I drift though the years looking for the first line of the story and I see me, age three, sitting on the pink Formica kitchen counter adding flour, my Auntie Joy making bread weekly. She creates a lot of Joy in our house with the things she makes. I still make bread by feel. Pure Joy.
It’s a funny thing, this peculiar relationship with food. It is the one thing –cooking– I have mastered, cold. Unconscious Competence. Then I think about why I love to cook, how I learned to cook, and when this thing with food started.
‘Attaboy’ they said in unison. Behavior that gets recognized, gets repeated. The vault, full of treasured recognition for food prepared since childhood still pushes me still to repeat cooking behavior.
I can still feel the flannelette-like cool creaminess of fine wheat flour as my little-boy hands add ‘just-a-bit-more’ to bread dough, sitting there covered in flour myself.
I can see the old-school heavy black handset on the rotary dial phone, clamped between my Mother’s crook’d ear and raised shoulder like a vice, can hear cranking on that IBM Selectric, through my end of the phone, the typewriter ball hammering away long after she stopped hitting the keys. She types faster than the typewriter, simultaneously giving me instructions for supper preparation.
I would assemble fried chicken, meatballs, or whatever a 10 year old kid could safely make without burning the house down. More complex dishes followed with food preparation electives in high school, and Southern Alberta Institute of Technology where I earned my journeyman’s certificate between months of real commercial kitchen work over a few years.
Now those professional skills are used to cook for family, friends, and an occasional catering. The breathless desire for the ‘attaboy’ remains.
Food is funny. The refresh rate is short and fast. We finish one meal, and on to the next. If you mess one up, after a few a few hours pass, you have another opportunity to try again, and get it right. Food is temporary, the taste, aroma, mouth feel, and visual appeal is consumed immediately, and literally vanishes. It is a real time experience that is over with dirty dishes.
For me, making food is painting a palate of complimentary layers of flavours, colors, textures, an edible picture, even if it is only a moment’s glimpse. A temporal masterpiece; every meal every day, it is a pleasure, a challenge, a return trip to somewhere else, comfort.
Wait for it….