Suzanne was still in college when she got married. That meant she went from living with her parents, to college life to living with her husband. She says that although she knew how to do lots of general things, like buying a house, there were simple things she’d never learned to do and getting divorced meant it was time to learn. Here’s Suzanne:
[contemplate1] I never learned to cook. My mom never really had us cook when we were at home. I could pop frozen things in the microwave and boil water but I never cooked at home. When I was married, my husband cooked every day and I never did, so that was a big thing.
We joke about it because my son told his preschool teacher that the smoke alarm was always going off at home because mommy was always burning things. He would look at me and say,
“Can we just order pizza?”
One year for Christmas, I asked everybody to send me cookbooks or put together their favorite recipes and I started cooking by trial and error. Still, to this day, I consult my mother a lot about general things you’d think at thirty-two years of age, I should be able to do but I can’t.
My dad is Romanian and his mom, my grandma passed away right after I got married. She would cook all these Romanian dishes but she never had a recipe. It was just throw this together, add this, add this and that would basically make the meal. I spent the whole day with my dad trying to learn how to cook some of these dishes because he had been teaching himself. I think that was my favorite memory, spending time with my dad picking up some of my heritage. I have two traditional dishes that he taught me that I’ve almost perfected.
The first is chicken paprikash which is basically chicken and noodles but you make the noodles from scratch with egg, flour, salt and water. You take a whole chicken, like the ones you buy at the grocery store for $3 or $4, cut it up into pieces, and saute it in a pan with carrots and onions. Romania is a very poor country so it’s just simple ingredients, very cheap but it’s really good.
Then the other one is cabbage roll. Again it’s inexpensive. You use ground pork and it’s cooked with white rice, some spices, and paprika. Paprika’s in every Romanian dish. It’s a staple you must have in your kitchen. Basically you take the meat and rice mixture and you wrap it in cabbage and it’s in a tomato-based broth. I had quite a few times when I was trying to recreate this dish that I would have my parents over to eat with us and my dad would be,
“mmm, needs more of this ….” or “mmm … not quite right”
So it did take me a while but I think I’ve got it now.
I will be honest, I’m still not a great cook but I can get around the kitchen. I haven’t poisoned anyone and my son is a pretty healthy seven-year-old weighing all but seventy pounds. I don’t think he’s any worse for the wear. He does eat a lot of frozen chicken tenders and Kraft macaroni cheese
Chicken Paprikash and Cabbage Rolls sound like soul food to me and I think it’s natural that when you learn to cook, you look to dishes from your heritage. My mum worked when I was going to school and so it was my job to cook dinner. She’d prepare everything the night before and leave me with detailed instructions covering what temperature to set the oven at and when to light, when to start cooking the potatoes and the vegetables and so on.
We also had to do a cooking class at school so I did learn to cook. My kids however … mmm … I definitely have some work to do there.
Who did/does the cooking in your house – is it you or your spouse? Did you learn to cook before you were married? How did you learn? Is there a recipe book or website you’d recommend?
Photo Credit: Ron Diggity