I find cooking to be liberating at times. I don’t admit this to my mother because she would think it was a betrayal of everything she brought me up to believe. In fact, there’s a great story about when my father and mother were dating. They had met in Florida. My mother was from Philadelphia but my father lived in New York at the time. Each weekend after they met, my father would come to visit my mother. This being the fifties, my mother, only twenty, still lived with her family. As the weeks went on, my father sampled the elaborate Hungarian dishes that my grandmother laid out for him.
Although I never met her, my father was raised by a stepmother who apparently was the world’s worst cook. My mother confirms this fact. So, here was my father, tasting gourmet meals each weekend, likely assuming he happened upon a woman who studied at the knee of this talented chef. Whoa to the man who makes assumptions. As family lore goes, my grandmother made a conscious decision not to teach my mother how to cook, “so you’ll never have to be like me, making dinner for your husband all the time. He’ll take you out to dinner,” she told my mother. Truer words were never spoken.
After my father got over the initial shock: -- my mom made tuna sandwiches for dinner their first night back from their honeymoon (I guess these were the days before full disclosure – but there must be something to it because on April 4th they celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary) – my father adapted. Once they had settled into married life, dinner reservations were a large part of my mom’s evening meal repertoire. Needless to say, I did not learn how to cook or have dinner parties, from my mother.
So then, where does one learn to entertain and cook if not from one’s mother? Perhaps surprisingly to some, I first started entertaining as a result of being with my mother-in-law. My husband and I met when we were eighteen and I spent a lot of time in his parents’ home. His mother often had dinner guests over and I found myself helping out. It was there that I learned you didn’t always have to go out to have a good meal.
Then, when we graduated from college, we had rent to pay and we weren’t making much money. We didn’t want to spend it all on meals out, so we bought some cookbooks and learned how to cook. That’s when I realized that cooking is not that complicated. There were so many different meals we could make and none of them would cost nearly as much as going out to dinner all the time. Saving money this way enabled us to go to better restaurants on the weekends, rather than eating takeout all the time.
Over the years, we have had hundreds of people over our house in the many different places that we’ve lived. The one recurring sentiment we get from people when we invite them over is, “we don’t want you to go to all that trouble.” The fact is: we love entertaining and cooking for people. It’s really not a lot of trouble at all. Getting together and hanging out at home is often far more relaxing than being in a restaurant. Just don’t tell my mother I said that.
Nancy Klingeman is married to Henry and the mom of two teenage daughters. She is a writer, a lawyer, and an observer of life's daily pageantry.
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