I never learned to use cookbooks. I own several and rarely crack one open. But I do like the pictures. I admire people who can work from these recipe collections. I learned my culinary skills from my first-generation Sicilian father.
In our home, my mother worked and my father (Papa) stayed home minding the house and kids. This was in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, long before many men and women broke from traditional roles of homemaker and breadwinner. It was not a choice. Papa retired in his early forties from a service-connected disability sustained during his Army days in WWII. My mother worked outside of our home.
Because Papa was limited in physical activity, and my mother wasn’t home much, completion of household chores fell to my sisters and me. My two siblings preferred mowing the lawn, cleaning house, gardening and doing laundry. Me? I lived to be in the kitchen, at the side of my father, cooking the recipes of his homeland as well as learning some of his original delicacies.
Standing at the stove, on a three-legged stool until the age of twelve, and learning the secrets his family brought from Sicily, was where you would find me most days. I was intrigued at Papa’s ability to put ingredients together by instinct and then stand back to let his magic work in simmering pots. He couldn’t use cookbooks, even though he owned a few. He said he did like the pictures though.
Papa taught me to smell the cooking concoctions, taste frequently and add ingredients (especially spices) conservatively. When I asked how he knew we reached the desired result he smiled and said, “You’ll know by the taste, little one.”
That is how I cook today. I admit I don’t enjoy the success my Papa had in the meal-making department. Sometimes what I make is a hit and sometimes well… not so good. I believe despite my diligence at attempting to imitate Papa’s creations, I simply don’t have his talent. I am happy, however, to report Papa’s cooking gifts did not disappear when he died at age fifty-six from his war wounds. They passed over me but landed squarely in the soul of my son, who has become a chef. My only kiddo enjoys experimenting with new recipes while perfecting old family treasures. He never uses cookbooks. He owns several because he likes the pictures.
It should come as no surprise that my child is my go-to guy when I want to try something new in the cooking arena. He is always obliging, patient and cheerful about sharing what he has learned. He often talks me through new cooking adventures over the phone. Not long ago, I wanted to make a Tzatziki sauce to go with some lamb chops. My son told me what to buy. When I called for a one-on-one with Chef, he was happy to walk me through the process, telling me what ingredients to add. When I asked how much dill to put into the mixture, he said, “That’s easy, Mama. You’ll know by the taste.”
Laura Padgett is a multi-published, multi-award winning writer and dancer. She is a Christ follower who published her first book, "Dolores, Like the River" in 2013, telling of her conversion to Christianity and the mentor who taught her how to walk a spirit-filled life with Christ. She writes a blog "Livin' What You're Given" that can be found on her website lauralpadgett.com. Her new collection of short stories about life-changing Jesus moments will be out in Summer 2018 and will be announced on her website and FB author page www.facebook.com/LauraLPadgettAuthorSpeakerDancer.