My mom does a lot of cooking.
With eight starving boys living in this house (and five girls who may or may not also be starving), making food is a pretty big deal and a task that takes up a good deal of her time.
I’m not going to make this about whether my mom is a good cook, however, because on a scale from excellent to burned cookies, she’s all over the place. I’ve had Once-in-a-Lifetime soups and Leftover Surprise that have been the absolute best thing ever (plus she makes REALLY good cheesecake!) but we’ve also had burned cookies, flat biscuits, and squash custard. The verdict is pretty well mixed.
(Note: when the homemade bread deflates in the oven, the result is bricks. Which, as luck would have it, make pretty decent toast.)
Rather than get myself in trouble by talking about all the not-so-fabulous food my mom has served us over the years, I thought I’d instead touch on the process behind Mom’s cooking: both the good and the not-so-good.
Perhaps the secret to all of Mom’s cooking success is that she doesn’t follow the recipe blindly. Instead, she keeps an open mind and adapts or makes substitutions when and where she feels necessary. Do the chocolate chip cookies call for an egg yolk? Nah, skip the hassle and just throw in a hefty dollop of sour cream. Same difference.
In fact, I think it’s fairly safe to say that Mom almost never follows a recipe 100%. Most of the things she’s using a recipe for are pretty simple anyway: bars, cookies, soup, biscuits, or some kind of crockpot wonder meal. If she decides to skip an ingredient or add something new, it’s pretty safe. And if not, well, that’s what eight starving boys are for, right?
Of course, the flip side of rarely using a recipe is that Mom has memorized the proportions of the things she makes most often and just eyeballs them instead. When making pancakes, she knows what the consistency of the end result ought to be and just keeps adding milk and flour until she gets there. Depending on how excited she gets about this, we could end up with a couple gallons of pancake batter by the time she’s got it close enough.Again: that’s what eight starving boys are for.
I should mention that Mom is also a “chase it around until most of the lumps are gone” kind of cook. So pancakes, especially squash pancakes, have the potentially to be very interesting.
Squash pancakes, for those unfortunate souls who have never had the rare privilege of trying them, are pretty much just ordinary pancakes with a few pounds of mashed squash added to the batter. In my mom’s kitchen, “mashed” is a term we use fairly loosely. Squash pancakes can end up pretty darn lumpy.
In fact, in many cases Mom treats recipes like a rough guideline of what could potentially be used to cook something vaguely resembling the original dish. She has no problem with making changes to the suggested proportions if she feels the cookbook has it wrong. There was one time when she commented on the “cowardly amount of chili powder” one recipe called for. It was a deficiency she soon remedied. Apparently you can never have too much chili powder?
Another thing about Mom and cooking is that after eyeballing recipes for long, the accuracy of her measurements is highly questionable. I sometimes wonder if she even remembers what measuring cups are for. Around here, they’re used more often to convey “just about enough” of whatever she’s working with from the container to the mixing bowl instead of measuring out exactly what’s called for. Rather than measuring the amount of flour or honey needed for a batch of bread, Mom eyeballs it and throws in as much as “looks right.”
Since she’s been making bread with that recipe for 15 years, of course, I expect she knows by now what looks right, but her disregard for actually measuring things in recipes goes beyond that. The recipe for our chocolate birthday cakes calls for (no joke) exactly one dump of cocoa and two glugs of vanilla.
If you’re not used to cooking with Mom, that might be confusing. But in layman’s terms, that comes down to about 1/3 cup of cocoa and about two teaspoons of vanilla, erring on the side of more because you can never have too much vanilla.Clearly, following the recipe is something we’re not very good at. But around here, it’s our philosophy that if it eats, that’s good enough. Mom’s been using the glug-and-dump method for years now, and since we’ve all survived, I think that’s all the proof anyone needs that her way works.
Author’s note: After this long spiel about Mom and cooking, I feel anyone else would have found a way to throw in at least one pop culture reference to some hit cooking show. But since I have never actually watched a cooking show, really the only thing I can say is that as far as I can tell, people on cooking shows spend way too much time cooking fiddly little cupcakes or have spotless kitchens and way more spotless cooking utensils than are good for them. Not only does that seem like an incredibly unrealistic representation of how cooking actually happens in the real world, but I feel like I can find plenty of other ways to waste my time. Which is why I’ll leave it up to you to decide what kind of sarcastic cooking show reference would have otherwise gone here.