Welcome Back, Cooking Mojo!By Dianelaneyfitzpatrick
You left me about four years ago, without warning, while I was making a vegetable lasagna that had to be renamed Chunky Gray Soup because of all the liquid that came off the mushrooms. I knew better than that, and I would have done something about it, except I always relied on you, Moj, to tap me on the shoulder and say, “Shouldn’t you cook those first to get the juice off?” or “Better not put those eggs in yet or you’ll end up with lumps” or the one I always forgot - “Capers taste like formaldehyde and have no place in your digestive tract while you’re still alive.”
We ate that lasagna but even my teenage son, who would eat literally anything and everything, hesitated before getting seconds. Later the peanut butter and bread were quietly passed around. This is as close as my family gets to telling me they hate my food.
I thought you had just taken a brief vacation. You deserved it, having worked around the clock nonstop since I got my first apartment and bought the Marian Burros Keep It Simple cookbook. Remember when we made Fish Bon Femme in that little kitchen in my apartment? That place was a crappy little box with plywood walls and ceiling, and freaking freezing in the winter, but we hid the smell of sour milk that wafted from the kitchen sink by making spaghetti carbonara and chicken on a bed of ______ (fill in the blank with your favorite on-sale produce item). That apartment smelled so good that once an evangelist came to the door and partway through his spiel said, “ . . . uh, what are you cooking?”
You were right by my side when I got my first subscription to Bon Appetit magazine, shopped with me for my cast iron skillet so I could make blackened fish, and helped me find the perfect garlic press. You high-fived me when we got that gig making pound cakes for The Coffee Station. (I quickly forgave you for not wanting to have anything to do with the angel food cakes, though. You were right. That would have been just too much work. Plus, I was drinking a Bud Light at 10 a.m. just for the bottle to hang the cakes upside down. Not the path I needed to be on at that point in my life.)
And then, one day, you disappeared. I didn’t know you were gone until I made rubbery scallops for the second time and it occurred to me that I hadn’t wowed anyone with my cooking for quite a while. Plus, I didn’t know you were gone because you’re Cooking Mojo and you’re invisible. Imaginary friends are easily forgotten, sadly.
I muddled along for the next couple of years. Not everything was a complete disaster. I made some OK meals, but cooking had lost its vitality for me. Without mojo, it’s hard to have fun.
The low point was a couple weeks ago when I made a casserole to give to a friend. The recipe looked pretty good, so I doubled it and kept one for myself. See, without you here to read recipes with me, I didn’t recognize the unpleasant combination of tomato sauce and spinach. The casserole was so bad, I toyed with the idea of trying to take back the one I had given away. I’d make up a story about losing a jagged piece of glass in it. Anything to avoid the shame of having someone say, “Ew, who gave us this?”
Then, last week, I made a delicious Moroccan Chicken with Eggplant and Tomatoes. The next night, a pork roast with rosemary, green beans with mushrooms, and a mixed greens salad with homemade dressing. For breakfast one day, I made oatmeal with bananas, apricots, walnuts and brown sugar. Last night, I made fish tacos and Cuban black beans for dinner. I was thrilled when my husband took a picture of his plate and posted it on Facebook with the caption: “Best. Cook. Ever.”
Cooking Mojo! You’re back! I hope you’re well rested, because I have a party coming up and -- remember when we made pâté that one time in Cleveland? I have big plans.
You and me, baby. We’re back in business.
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