my 50th post–a mini-milestone! a fitting time to show some appreciation for the people who made food such a cherished experience for me and made me respect the art of cooking–the way to do things. i hope i can cook anywhere near as well as them one day. any skill or respect i have for cooking, i owe to them.
first of all, there's my grandmother, who is gone and whose flavours we are all still trying to recreate. we come close but nothing we make is as good as hers. she made me many a meal and fed it to me when i was too bratty or young, or both, to appreciate it. she taught me some of the most important things i think i've ever learned and i wished i'd watch her cooking more closely.
then there's my aunt (the word aunt belittles what she is to me) who is a stellar cook overall–she understands why things work, and what they need when they don't. and her signature dishes are so good, that people naturally arrive at the same conclusion after trying them–she should really bottle and sell the stuff. above are these amazing sri lankan rolls she makes (i swear, there are no names for some of these things, though every household may make them). usually made with fish and potato or mutton, she makes a vegetable or soy and potato mixture for me. the cooked mixture is wrapped in a pancake, breaded and fried. if you ate 10, you would only stop yourself from eating 10 more because you'd be scared of running out.
my father used to cook a lot more when i was younger and when we all ate meat, although he made many non-meat dishes, hot sauces and sambols so i don't know why he doesn't cook more now. i wish he would! there are dishes i specifically request from him alone like his deviled soy meat (once deviled chicken), his green chili sambol is untouched, and he's famous for his curried king fish. above are the pappadums he will stand in the garage for an hour frying (to keep the smell from permeating the house), and he'll happily stand there twice as long to fry two kinds of vadai even if you insist he should come in and stop fussing over you. (sometimes i'm glad that he's even more stubborn than me.)
i challenged my mom in the kichen when i was growing up. i devoured every sri lankan dish put in front of me…but could she just learn how to make chinese black bean spare ribs like the kind i just fell in love with at dim sum, please? or vietnamese fried pork chops just like the ones from pho-whoever on kennedy? and she'd try to. on a weeknight. having never tasted whatever the hell i was describing and trying to analyze long before i could turn to recipes on the internet. i love her for that, and for asking to drop off "just a few things" she made and then showing up with everything in the picture above plus two dishes i forgot to include in the picture. and also…
for her exhaustive approach to food, which mades me more careful and detailed than i might have been otherwise. she will take half an hour to go though tiny leaves from a bunch of greens, discarding anything that doesn't pass muster, no matter how rushed she really is. and when james and i borrowed their car for the weekend last december, she packed this little snack for us…note the crustless bread, the 3 different spreads and the labels!!! we tease but we love. because she did it because she loves.
basically, i love them for putting so much love into their food, which is a big part of how they show love to the people around them. eating with them always results in a feast, like the one above. on that particular night, my aunt came by my parent's house because i asked if i could slowly start learning some of their recipes. two hours later, we had all this. recipes to follow here…eventually…after many more lessons from the masters.