Mon, Jul 2nd, 2012 by Jane Cobb
I was talking to a friend the other day, trying to explain to him the love/hate relationship that I’ve had with cooking over the years: on the one hand, I’ve enjoyed the endless creativity and delicious anticipation of cooking, but then on the other hand, I’ve also dreaded the everyday, having to cook. And, there is a difference; it’s a matter of mindset. The first connotes a sense of imagination and pleasure in the process—perhaps a Greek panzanella and roasted shrimp with feta and maybe fleur de sel caramels for dessert. The second looks more like, “I’ve got a third of a jar of peanut butter, a can of tuna, and ketchup in the pantry. I wonder what I can whip up with these ingredients to keep the masses alive until breakfast.” One is an endless farmer’s market of delight and possibilities, the other, a box of macaroni and cheese and drudgery.
When I was little, my mother worked 3-11, which meant that my dad was usually in charge of supper for my two brothers and me. A typical meal would consist of scrambled eggs and fried bologna or scrambled eggs and corned beef hash or scrambled eggs and Spam. (Are you catching the theme?) Obviously, my dad was caught in the keeping-the-masses-alive mode, and overall, this is how I grew up. I didn’t realize that eating and cooking could be creative; in my little life on 3 May Street, cooking was a purely functional practice. It wasn’t until I was 16 that I met and worked for a youngish couple of hippies who ate broccoli (oh, that’s what broccoli looks like) and granola, went to the farmer’s market every few days, and insisted on fresh, quality ingredients for cooking, that I realized that there were other things to eat in this world besides Hamburger Helper, canned peas, and, of course, eggs with a side of mystery meat. Thus, at 16, I embarked on a whole new food chapter in my life.
Fast forward to the present, and if you come to the Cobb home today, you’ll likely find chickens roaming our field (an ode to my dad and themed cooking), and typically I’ll have a little kitchen garden growing where I can run and grab fresh herbs or tomatoes for supper. And you’ll probably find an Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa) cookbook open on my counter. Yes, she’s been around for years, and yet, she’s still the one I go to for inspiration. Because I had very little instruction or demonstration in how to cook, I was always in search of a cookbook that could de-mystify the process for me and make deliciousness not only accessible, but also easy. I didn’t have time to hunt for a recipe’s list of 20 ingredients, nor did I want to run all over Northwest Florida to find them. I wanted simple, fresh ingredients and basic instructions that didn’t require a culinary degree to execute, and then I wanted all of it slathered in pure yumminess (Some might think me unreasonable; I prefer well-defined). Ms. Garten’s ability to take simple ingredients (that I can buy at Publix on the corner) and unlock their flavors using uncomplicated recipes that don’t require hours of prep time inspires me. She did as much to change my mindset from the dread of the next meal as my hippie friends did to unlock the world of “real” food for me. I you haven’t ever read one of her cookbooks do yourself a favor and pick one up. As for me, I’m headed to the chicken coop to pick up a few eggs for supper. Dad would be so proud.
Jane Beaulieu Cobb lives in the Pensacola area with her husband Chris where they have raised/are raising their six children. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of West Florida in English/Writing. Aside from working as business manager for Cobb Woodworking, LLC, Janie enjoys reading, writing, gardening, running, and living in the overall chaos that is the Cobb household. She is a VIE contributor for “The Written Word” column.
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