How I Started Cooking

It was the 1970’s, and I was living with my mother in a small apartment in Miami overlooking U.S. 1, sandwiched between the hippie enclave of Coconut Grove and the Latin neighborhood of Silver Bluff. Miami was a very different place back then, sleepy and laid back, yet awakening to a future of growth and expansion that within 30 years would change its face forever.

Meanwhile, the two of us were making a home alone for the first time after having always lived with my grandmother. She was a force to be reckoned with and one who pushed all my mom’s buttons. After a decade together, they both had had enough. That’s how I learned that in the kitchen oil and water don’t mix, and neither do two very different people. I was ten years old and had followed my mom everywhere, but the whirlwind era of psychedelic parties and road trips had come to an end, and we were settling down. It was exciting and scary at the same time.

Suddenly the responsibility of cooking fell on me. If I could get dinner ready before my mom got home from work, I was actively contributing to the project we had embarked on together, that of building a home. But, aside from my fascination with making omelettes (which every kid has), I really didn’t have a clue about cooking. My grandmother had always taken care of that, and even though I loved her Colombian recipes, like frijoles and carne en polvo, she never took the time to engage me in the preparation. Meanwhile my mother, who seemed a natural in the kitchen, but usually got home too late on the weekdays, gave me my first cookbook: Craig Claiborne’s The New York Times International Cookbook,1971 edition, a green hardback that became my culinary guide. Preparing a recipe that originated in faraway India was so exotic, and I soon discovered the power of food to inspire my imagination. But cooking so we could eat together and be a family became a stabilizing force and sustained me through the ups and downs of life with my mother.

After 40 years I’m still happy in the kitchen, and time has not blunted my feelings toward this activity. Instead, cooking and preparing meals has become a passion, a common thread that weaves in and out of the tapestry of my life. I’m reminded of Bolen’s descriptions of two Greek goddesses in her book, Goddesses in Everywoman, (Harper & Row, 1984), and how they parallel my own experiences. As I cook for my family and friends, I feel like Hestia, the goddess of the hearth, who kept the fires burning and thus made each house that invoked her a home. At other times when I’m alone (and often when I’m not alone!) and feeling romantic or creative, I connect with the goddess Aphrodite. To the Greeks she was an alchemical agent, like fire, that could transform the mundane into magic. Whatever she focused on became bigger than life, sublime, and set apart from time. That’s when I get lost in the kitchen. It’s the interplay of those two energies, one that grounds me and the other that makes me creative, which inspires me and keeps me coming back to my kitchen. There’s just too much too explore and enjoy while I’m there.

Sources: Sharing a Table, Natasha Gottlieb

photo credit: Daisy comes for lunch WAH 022 via photopin (license)

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How I Started Cooking