I have never shared this before but I was always a little jealous of my former roommate, Lauren. We are lifelong friends who have shared wonderful memories as well as very difficult moments like the loss of parents. Sometimes girlfriends can be jealous of each other and truth be told it’s no different with me. However, my jealousy doesn’t stem from looks, money or men – rather it’s her cooking.
You see growing up with my family in England was a little different. Although my mum did know how to cook, usually meat and potatoes or an overly spiced chicken curry, she wasn’t very good at it, and I honestly don’t think she even liked it. So I was the designated cook, baker and tea maker for our family of five.
By contrast, Lauren’s mum and aunts had handwritten cookbooks dedicated to their children and wonderful hand-me-down recipes from great-grand parent to grand-parent to parent to daughter. I tore recipes out of magazines at the doctor’s office and old cookbooks I found.
Food has always played a huge part in my life because early on it had to. However, I never knew what it would have been like to share this passion with a family member, at least not until I met Lauren and my jealousy around this area of our friendship remained locked inside of me as I watched her work her kitchen magic.
I learned to cook by reading cookbooks and high-school cooking classes, while Lauren learned from her mum and aunts by hands-on teaching. Lauren moved around our kitchen with a confidence I envied and tried to emulate; a splash of wine here, a dash of soy there, a pinch of cumin, a handful of parsley, she made it all look so easy and effortless. If she added too much of one thing, she made it better with the addition of something else.
I, on the other hand, moved around the kitchen with an awkward clumsiness, my nose in cookbooks, trying to be the consummate perfectionist with everything I cook. I have always felt like the epitome of a kitchen fraud because people think I’m a good cook. Lauren has an ease and natural flair where as I have anxiety and a knot in my stomach, which is written all over my face when I’m preparing a meal.
There is one particular recipe that her family makes for Sweet & Sour Chicken. This creation takes hours of preparation and is something Lauren would protest about making when we would beg her to make it for a girl’s dinner. On one occasion she surrendered and we worked together on putting this amazing, intricate, labor intensive dish together. Lauren showed me how she stirred the sauce at a constant slow pace so that it didn’t turn to a type of toffee, how she spiced the breading for the chicken so that it tasted just right and how to make the rice so dense and flavorful without being sticky or heavy. She never knew what that day meant to me but it became something I never had from my childhood and for that I cannot thank her enough.
I still sometimes feel like that kitchen fraud, always fooling people into thinking I am a good cook. I still don’t have the confidence to make a recipe without a cookbook by my side, but I do now attempt to substitute ingredients and add a little more salt or pepper here and there. With my own substitutions and additions and the hand-written recipe from Lauren for Sweet & Sour Chicken, I am now creating my own hand-me-down cookbook.