Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Cooking... Then and Now

When I grow up, I think I'd like to become a chef. I love to cook, I can multi-task, and I'm fairly competent under kitchen pressure. Back in the day, I could bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, all while balancing one child on my hip and having another hug my leg. You can add to my resume the fact that I could clean the entire house using only my feet, but that's another post.

It will therefore come as no surprise to find out that I'm a Food Network junkie. I actually think my desire to become a chef came full circle because of the Food Network. While others tune into their afternoon soaps, I grab my coffee and sit down for an afternoon of Paula Deen, Michael Chiarello, Giada De Laurentiis, Emeril, Mario, Rachael, etc. I've learned terms and techniques that extended far beyond what my mother had been able to teach me as a young girl. She was what I call a "have to" cook. That is to say that she cooked because she had to. With nine children to feed, she had very little time and money to consider technique, freshness and the like, so I can only assume that cooking became a very boring task for her, done daily out of duty and love. She had none of the modern conveniences and shortcuts that today's homemaker takes for granted. For example, not only can we buy chicken that's already been cut up, we can buy it skinless and boneless...and even pre-cooked! Not so back in my mom's day. You know the expression "running around like a chicken with its head cut off?" I actually witnessed that phenomenon as a child when my mother butchered the very chickens that she'd cook and serve us. They really do run around for a bit after they've been decapitated! When they'd finally give up the fight, she'd dunk them in a vat of scalding water to loosen the feathers, pluck said feathers, then run the bird over an open flame to get any remaining hairs. Feet came off next, followed by surgery to remove the inner organs. THEN she was ready to cut the little clucker up and begin the cooking process. Now THAT... should be the definition of cooking from scratch. She had almost an entire day vested in that chicken dinner that went on our table, whereas modern days chefs can decide at 4:00 that they want to make chicken for a 5:30 dinner. Enter the microwave, another convenience she did not have. You can also add food processors, blenders and bread machines to the list of appliances we have now that weren't available back then. Is it then any wonder why she never really enjoyed cooking? It was a tedious process accentuated with the monotony of its creative restraints. Inviting and nutritious cuisine is all about time and money, after all.

Enter today's working mother, and the reason we now have a country full of obese children. I'm not judging working mothers by any means. I was one. I also have overweight children. Mac and cheese from the blue box was a home-cooked meal back in the day, and I was so proud at the time that I hadn't had to resort to another fast food meal! Even with all my modern day appliances, it was still difficult for me to plan and make an inviting meal after working eight hours. I can't help but think that if I'd had access to resources the likes of "Thirty Minute Meals" with Rachael Ray, I might have been more educated in quick and nutritious cooking. Of course, I'd still have had to find the time to watch her show...and do the shopping.... and the prepping.... and the dishes.

It's come full circle indeed, from the days of my mother butchering her own chickens, to the present, where moms are the ones running around like a chicken with its head cut off.

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