by Nuala Cabral
“You’ll make a terrible housewife,” my Nana said while watching me make a mess of the saran wrap as I struggled to tear off a piece to cover a plate of leftovers.
A sheepish and then devilish grin sprawled across my face as I took a moment of silence to think of a proper response, respectful and honest. I probably fell short when I finally blurted out, “Nana, I’m not planning on being a housewife,” before laughing from my belly while my grandmother just shook her head, raising her eyebrows. (She was not laughing).
Clearly, my grandmother was disappointed with my perceived incompetence as a homemaker and my disregard for this role. Today, I still cannot tell her that I’ll become an ideal housewife. I just ruined a roll of tin foil last week and I still can’t fold fitted sheets correctly. Anyway, I have no interest in perfecting certain arbitrary skills related to housekeeping. My mother used to make me iron out the creases in table cloths and cloth napkins at holiday dinners, and it would make my blood boil. I was just so irritated because it seemed like such a pointless waste of time. Who cares if there are creases in the table cloth from being folded? Certainly not me. And I never saw a man iron such a thing. After years of complaining about this task and pleading to do anything else to help prepare for dinner, one day my mother decided it was no longer necessary to iron them at all. This was the best holiday I ever had. It was probably around this time when I started helping my mother cook more and started hearing my grandmother allude to it. The everlasting question (at holiday dinners, cookouts, etc.) is “Nuala, what did you cook?” Clearly, there became a point when saying “nothing” felt embarrassing and unacceptable.
While today I cannot promise my grandmother that I will be an ideal housewife or homemaker, I do have a couple of promises to make to her and myself concerning my abilities in the kitchen. These pacts are less about gender roles and more about nourishment, and cultural and familial responsibilities. The first promise is that I will be able to nourish myself (and others when I choose). And the second promise is that I will do my best to learn how to cook family recipes, including Cape Verdean dishes she and her elders grew up cooking (gufong, cachupa, conje, etc.), so that I can pass the recipes (and connected stories and culture) on to my family’s next generation.
These intentions along with my reality, helped me put these promises into motion. Like many other twenty-somethings, living on my own has forced me to become responsible for my own nutrition and what a better way then to start with family favorites. Unfortunately there was one problem right from the start: I don’t like to cook.
Now baking, that’s another story. I started baking regularly in the sixth grade and never stopped. All the sweet stuff– cookies, fudge, pies, cakes, pies, brownies. A family friend recently called me “Queen of the Cocoa Bean” and I felt both amused and honored. I enjoy the simplicity of baking– there is one product, not several that must be ready at the SAME TIME. And plus, I have a sweet tooth. Unlike baking, I’ve found that cooking tends to involve more multi-tasking and timing is important. Let’s just say that these are not my strengths in the kitchen.
In order to reconcile my dislike for cooking and need to nourish myself with non-desserts, I decided to focus on learning the recipes for dishes that I absolutely LOVE. Lately, whenever I eat a delicious dish I try to get the recipe and make it soon after– while I’m still excited about it. By focusing on specific recipes and trying to perfect them, I have been able to develop a small, but substantial menu of foods, other than sweets. Getting a recipe for a dish I’ve tried and loved, created by an individual I know (a friend, co-worker or relative), is a gift. Knowing the story behind the dish (there’s a story behind every dish) makes this gift even more meaningful.
Upon moving to Philly last year for graduate school, I met a circle of friends from diverse backgrounds who like me appreciate a social scene that is laid back, inexpensive and fun. They are other twenty-somethings like myself, graduate students and young professionals with hectic schedules, slender wallets and hungry bellies. Throwing potlucks just made sense and so we started having them habitually.
A couple of these friends enjoy to cook and some hate to cook, but most of them are in a similar boat as myself– learning to cook out of necessity.
Instead of treading this irritating journey alone, we’ve decided to help each other by sharing our favorite recipes with a little humor and pizazz through an online cooking series: Cool Cooks.
Some of these recipes we have learned from our elders and are reflective of our respective cultures (African American, South Asian and Palestinian for example). Others are simply recipes that rock our world. And yes, there will be some baking in there. Can’t ignore the sweet tooths! We’ll just try to have some balance.
To ease the painfulness of cooking, we will teach only the dishes that motivate us to cook and make us FEEL like Top Chefs. We hope you enjoy our recipes and “how to” videos. Please feel encouraged to share recipes of your own.
They say “if ya cant take the heat than get the eff out of the kitchen!” Cool Cooks may not like to cook, but we can take the heat because we gotta eat. And we’re getting better. Just you watch, dear grandmothers and dear world. Welcome to our kitchen.