My cooking lessons started in 1985. My beloved grandmother had a stroke earlier that year. Our annual trek to the East Coast happened as always, except we knew we were not going to NY to visit our grandmother anymore. My Mother and Uncle had moved her to Columbia, MD to be near him and his family. It was a HUGE transition for everyone. I asked to go see her on our second day in Maryland. My Aunt drove me over and I was absolutely horrified at what the visiting nurse tried to feed my grandmother. The woman who made these fabulous looking and tasting meals, desserts and breakfast breads; was being served what looked to be dog food. I was ONLY 14 with NO authority but I was NOT going to let that slop on a plate pass for food. I cannot recall the exact conversation my grandmother and I had, but we fired everyone that came to check on her except the nurse that took vitals.
TRUE CONFESSIONS: We had no IDEA how we were going to make this work. But here is what we had….
- We were in a small town
- Everyone knew who we were
- She had a car
- I knew how to drive
- I knew how to grocery shop and run errands
- I knew how to clean house
- I could cook minor items
- No one ever questioned that I came and went everywhere alone
- It was typical to see kids my age running errands (not driving)
- I was tall for my age
- She encouraged me to say very little to people on my errands
The began cooking lessons the next day. While she did not have an exact method to teach me what to do, we did develop a system. Since she could no longer stand for long periods of time I would bring ingredients to her to see. She would then pull recipes from memory and give me approximate measurements. Praise God I knew the difference between a pinch, a dab, a dollop and a smidge. I say she coached me from the couch. It looked something like this. I would stand in front of her with a clean, raw chicken on a plate. She would think for a moment and then say, “let’s have baked chicken tonight.” The rest of her instructions were pretty much the same as I cooked the meal. Slowly a pattern developed and I began to catch onto what we ingredients we use for certain dishes. Like most gravy recipes started with juice from the cooked meat and flour. It was the hard work but I loved being with my grandmother and there was nothing I would not do for her.
I openly CONFESS:
- All the time I spent with her makes up a large part of who I am
- I am an entertainer and I love to entertain
- I love to cook and present beautiful food to my family and friends
- Just like my grandmother, it is the way that I show my love
- Starched linen tablecloths, beautifully set tables and cloth napkins still excite me
- There are certain smells that take me back to her kitchen in NY
- When I see older women, with soft wrinkled hands cooking up a storm, I smile and silently tell her “I miss you”
- Before I was Mitchell’s Mommy I was Francis Robinson’s grandchild
- She is the reason I cook
- She is my inspiration
As a matter of fact I would give anything for one more lesson from her. I understand she left me with an incredible gift. She showed me that hosting, cooking and serving took style and finesse. While I miss her terribly, she lives on in all her grandchildren.