent as always.” That did it. From that point on it was “Let’s save five hours and just go with Prego!” Of course, I don’t have the Italian market in my backyard anymore either, so lasagne by my hand has been out for years.
I’d continue this trip down culinary memory lane but I’ve made myself hungry.
Pat Gorske Price graduated from Oberlin High School and taught English and drama there for 12 years. In retirement she continues to enjoy writing and theater. Comments can be made to [email protected]