I have always enjoyed cooking, however, when the pandemic hit, along with the stay at home orders, I have been cooking and preparing a variety of meals daily. At first, eating daily home cooked meals was a refreshing change from our usual routine of dining out three to four times a week. Cooking at home, during COVID, has urged me to try some recipes I have never tried before, but, it has left me feeling a little “burned” out. I suppose it would be easier to order take out instead of trying to plan a meal every night, but, in my opinion, nothing tastes as good as a homemade meal.
And even though cooking has taken a toll on me, I feel better knowing that my family and I are safe from being exposed to the Coronavirus or any illness, for that matter. We have ordered take out multiple times, but each time, I am fearful of exposure. Yet, as the restaurants start opening for indoor dining, the convenience of returning to our favorite restaurants is very tempting, but I am still not willing to risk the health of my family for the convenience to dine out.
I started cooking in my preteen years, my mom worked the swing shift and would either start dinner before she left or would leave me instructions so I could make dinner. What I loved the most about cooking was learning family recipes that were handed down through generations. My parents taught me how to cook dishes that their parents taught them, like fried smelt (one of my favorites as a kid, I know, odd, but so good!) pork chops in the oven and homemade dishes like spaghetti sauce that would cook all day and fresh cannoli’s with custard filling, just to name a few. And when I got married, my mother in law, also shared her recipes with me, which she got from her mother, like Chile Colorado, Tacos, Spanish Rice and homemade tamales, again, handed down through generations. Over the years, I have put my own spin on most of the recipes, but it is the base recipe that I appreciate.
Before the stay at home orders, my family and I would frequent our favorite restaurants for either breakfast, lunch or dinner, depending on my mood to cook, but, on the occasional weekend morning, I would wake up feeling the urge to make a big, hearty breakfast consisting of scrambled eggs, bacon and potatoes along with tortillas and salsa or I would make homemade waffles, some filled with bits of freshly cooked bacon smothered with syrup or topped with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. But those days were few and far between and even though I knew that my family would love this meal every weekend it would just create unwanted additional work for me, which I was unwilling to add to my other daily chores.
Some meals require more preparation than others and unless I have recipes committed to memory, the first thing I do is find a recipe by searching online, in a cookbook or through my personal recipe book, which is an overstuffed, disorganized, three-ring binder filled with recipes that I collected over the years. These recipes were collected mostly by cutting them out of newspapers/magazines and downloading and printing them from the internet. I also have handwritten recipes on varying sizes of paper, some by my hand and some that were given to me by family members.
Once I settle on a recipe, I need to make sure I have all the ingredients readily available, otherwise, it’s off to the market and let’s face it, that is a chore in itself. Luckily, most of the time, I have the ingredients in my fridge, freezer, or pantry. After gathering all the ingredients, I rinse and dry any veggies before I can chop, slice, dice or mince them. Then I can start the cooking process.
There are days that the process of cooking a meal would consume a good portion of the day. For example, when I make Chile Colorado, I make everything from scratch. This meal consists of multiple steps throughout the day beginning with the chile. This process involves boiling fresh chiles until they are softened enough to blend. Once thoroughly blended, the chile mixture is placed in a glass dish so the flavors can meld together to create a wonderful, rich chili flavor. Then, it is time to soak and cook the beans, and several hours later, I cut and boil the meat and prepare the ingredients for my rice. Hours later, when the meat and Chile are married and plated with homemade rice and beans, the fresh spicy aroma makes my mouth water in anticipation of the powerful flavors that will soon make it all worth the effort.
In the end, what I have come to realize is that cooking is a labor of love involving varying degrees of prep work with the final product rewarding and worth the time and effort it took to make. Deciding between a home cooked meal and a meal out, is a decision I typically make based on convenience, time, and desire. But regardless of the option I choose, I am always thinking about our next meal. Tonight, we invited the in-laws for dinner, where we are dining out on the patio, physically distanced, with our masks on.
“Am’s View” by Andrea Palladino Perez ppears on alternate Sundays.