Sunday, January 13, 2013

Beauty isn't everthing: Lessons from Mom's kitchen


I enjoyed lunch at local bistro recently. Like most of these small eateries, it was decorated to invoke an artsy feel: modern paintings, welcoming color palate, intimate seating, and an outdoor patio for those seasonal days when the Southern humidity stepped aside. Though I appreciated the ambiance and, after sampling the food, would return, I couldn’t help but think of the vast difference between the trendy art of food presentation and the Southern down-home style of cooking from my mom’s kitchen.

My mama didn’t worry about “pretty food.” I can’t recall a time when she actually garnished a plate with a carrot trimmed into a curlicue or used a tiny rectangular plate to center a sandwich the size of a marshmallow. No reduced sauces swirled around the roast like it had been attacked by a kid’s Spirograph. More likely, it rested in a puddle of thick gravy. And I guarantee you, the meat was bigger than a two-inch square.

She didn’t concern herself with the concepts of complex tastes or textures. Just good food, and plenty of it. Pinch of this, tad of that. Mix it till it looks right. Dig your hands into the dough and feel if it needs more moisture. Shell the peas and cook them fresh from the garden. Chill thick scarlet slices of beefsteak tomatoes, ripened on the vines. Whip up a hoecake of cornbread—no box mix—and sear it in a cast iron skillet.

Small wonder I was leery of trying my hand at cooking until I reached my late teens. My gravy turned out lumpy. The cake suffered “sad spots.” And none of my initial efforts were much to look at.

Here’s where the life lesson came in. “Don’t worry, sugar, if your cake has a crack clean through. We can heal that with icing, and besides, if it tastes good, that’s what really matters. Beauty isn’t everything.”

Beauty isn’t everything. Imagine that.

“You will get better and better, the more you practice. You can do anything you set your mind to.”

Profound truths uncovered. Thanks, Mom.