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What’s Cookin’?

So it’s about that time. I’m in the kitchen doing what I’ve done just about every year around this time. With my sleeves rolled up I’m washing and prepping ‘the greens’...when I start musing.

Peeling a clove of garlic I start musing on a day in the grocery store…standing in a checkout lane…having my groceries checked out…when the clerk picks up a bag of garlic on the conveyor belt…holds the bag up…a small bag…weighing in the ounces, if that…she looks at me…then laughs, “what’s this for?” She's a Korean woman, which musing on the exchange tickled me when I thought back on a friend showing me how she made kimchi. So, now, stuck in this remembrance, instead of using half of a garlic clove, I go on and use the entire the greens.

I'd like to have as much confidence in my cooking as my family, but then how can I forget that one day when my sister called me to help her make candied yams. Today she’s more of a gourmet cook. Back then she was learning, and as it turned out, so was I.

I rush over to her home, and mind you, she’s married interracially, so her husband is curious to see how ‘soul’ food is prepared too. But I dash into their chic chef-style kitchen, and start grabbing pots (really wanted a skillet, but they didn't have one), like I knew what I was doing. Trust me, I cringe when I think of this day. It’s utterly embarrassing. But what the heck, the incident resurfaces each time we gather around the table. Everyone has to be reminded…and it pains me greatly even to write this… but everyone must be reminded about how I piled eight sticks of butter, and let them tell it, a bag of sugar too, on top of five or six candied yams.

…and I know Ma (this is my mother-in-law)…you never did this, and certainly wasn’t anything you taught me. I don’t know what I was thinking, or doing for that matter! How embarrassing. And the thing is…now there’s no way to convince my brother-in-law that this IS NOT soul food cooking.

I learned to cook from an agglomerate of family and friends. My aunts, my grandmother, my mother-in-law, one of my best friend’s mother, along with a host of friends all taught me. There’s this one recipe, a recipe a friend said she got from her mother, on cooking chitterlings in this ‘red’ sauce. I wished I could remember what all the ingredients were, but you know how it is. I saw it in her eyes as she rattled off the ingredients. It was a family secret. She wasn’t going to tell me. Still, I will never forget that one dish. Oh-My-Goodness!!! …by everything that is Holy and consecrated, that was one delicious dish! Came out of the Bayou. Haven’t tasted anything like it since! As an old saying goes, “It was the kind of meal that made you wanna slap ya’ mama.”

…NOW, it’s time to bake the cornbread where, finally, here comes the vision of my dear mother. It’s all in Black Table, but to catch folk up, my mother wasn’t a cook. Yes, I grew up on cauliflower, beets, eggplant, liver, lima beans, navy beans, pinto beans, and anything you’d never serve EVER, to NO ONE. So here she comes, just as I bend down to put the cornbread in the oven. There are smudges on the oven door, so what do I do? Well I do what I learned from her. I stop what I’m doing to scrub down the oven door…whereby I notice spots on the floor, so now comes out the bucket and down on my hands and knees I commence to scrubbing the floors too. Another Oh-My-Goodness moment. That’s one thing I can say about my mother. There might not be no food on the table, but darn it, the table was going to be clean. She goes nowhere without a jug of bleach and white gloves. 

Happy Thanksgiving!


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