Sunday, February 17, 2019

Why I Cook

MV Britannic

I am an only child who lived in New York City until I was ten years old at which time we moved to Bergen County New Jersey. My American grandfather owned a butcher shop on Broadway in the Manhattan area called Morningside Heights. I ate good - and healthy - food at home, cooked either by my English mother or my Italian-American grandmother.

Every other year, when my mother took me home to visit her parents, we sailed back and forth from New York City to Liverpool on the MV Britannic, a Cunard White Star Liner that took eight, instead of five, days to cross the Atlantic.

On board ship, even when I was young, my mother and I ate each meal at the second seating in the dining room. I was never relegated to "nursery tea," which is when most children ate their last meal of the day. The food in the "grown-up" dining room was delicious, plated by stewards wearing white gloves, using French Service (two spoons in one hand). My favorite steward of all time was a young man, first name Bert, surname Lee, but I didn't "get it" and called him Bertley, like Bentley, one word. He was nice enough not to mind.

Once in England, even though post WWII rationing was still in effect, the food at home was also delicious. My grandfather there, in the Wirral, a pork butcher, made his own sausages and pork pies, similar to the ones you can get at Myers of Keswick on Hudson Street in NYC. For high tea - a workingman's meal, not what you would get if you went to the Ritz Carlton to eat crustless sandwiches, eat tea cakes, and drink Champagne - we had pots of tea, crumbly Cheshire cheese, ripe cherry tomatoes, sharp green onions, sometimes freshly-laid eggs softly boiled, Hovis whole wheat bread sliced thin and buttered sparingly, sometimes small fish paste sandwiches (which I liked even though some people have compared them to cat food), and, always, a Victoria sponge cake in the kitchen if you wanted a slice at the end of the meal. I can still, if you know what I mean, "sense" Sunday lunch - often roast leg of lamb with gravy and crunchy roast potatoes, convincing me then and forever that only the English can properly roast a potato!

After getting engaged at 19, I ate Sunday dinner at my future mother-in-law's, where the food was enthusiastically cooked. And when I married a month shy of turning 21, I took the two cookbooks I had received as engagement presents, the 1964 Joy of Cooking and the blue, now well-worn, Craig Claiborne New York Times Cookbook inscribed by my friend Kathleen with the Thomas Wolf quote "There is no spectacle on earth more appealing than that of a beautiful woman in the act of cooking dinner for someone she loves" and set myself to the task of learning to cook.

The very first meal I was going to cook, after I got home from work, was meat loaf, but my young husband was impatient and hungry, and it was going to take too long to get on the table, so I took a tip from Joy and made little individual "meatloaves" in a muffin tin. It was awful, mostly - but probably not only - because I used dried parsley and didn't know to cut down on the amount in the recipe, so it was more like horrible parsley balls. Fortunately, it's been uphill since then. I learned to cook, I love to cook, and, not a surprise, I never used dried parsley again.

My motto became, even if I've put in a long day's work, "I'd rather eat late than eat out."

On Board Ship - Me and My Mum

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