Wednesday, January 17, 2018

My Mother, the Great Chef (Not!)

Stir Fried Okra*
Today is January 17, which on the Jewish calendar this year (5778) is 1 Shevat, my mother's yahrzeit, commemorating the date of her death.  I've chosen her yahrzeit as one of the days I write about her on my blog.

I had been trying to decide what to write about today, and this afternoon a friend introduced me to pickled okra, which reminded me of the time my mother tried to cook fried okra.  She had heard about the dish but hadn't actually gotten a recipe or instructions.  So she just cut up the okra, threw the pieces in a pan with oil, and fried them that way.  And we learned very quickly that was not the right way to do it.  See, okra has little "hairs" all over it, and it's slimy to begin with, so cooking it in oil just made it . . . really unappetizing.  My father even compared it to snot.  It's one of the two absolute cooking failures my mother acknowledged.

The other failure was when she tried to make some sort of baked eggplant dish.  I don't really know what she was aiming for, but when she took the pan out of the oven, it was a soupy, watery mess.  She took one look at it and said, "That didn't work," and threw it out.  She didn't even try to inflict it on us.

One other dish I will always remember that my mother cooked was liver and onions.  I remember it so well because I hated it.  She would cook the liver to death, until it was dry and chalky.  My brother and I couldn't stand it.  My dad, mom, and sister would be finished eating, and my brother and I would still be at the table an hour later, pushing the liver around on the plate with the ketchup we had covered it with in vain, hoping to drown the taste.  My mother would walk by and threaten us:  "If you don't eat that now, you're getting it for breakfast!"  (She never did that, thank heavens.)  Eventually she figured out that we just really, really didn't like liver and stopped giving it to us.

It's pretty impressive that my mother had only two real failures with cooking, because I don't think it was something that came to her naturally or that she had done much of when she was younger.  She told me on more than one occasion that she was not "domestically inclined", but she did well with cooking for a family of five and making sure that everyone had enough to eat.  I think my father taught her how to cook some of the dishes that she made a lot, because they were things he liked to eat.  And most of what she made tasted fine, if not great.  I know I'd be happy to have some of her chili right now.

*Photo © Kham Tran, 2008.  This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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