Food for Thought

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Let’s take a break from our food porn entries and let me repost from a very old food blog I once had. There are still recipes here and there that you might find interesting, but most are heartfelt musings from long ago that still holds true until now.

Take Home Chef, a TLC production starring Curtis Stone, was one addicting show I used to watch religiously not so much for the tasty dishes it churned out but more for its intention — the very simple yet sincere gesture of cooking for someone you love. And the sentimental goof that I am, I am always left teary-eyed the moment the loved one stepped into that door, into the waiting arms of the ‘chosen’ one (the unsuspecting person who was picked at random by the show in a supermarket).

Really, the most moving part of the show was when the loved one entered that door and gets greeted by a loud ‘SURPRISE!’ from the 15-man crew, and straight to warm hug and kiss from the beloved. The look exchanged between the couple says it all. It’s plain and simple love and all its attendant emotions — deep appreciation, joy, respect, admiration… there’s so much warmth there and it’s seeing each other with new eyes.

* * *

The first time I really cooked a full meal was sometime in first year high school. My mom, who helped out my dad in running our small shop, would leave a note — actually, a recipe — on how to cook the raw ingredient she picked for that day. She did this so that we could have an early dinner with my sister (they were a hardworking couple and would sometimes stay in the shop till past midnight) when we got back from school.

The very first dish that I learned? It’s porkchop steak, cooked the family’s way. The porkchop is seasoned in salt and pepper, and marinated in either white vinegar or local lemon. First up on the pan is a little oil and once it’s heated, the porkchop goes in and seared on both sides. Then in comes soy sauce just enough to give the chops some color. Add some water, cover and simmer to tenderize the meat. Once the meat is cooked and the liquid has reduced (you should be getting a thick dark brown sauce), add in some onions and raw chopped garlic. Stir for a bit and serve.

Side  dish would be shredded cabbage and carrots with some mayo, raisins, pickle relish and herbs and spices.

* * *

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When I was young, I’d listen to the radio, waiting for my favorite song. When it played, I’d sing along, it made me smile…. and I would be doing this while cooking up something in the kitchen. Every shalalala, every oh-woh-woh-woh… every shing-a-ling-a-ling… is accompanied by careful stirring or playing hide and seek with the oil splatter from behind a pan cover, or even some mean coughing when barbecue smoke gets accidentally inhaled.

When I was young, cooking was more about pleasing oneself and the senses. I love to cook because it involves all of my five senses. You look at the freshness, the vibrant colors of fruits and vegetables, smell the pungent aroma of garlic sizzling merrily in heated oil, listen to the delightful popping sound of popcorn jumping about in a pan (yes, I like making popcorn the traditional way), feel the tenderness of grilled pork belly or the gooey goodness of dough, and of course, get to taste all these melt-in-your-mouth treats. It was the ultimate high.

Then I got older… and older… I still feel the pleasure of cooking and eating. But something had changed. It was like something flicked the switch on and I found myself wanting to cook for others, especially people close to my heart, and they are so very few.

What was once a seemingly selfish act of self-nourishment unfolded and bloomed into something more generous — that of wanting to nourish my loved ones. More distinctly, as I came face to face with one of my deepest longings, I felt more passionate about that dream of cooking for that one person I will spend the rest of my life with.

This is why my heart stings a bit as I watch those lucky ones who have found the person they share a home with and who they want to cook for to show their appreciation for the relationship and the deep friendship.

The most recent Take Home Chef that moved me was about a woman from Sri Lanka who wanted to cook for her partner to show her appreciation for his being with her all throughout her fears and insecurities as a 200-lb woman. She lost all those unwanted, unhealthy pounds but her other half stayed with her literally through thick and thin. Who wouldn’t be moved by that kind of love and commitment? It was, for me, a 3-ply tissue moment.

* * *
Cooking is more than just physical nourishment. It’s all about the love that goes into those complex layers of taste and texture. The act of cooking itself is made up of layers of emotions and intentions.

In a parallel universe, i see myself lovingly preparing a real gastronomic delight for that one person I love the most in this lifetime. With love and so much care, I would churn out some of the loveliest appetizers, soups and salads, entrees and decadent desserts. And the conversation over dinner would be the most amazing part of this connection. Cooking is an art and one can’t help but be inspired and be creative in the presence of an inspiration. It’s a deep longing — a gastronomic feast for the heart and soul shared with the one you truly love and the one who really values you and doesn’t take you for granted. Mushy, mushy, mushy… I think this is what you become when you mash too many potatoes.

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