Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Day My Cooking Career was Put on the Back Burner

When I was a senior in high school trying to decide what to study in college the following year, my parents sat me down around our kitchen table. My dad had a pen and large notebook in front of him; my mom had a cup of tea; and I had only my hands, folded on the wooden surface of the round antique table, one foot wrapped around one of the clawfoot legs below, and the other foot tapping the linoleum floor, wondering how long this serious meeting would last.

"So what is it you like to do?" my father, the executive, asked me, approaching the college search in the way he ran meetings at work.

"Well, I like to cook and I like to sew, so how about I study home economics in college?" I began.

My mother turned sideways to glance at my father, who returned the look, and although I knew they enjoyed the five-course meals I had cooked them every year on their anniversary since I'd learned at school how to make such things as Popovers and homemade clam chowder and sugar cookies in cool shapes, I could sense something amiss.

"Try again. How about something a bit more academic?" my mother asked, and she dragged out the word "academic" in such a way that I knew I could not argue for my future career as a chef or seamstress.

"I like to write and draw," I replied, shrugging my shoulders.

"How about studying advertising then?" my dad inquired.

"Sounds good!" I replied and, with that, I pushed back my chair back and fled from the table. And that was that. I applied to Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Communication, got in, and my cooking and sewing career was put on the back burner, so to speak.

Now, nearly 40 years later and a successful health care public relations professional-turned journalist and creative writer (I dumped "advertising" after one semester of writing about toothpaste and desiring a more authentic writing field), I think about my brief brush with a home economics career and smile.

I have sewn a few of my kids' Halloween costumes and outfits for school plays they performed in, but other than that, my sewing machine sits dormant.

I have cooked dinner several nights a week for myself and my family for more than 30 years, and on occasion I've fed a houseful of guests. My specialities are my grandmother's chicken soup, the steaming broth and colorful carrots seeming to scream "healthy;" my lasagne, extra sauce and ricotta cheese, favored by my Italian husband who always has seconds--or thirds; my barbecued chicken in the crockpot--it's simple, yet makes the entire house smell like Redbones Restaurant in Somerville; and my mother's brisket, with ketchup, gingerale, carrots and onions. I've also cooked gourmet for guests--mushroom ravioli I rolled myself, homemade cucumber sorbet as a palate cleanser, scallops in cream sauce, and I once made my mother-in-law a tiramisu, and she wrapped the remaining pieces and brought it back to her nursing home for late night leftovers.

And much of that time, I enjoyed what I prepared and liked other's reactions to my savory delights.

However, my parents were correct: While I can sit at my computer and write stories 24/7--and although I don't draw anymore, I have exhibited and sold my photographs, the "art" part of my 17-year-old hobbies--the truth is that home economics never remained a passion and these days I cook more because I have to than because I love it. It was an early lover, but since then others have courted me and stolen my heart.

That old wooden table from my childhood home has long ago been replaced with a glass and metal upgrade, and my mother--who was an ordinary everyday cook but a master of French food that she prepared once a month for guests (and we kids got the leftovers)--no longer cooks, but, together, we made her brisket last Rosh Hashanah, a memory frozen in my mind, forever.

Time marches on, and I will always remember my one-time goal to major in home economics. It was a fleeting, but intriguing, idea.

Mindy F.

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