I am not a good cook. I try, and sometimes I get it right but mostly I do not. I honestly don’t put too much effort into it, after all its just food. I eat to live except when I eat junk. Sometimes I would eat not so healthy food and gain weight, then change my diet, lose the weight and start over again. It’s a constant struggle, but this is not about weight. It’s about my cooking and how I got here.
I pretty much got my cooking style from my dad. He would always start with a pot of boiling water then find things to throw in until it thickens, then presto, a meal. He was a big fan of corn meal and fish. He said it was an Anguillan thing. If you ever cook cornmeal you know one of the main ingredients is Ochre. I hate the texture of Ochre.
My dad had a weird sense of humour, he would say things and it would take you a long time to realize he was joking. He was also a good poker player. I was chatting with my oldest sister recently and she told me how my dad met my mom. The story I grew up with, my dad’s version of course, was one day he was passing by my mom’s house up St Johnston Ave and she was cooking. She was kneading dough and when she saw him she got so excited that she dropped the dough out the window. His story goes that he retrieved the dough and returned it to her. She gave him some of the cooked food and he loved it so much he asked her to be his wife. That’s not what my sister told me, but that’s for another day.
To this day I still remember what my mom’s cooking smelled like. As a result my style of cooking by comparison is to start with a pot of boiling water and throw things in until it SMELLS right. As you can well imagine I run into a lot of trouble, sometimes just can’t get the right smell so I keep adding. Ask my kids about their experiences.
I started cooking seriously when I worked at home in Toronto. I am a chicken and rice man, would cook that 7 days a week but my kids won’t eat it, so I mix in spaghetti sauce (nasty,) sometimes I cook rice and vegetables and left over chicken. The next day I would cook a whole chicken and rice, then chicken breast in BBQ sauce and rice, then shake and bake chicken and rice, then spaghetti again with sauce. You get the picture, lots of chicken and some interruption meals. J1, daughter number two says the worst was the rice drenched in tomato sauce with peas. I thought that was my specialty. She also told me that I would often forget to season the overcooked chicken.
I didn’t forget, my mom didn’t cook this way so I had no smell reference.
My kids didn’t ask “what’s for supper”; they asked “what kind of chicken for supper.” The spaghetti was to keep them on their toes. I remember once my brother Hugh was visiting from Germany and they were complaining to him about my cooking. He decided to cook them a meal of his special Spaghetti, just Spaghetti, and a whole plate full; they kept waiting for the sauce. They did not complain again until he left. He is a great cook.
If you are wondering how come they grew up healthy? They ate a lot of vegetables, still do, I can’t take credit for that, I was not a big vegetable fan. My dad called it goat food. Jo would make sure she complimented my meals when she got home.
Jo would eat cereal quite often.
I grew up in St Kitts with lots of siblings, a nephew or niece or two, cousins, two parents, my mom’s helpers and quite often family from Nevis or Anguilla. Cooking at my house was quite a production. My mom was a great cook. I was chatting with my sister ML last week who is also a great cook and she told me that mom taught her how to cook. As a young kid she would stand on a chair and assist. The older siblings and my youngest sister all know how to cook really well. The kids In between, well if you come to my house ill cook and you can be the judge. Just give me a heads up so I can prepare.
My theory is that when my mom was a new mom, first 5 kids, she had time to teach the kids how to cook. As the next 5 came along, managing all the kids and the shop, she needed help. She had no time to teach us how to cook. If you read my earlier blogs you would know that I was never home so I would not have learned to cook anyway. I was not allowed in the kitchen when it was cooking time, something about ‘too many cooks…’
As a kid, my diet was simple. In the morning I ate fresh bread and cheese mostly. If you are from the Caribbean or any where a lot of West Indians live, you may know the cheese, I can’t remember the name, it came in a big can with a giant opener. My dad would go to the bakery early in the morning and pick up the bread. Sometimes an on the weekend I would have fresh eggs from the chickens we raised in the backyard.
I had lots of soup for lunch, I can still remember making the long walk from High School in the mid day sun wondering what kind of soup we would be having; dumplings, dasheen (did I spell it right?) yams, potato, well you know the drill, really healthy food. I would remove most of the vegetables and only eat the dumplings and sweet potato. I imagine my dislike for veggies started a long time ago.
Supper time in St Kitts. Again soup, but this time we also had other foods like fish, chicken, rabbit, goat, lamb, I can go on for a long time. Supper time was my favourite time, although that’s when everyone was home. A good thing you would say, after all a family that eats together stays together. Well not in my house, they represented competition for leftovers. Remember I am 11 of 13, way down the totem pole. When we were little I had to sit on a piano bench with the two kids below me in age. We would fight with our feet under the table. Good times.
There was a local fisherman named Norris and we had a standing order with him. He would go out fishing at night and return with his catch in the morning. My sister ML told me that in the older days (before my old days,) my mom would exchange fish for pig snout and pig feet with him. Great trade I think.
I just remembered something.
I like all kinds of fish; boiled fish, steam fish, BBQ fish and fried fish which was generally how we would prepare it for supper growing up. I love fish almost as much as chicken which is second to mango. If we did not eat all the fish at supper my mom would save if for the next day. I was known as the “midnight walker’, for I would get up in the middle of the night and eat any leftover fish.
Well one day my mom fried up come Cavalli fish. You may remember the ‘myth’ that if the fish was caught in shallow waters it was safe to eat. If it was caught in deep waters, watch out, because it was poisonous. Well that night there were leftovers and like a good soldier I got up and ate a whole fish. It’s not a myth. I was poisoned. The rest of the family were also but I was seriously ill for a few days.
For me that was just a minor setback, I continued to do my midnight runs.
Growing up I was well fed, well taken care of and that was how I went off to find my life in Canada.
I was not very well equipped to fend for myself, cooking wise.
My first attempt at cooking happened was my first day alone in Toronto. I was living with my sister and her roomies. I remember calling my sister at work and telling her I was hungry. She told me to cook some rice. Have you ever tried the minute rice where you put a cup of rice and a cup of water in a pot, let it boil and then shut off the stove? It is exactly what I did. I placed the rice in some water, turned on the stove, and timed it for 20 minutes. It was not minute rice. Needless to say it was uncooked. It is amazing what you will eat when you are hungry.
So here I am lots of years later and I still cook the same way, to smell. I sometimes cook salted fish and sometimes with ackee which I learned to do from a friend of mine, I cook it in to ways: one for breakfast, where I add lots of vegetables and tomato paste to the fish, and the other where I add lots of vegetables and ackee to the fish. I never cook it the same way twice, sometimes I actually forget how to do it, sometimes it does not smell right but the family likes it, so it’s all good.
Hey you know how they say men don’t ask for directions? Well I do! When I go to the store, the first thing I do is find a clerk, saves a lot of time, drives Jo nuts, she wants to ‘shop’. When it comes to cooking however, you would think I would use a recipe, but it has no smell.
I think I cooked a great meal once, just can’t remember when.
Has to be a gene thing.
I am thinking I should change my life and learn to cook properly. Maybe once a week I will make a delicious dish and share the experience with you, we will see, that sounds like a good idea. A contradiction however, my life is about not doing things in order.
The only Kittitian couch potato in Calgary.
My First Cooking Experience.