Life’s perfect recipe

Editor’s note: Anthony is off this week, so check out this column from 2008.

I was probably 7 or 8 when I started cooking—spaghetti.

Mostly, I watched my parents cook, washing and chopping and a lot of frying, which is frowned on these days, although that could change.

Every vegetable we ate when I was a child was overcooked, or that’s how I think of them now. They were all limp or mushy. Meats generally fared much better. That’s probably why I’m an omnivore.

My father, Pete, didn’t cook often, and when he did it was a special occasion, at least to me. He cooked only a few things, pretty much like I do now. I’m not a generalist. Chili, meatless and meatful. Oysters, fried and raw. Porterhouse and T-bone. Chitterlings. Gumbo with shrimp and chicken and okra, yes, okra. Beef roast. Mmmm, flesh!

Friday was a special day, and not just because of the weekend. Eckie, my mother, was a kind of closet Roman Catholic, and we observed meatless Fridays. Her mother was Catholic, and I think Eckie liked the pomp and glitter. Eckie’s Catholicism was furtive because she’d been divorced, and she settled for being an Episcopalian instead. Our church had lots of brass and hardwood pews, so she didn’t miss much.

Fried fish was the standard fare at Friday dinners. I was allergic to fish and couldn’t even be around when it was frying, so I’d try not to be there when we were commemorating Jesus’ crucifixion.

In about the fifth grade I had a class called “home mechanics”—sewing and cooking. My class, and probably all of the others, too, made an apron, a potholder, macaroni-and-cheese and raisin oatmeal cookies, still my cookie benchmark. Actually raisin oatmeal cookies are the only cookies I make. I’ve tried oatmeal raisin cookies, but only briefly.

I like to cook for parties, because I like big pots of stuff—chili, beans, curry, soups, stews. Parties are helpful with my big pots of food, because I find that much of what I like to eat my family is indifferent to or, in the case of my sons, openly scornful of. Pete cooked for himself, too, and sometimes for him and me.

Seven or eight years ago, I went through a green-curry phase. A head or two of garlic, onions, coconut milk. Add prawns, crawfish, or other creatures to taste. I ate that several times a week for months.

Other than the occasional ungulate, I mostly do curries and now and then a veggie chili for my meatless spouse. I tend to make a batch of red Thai curry on Sunday afternoon and then nuke it for lunch during the week. That’s often how I eat. I find something I love and then eat it until I get tired of it. Sometimes that takes a long time.

Back in the day, and sometimes at night, I’d cook for a woman. I still do, and not just in one pot, either.