Saturday, May 21, 2011

I Cook for Handkerchiefs

Last weekend, Mary at Owlhaven, in doing a giveaway, asked what people first remembered cooking. 

I don't remember what the first thing I ever cooked was. I remember being really young and cooking with my grandma who had, of all things, wall to wall carpeting--including the kitchen. One time I was visiitng her and we were cooking something--probably a cake--when I dropped a raw egg on to the floor. Boy, was she angry!! 

But, the memory I wanted to share with you took place in India. We had just moved to a new city and while we looked for housing, all of us stayed in this hostel. It was one large room that all eight of us stayed in, and there was a large bathroom/dressing room. We used the dressing room to cook in. We didn't' have a whole lot to do and so, probably for this reason, my mom had me start doing a lot of the cooking. I was eleven years old. She asked me to make the menus and plan the meals. 

I've written before how I loved playing house as a child but most of my play centered around keeping the house organized. I made lists and menus and plans on paper. By the time I had gotten my family in order, I would lose interest in it and move on to another imaginary family.

When I began making menus for my family I told my mom that it was much more interesting make pretend menus. In pretend menus you can cook anything you like. In real-life menus you have to be concerned with budgets and seasons and all those mundane details. It was a really good learning experience for me.

What I remember cooking the most at this time was a soy product (TVP) that had to be rehydrated when it was cooked. They were little dry chunks that look like dried out chicken nuggets. You cook them with hot liquid--often some sort of broth to give them flavor--and they get kinda spongy. They are inexpensive and nutritious. We use this a lot here in Zambia as a staple in our menu.  You can learn more about TVP here.

Anyway, back to my memories. I don't know if soy products were new to the Indian market or if this particular company was doing a promotion, but every little box of TVP came with a handkerchief. All six of us kids would take turns getting to keep the little handkerchief. We must have eaten a ton of this soy stuff because I remember that each of us had several handkerchiefs. 

Maintaining our collections was a big deal. We could let them get all wrinkly so we learned the best way to keep our handkerchiefs looking pristine was too get them wet and then plaster them to the mirror. As they dried, they would fall off, stiff as a board but so smooth and wrinkle free. Incidentally, we did this with stamps we collected too.

I don't know what else I cooked at that time, that memory has faded, but learning to cook so young set me on a path of enjoyment in the kitchen. I'm grateful my parents trusted me to play an important role in helping out my family.


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