Sunday, October 14, 2012

On Becoming a Later-in-Life Cook

Switching gears from my recent, rather grim posts, I wanted to report on a new, and unexpected passion of mine -- cooking! Wow! No one is more surprised than I, as I have been a proudly, defiantly non-domestic woman throughout my late teens and adult life.

All the men in my life have quickly picked up on this inclination, including my late husband and current gentleman friend. Somehow, I have always managed to attract men who love to putter around in the kitchen, and who produce entrees that put my best efforts to shame. They have said they love to assist me, but I have a strong suspicion that there is a defensive aspect to their motives. If they can get the recipe right, why risk anything under-done, over-done, or totally screwed up from Valarie's hands? I can't say that I've blamed them.

My mom has owned a crock pot since the 1970's. It has been mostly consigned to the back hall cupboard, getting used maybe once or twice per year. I got it out two weekends ago, and it's now going to be a regular fixture in my kitchen. You read that right -- my kitchen! In my gradual assumption of the role of "lady of the house," I have been using the "good china" more often, and gathering folks around the dinner table.

Just as Amy Adams' character Julie in the 2009 film Julie & Juliainspired me to begin this blog, her finding relief from everyday stress in cooking is inspiring me now. For me, mastery in the kitchen will represent another credential as being "lady of the house." Also, it's a way to strengthen bonds by breaking "bread" made with my own hands.

Last night, I outdid myself for the first time. Using a recipe for "Italian Pot Roast and Potatoes and Carrots" I'd spied in a Rachel Ray's magazine, I dove in. What's not to love about a big chuck roast with baby red potatoes, chucks of carrots, mushrooms, garlic, tomato paste, balsamic vinegar, and onions, filling the house with homey aromas as it slow-cooks for six hours? Since Saturdays are also a work day for me, I appreciate the convenience without sacrificing meal quality.

In addition to pleasing my gentleman friend and guests, it's also another way to encourage my mom out of her room and to the table, to eat and socialize. There were decades in which Mom produced good food for all; now, rightfully, it's my turn.

Everyone ate second helpings, and their praise was gratifying. And even I was proud of my dinner!

Emboldened by last night's success, I have signed up for participation on's site, and have found the following recipes to try in the coming weeks:

Crock Pot Turkey Chili, Crock Pot Chicken with Black Beans and Cream Cheese, and To Die For Crock Pot Roast.

Sucker than I am for anything historic, I also pulled out more long-forgotten cookbooks from a drawer, and plan to see what I can do. Here are images from two of the books:

I remember getting this "Cooking with Soup" cookbook while I was a single 21-year-old in my studio apartment in the Silverlake district of Los Angeles. My intention was to find ways to "cook for one," rather than subsisting on TV dinners. I felt I deserved better than that. Unfortunately, my ambitions lay elsewhere at the time, so cooking did not continue to be a priority.

Check out the next two images, and see if any nostalgia comes up for you. Take special note of the price of this publication and the contest deadline:

I'm going to host Thanksgiving for a total of nine people, and will take people up on their kind offers to "bring something." Still, I'm going to create a Pumpkin Surprise Pie, complete with its companion Peanut Crunch Whipped Cream. Not to be reckless, I will try this recipe out first several weeks ahead of time.

Fingers crossed, I'll keep you apprised of my new adventure.

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