I first learned to cook from my mom Eloise. At first it was mostly cookies. One of my earliest memories of us cooking together was when I put cinnamon candy noses on reindeer-shaped cookies, for Christmas when I was three.
The cookie recipe was from a bag of Brownulated sugar (a cross between brown sugar and white sugar). Later, I laboriously copied the recipe in case it disappeared from the package. When Mom died seventeen years ago, I found most of our old favorites.
We also made Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies from the chocolate chip package and oatmeal cookies from the Quaker Oats box.
I have happy memories of making these seven-layer bars, one of the first things I made on my own.
I was so proud of the first recipe I invented when I was seven or eight that I typed it. Even though I couldn't spell "sugarless" or "dough", I knew exactly what I wanted to make: A dough of butter, flour, egg, salt and baking powder with grated cheese stirred into it. We never made these, but I imagine they would taste like cheese straws.
Later we cooked savory recipes, often in Girl Scouts. This spinach salad recipe is the precursor to this recipe I made recently.
My sister was the quiche expert. I remember those quiches fondly, and kept making similar ones once I was out of the house on my own.
When I was 12, one of my birthday presents was a pizza "oven", a special pan that sat over an electric stove burner so that you could make a "perfect" twelve-inch pizza. I never made a yeast dough for these so the crust was more like a biscuit. I remember those pizzas fondly.
I learned what to do with various spices from my mom. She didn't make spaghetti sauce like a lot of other people made at the time. Hers was so much more than just meat, tomato sauce and a half-teaspoon of Italian seasoning.
When I was in college, I visited Mom one weekend. I showed up early on Friday while she was working, so I went to her lab, where she was a medical technologist. She showed me their sample petri dishes that they kept for diagnosis of various things like ringworm. It was a little bit gross, but interesting too.
Later, I went back to her apartment to start some chili, which she was going to help me finish when she got home. She had just started making it with ground cumin in addition to the chili powder and promised me it would be really tasty.
I opened the can of beans, saw some white stuff floating around on top, and freaked. I was sure the beans had botulism. I called her at work and she convinced me to set them aside in the refrigerator. It turns out the white stuff was just pork fat. The chili was delicious.
I never did find her curry recipe, which was so Westernized as to be unrecognizable as authentic curry, but which is comfort food to me now. I found out later that it was "Country Captain Chicken." I've made a vegan version of it many times since I discovered what it was called.
Mom wasn't dogmatic about making recipes exactly the same way every time. She liked to experiment a bit, and I've inherited the trait. When my son was small, I planned to make some classic oatmeal cookies, and then discovered some pumpkin in the freezer. I threw it in, added some nuts, and this has been a House Favorite ever since. I'm also linking this up with the Hearth 'n' Soul Blog Hop and Sweets for a Saturday.
Pumpkin Walnut Oatmeal Cookies
The moisture from the pumpkin gives these the texture of little cakes. You can freeze the remainder of the pumpkin and use it later in some pancakes or muffins.
1 tablespoon ground golden flax seed
3 tablespoons water
3/4 cup canola oil
Scant 1 cup pumpkin (1/2 of a 15-ounce can)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or additional AP flour)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup walnut pieces
3 cups rolled oats
Beat together the flax seed and water until the mixture thickens. Add canola oil, pumpkin and sugars and beat on medium-high until creamy. Add vanilla and mix briefly.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flours, soda, cinnamon, salt and cloves. Using a large spoon, add the flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture, beating briefly on low after each addition. Do not over-beat. Stir in the last of the flour by hand with the spoon.
Stir in the walnuts and rolled oats. Let mixture stand for a few minutes to thicken while you heat the oven to 375 F.
Drop by spoonfuls onto a lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake for 9-10 minutes. Cool for a minute on the cookie sheets, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.
Makes about 36 cookies.