When she died, I had just turned ten. My stepfather was not a cook. I found her copy of "Joy of Cooking" and a couple of other cookbooks and started working my way through. I mastered hollandaise, steak and kidney pie, liver pate, and beef Wellington. No one told me I couldn't.
Fast forward three years to a foster home. There were never less than 20 mouths to feed. We ate fried chicken, Hamburger Helper, swiss steak...simple meals, easy to multiply. I took four years of home ec, and loved cooking in the little kitchens. I also loved the attention I got from the home ec teacher, Mrs. Zumwalt. She always encouraged me...and we got to make doughnuts during first period.
What did I never learn? How to cook without a recipe.
I have cooked my way through decades of dinner parties and family meals, and until the last couple of years, I never even tried to make anything without explicit directions. And pictures, if possible.
Something happened after my divorce. I had two young kids to feed, one of whom is incredibly picky (blame it on a sensory processing disorder) and my repertoire took a turn for the limited.
Then it happened. One day, I made a meatloaf by memory. Not specific memory, just a general one. And it turned out great. The next time, I decided it might be good with the addition of some grated zucchini. And it was. And a new, adventurous Annie was born.
Alas, nothing I made was ever spectacular. If I wanted to impress, I still turned to my recipes. Until last weekend.
I had a pork roast, and I couldn't find a recipe that fit exactly what I was craving. So I jumped in and winged it...totally winged it. My daughter gave it the highest praise ever. It was spectacular, if I say so myself. I think it was the cumin/cocoa combo.
Tonight, we needed something for dessert, but I am working very hard to stay away from sugar.
I stuck a can of coconut milk in the freezer when we got home tonight, and after dinner, I opened it and scooped out the thick part from the top of the can. I threw that into the food processor with three previously frozen bananas (I always keep them in the freezer for smoothies). A splash of orange juice to get things moving in the food processor, and within a few minutes, we were feasting on a tropical treat. So yum.
I have always said I am not creative, and I don't think that is changing anytime soon, but I think I will have some fun in the kitchen.