Women go through phases. Or deal with wild, fluctuating moods. Or return to a long lost hobby.
Take cooking. Many women take to the kitchen naturally and excitedly, resolute in their desire to nurture their young families with wholesome, home cooked meals. When the children grow up and lead lives of their own, left-behind mothers hang their aprons and say, “That’s it. After all these years, cooking everyday, sometimes twice a day, I’m just about done.”
But someone once said that people who enjoy eating always go back to their love for cooking – despite vows to stay away from the kitchen. They feel a rekindling of sorts, eager once again to fiddle about with the soiled pages of favorite cookbooks, hear the clanging of pots and pans and to feel the vibrating electric mixer as it produces a soft but determined buzzing.
In my case, it wasn’t a rekindling, or a rebirth, or a going back to basics type of situation. The love for cooking happened accidentally. What I mean is, the desire to learn cooking was born, ignited – like a novelty taking a hold of me.
My father died last year. I spent two and a half months with him, ate with him and looked after him when I wasn’t banging away on my computer. When I returned to Montreal, I suddenly decided that cooking was going to be part of my life from now on. It was my way of keeping his memory alive. It was only logical: dad loved to eat, he adored my mom’s cooking and both of them ate heartily, never mind the cholesterol warnings. Eating was pleasurable. Period.
The meals I shared with my father in his last days struck a chord that reverberated in my psyche. Back in Montreal, I was nostalgic and longed to be breaking bread with him again, sitting together in that unstable, round dining table with the squeaky lazy Susan that I’ve learned to love.
When my father knew he was going to die, he kept to himself – uncommunicative, withdrawn. But his love for eating never left him. He looked forward to breakfast, lunch and dinner, looking at his watch frequently because he knew that by 11 am, our helper would be announcing that lunch was ready, or that by 6:00 pm, we’d be called to dinner. Our three meals a day went like clockwork. And despite his frail health and diminishing appetite, dad always showed up or made an effort to be at the dinner table even as he became weaker and weaker. To him, if life couldn’t go on, the ritual of eating must.
That I should have cooked for him when he was alive is a feeling that aches and nags at me. I knew that he was disappointed that I didn’t learn to cook like my mother. If he were alive today, he’d be in for a pleasant surprise.
The dish above was one of my father’s favorites. These are beef strips marinated overnight in soy sauce and lots of lemon. Some cooks back home drizzle 7-Up into the marinade; it’s supposed to tenderize the beef. Next day, the beef strips are taken out of the fridge and left at room temperature for an hour. Then they’re fried to a crisp with fresh garlic and then set aside.
The soy sauce mixture is poured into the same pan and is allowed to boil. The temperature is lowered and the onions rings are sauteed until they’re no longer hard but still crunchy. They’re sprinkled -along with the soy sauce mixture – over the beef strips. Sesame seeds are generously added right before serving.
The soy sauce and lemon combination produces a sharp, tangy taste; it also gives beef strips an intense and tasty flavor!
Wonder what dad would say he if tasted it?