Thursday, 30 July 2009

Some Wonderful Home Cooking in the Middle of Our Holiday

As part of our holiday, we went to visit my cousin Esther and her family in Southern Ontario for a long weekend. We all get along really well, and any visit with them is the highlight of a trip. There is always lots of camaraderie, laughter and fun. There is also a lot of really wonderful food.

My cousin Esther is one of the very best cooks I know. She brings home cooking to a whole new level, a reminder of another era when the table was the centre of every home. (She also makes and decorates totally amazing cakes, but that is another story.)

I have learned a lot from Esther. Although her kitchen is always full of delicious things to eat, she is a very busy lady – one who works outside the home as well as in it – but somehow she still finds time to cook delicious meals and snacks. Whenever she visits anyone she comes bearing gifts of food – from her wonderful banana bread to her delicious blueberry lemon muffins and peanut butter cookies. At Christmas she bakes cookies, squares and cakes, sharing them with family, friends and colleagues.

How many of us actually cook on a regular basis these days? In today’s post-modern world, food is often reduced to something we grab in the middle of a busy day, or eat exhausted at the end of one. And although there are more cooking programs than ever before, how many of us watch other people cooking more than we actually cook for ourselves?

Studies show that despite the economic downturn, more and more people are turning to ready prepared meals – often of the frozen variety. While these are not bad for us from time to time, many contain far more salt and fat than we need. And despite the best efforts of chefs like Rachael Ray and Jamie Oliver to show us that rustling up a meal can often take less time than ordering a take away, many people are still ordering in on a regular basis.

But my cousin Esther is proof positive that you can have an incredibly busy life and still prepare home cooked food for your family. How does she do it? Years of practice, great organizational skills and a few labor saving tips are just the beginning. One of the reasons for this is that she plans ahead. Whenever she cooks things, she cooks extra for another time. Leftover cooked bacon gets put in the fridge or freezer for use in salads and pasta. Muffins and cookies are made in double or triple batches, with extra frozen ready for another day. Extra waffles and pancakes end up in the deep freeze too – ready for popping in the toaster to re-warm on busy mornings.

She’s also great with leftovers, something so many people miss out on. Any food that is not eaten first time round is refrigerated promptly or frozen, so there is always something delicious available for that last minute meal. The carcass from the roast chicken we had for lunch on our last day with the family was in a stockpot bubbling away as we left– destined for soup or gorgeous gravy.

I’m one of those people who loves to cook, and because my career centers around home and food issues, I do a lot of it. But sometimes I get really stressed about it, especially when I am catering for lots of people. My cousin’s attitude to cooking is an inspiration. She’s so relaxed. She has loads of great shortcuts, and she is happy to share both recipes and ideas. It seems like every time we visit we get to taste something new and delicious. I always come home with new recipes, and usually planning to buy some new kitchen gadget or other. Last time I got home I bought an electric frying pan and an electric griddle, both fantastic additions to my kitchen arsenal. This time she (and her amazing blueberry walnut waffles!) have revealed to me the benefits of owning a waffle maker.

It’s also lovely to get to taste the family dishes I remember from my childhood on our visits. Of course I have the recipes and make them myself, but somehow, when Esther makes them they always taste better!

I’m so glad we got to spend some time with Esther and family again this holiday, not only because they are great company, but because Esther’s amazing food and cooking always inspire me. As we head off on the last leg of our holiday, back into the world of restaurants and hotels, I’ve got some great memories of wonderful home cooking to take back to my own home with me when the holiday is over. Thanks Esther!

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