Hi Everyone, I am not a perfectionist but I get my sense of perfection from my mother. I was told very early in my life that if I am going to do anything, I must do it to the best of my abilities. It is advice that I have followed always and in all spheres of my life, personally and professionally. I got that from my mother. The most cherished compliment I got from my mother was 3 years ago.
It was a Saturday morning, mom was visiting and I had just returned home from the market. I set about wrapping and putting away the vegetables, herbs and meat I had bought. I wrapped the herbs in damp paper towels then placed them in bags. I took things a step further by labelling the parcels so I would know which herb was in which bag. Removing the fridge bins, I packed in the vegetables and herbs. Parceling out the meat, I put them into freezer bags and labeled them by their cuts (and date) – roast, chops etc. The fruits were rinsed, pat dry and placed into a basket on the countertop – all of these activities were done in clear view of my mother sitting at a table not far away. Then, I heard my mother’s voice, “You really know how to do things properly.” I turned and looked at her, for a moment I did not know what to say, I felt shy, but then I found my voice. I smiled and looking directly into her eyes, I said, “I learnt from the best.” I will never forget that moment. Even now as I write this… my eyes well up with tears. Ah, mothers and daughters and their relationships. Today, I still bask in the glow of that compliment. By golly I have met some of my mother’s high standards even if it is only in the kitchen. I am grateful and thankful.
Growing up, I never particularly enjoyed cooking with my mother but I greatly enjoyed watching her work in the kitchen, and my kitchen work ethic I got from my mom. Hands had to be washed before starting to prepare any food even if it was just to put water in the kettle. The plates in the dish rack when washed had to be arranged neatly and in order, nothing was piled on top of one another. Some things had to be dried immediately and put away. The stove was cleaned after each meal was cooked, even if was just to be wiped down. As you went about cooking, you had to clean the countertop and wash up as you go along, no sink full of wares. The sink was washed/scrubbed each night and the kitchen towels were washed daily and hung to dry, and you had to wring that towel dry enough so that it could dry overnight hung behind the refrigerator (laugh) or at the edge of the counter. The floor of the kitchen was swept and mopped each evening.
While I do many of those things, some I don’t. For example, I do not sweep and mop my kitchen daily and thanks to disposable wipes, I do not have to wash kitchen towels daily. The dish rack, I wash and try to arrange things neatly but I don’t fuss because as soon as I am done washing, I dry and put away the things.
When it came to the actual cooking and that sense of perfection, you may recall me telling you in a previous column how the dough for roti had to be perfectly made so that there was not a dusting of flour left in the bowl from kneading the dough. In other columns I told you how my mom insisted that the dough for the roti had to be rolled into a perfect circle. And in yet another column I waxed lyrically on just how precise were her demands for making the perfect cup of tea. As frustrated as I was with her about those things then, they now form my sense of doing things properly. I marvelled at her patience as she would sit and cut each long bora beans on the bias, to put into chowmein. One at a time, she would carefully and precisely cut the beans. When making trifle, each piece of cake (made from scratch) would be cut to the exact length and thickness to fit perfectly in the trifle bowl. I used to think of it as layered perfection. When I made a trifle as the dessert on her 60th birthday, I found myself trying to cut the cake and layer it as perfectly as she had done on previous occasions.
My mom is the type of foodie who can eat certain things and tell you where they have fallen short – from a crumbling cake to a curry in which the masala-herb paste was not allowed to cook long enough to be fused with the meat (think bounjay). She can tell when the dough of
pastry has been overworked and when mauby has been left to ferment too long.
It is always interesting in the kitchen when she visits for I am sure that I do not always do things the way she would prefer but being the diplomat she can be, she keeps silent. This is not her kitchen. I could always tell when I have made something that is to her standard of taste because she would say so. If it isn’t, and it is just okay, she won’t say anything. She would eat and drink it, totally appreciating the time and effort. As children, no matter how old we get, we still seem to seek our parents’ approval and with me identifying myself as a student of food, always learning, I suck up my courage, brace myself and ask, “Mommy, what did you think of the (fill in the blank). Her response is always cautious, being careful not to offend but rather to be constructive. The truth is, I always learn something from her feedback even if it is not what I want to hear.
Though she doesn’t cook as often these days, or entertain as much, she has not lost that sense of perfectionism when it comes to food and cooking. She enjoys the help of having someone else do all the prep work (to her strict specifications) and then she waltzes in like the head chef and does the actual cooking. You know, because it has to be perfect, just the way she likes it.
Happy Mother’s Day Mommy!