Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Baci Il Cuoco

Much to my family's chagrin, I often remind them to thank the cook. They scoff, not because they are inconvenienced, but because they believe that the simple act of devouring a meal is indication enough that they enjoyed it. I disagree.
In this case, words just might speak louder than actions.

Several years ago, I stumbled upon a three-foot sign that reads
"Baci Il Cuoco." It means "kiss the cook" in Italian. I had to have the sign, not only because I believe in its message but because my beloved grandmother's maiden name was Cuoco, and any connection I have to her or my Italian roots is a good one. And so, the sign hangs high in my kitchen, not far from the one that reads "Mangia e statti zitto!" (loosely translated: "shut up and eat!"). For those of you who haven't already figured it out--I am an Italian-Italian wannabe. I am an Italian-American waiting for the genie to emerge from his lamp, so he can grant my first wish; the one that has my parents living in Italy, birthing and raising their brood of five above a pizzeria in Naples.
But alas, that is fodder for another post.

So let me get back to the subject of thanking the cook...
Surely, I need not remind you that cooking is as much an act of love as it is one of obligation.
I think we all need to take time out to thank not only the cook who prepares the meal, but also the one who found time to shop for groceries in between daily commitments and chaos. And while we're at it, shouldn't we thank everyone involved in getting our meals to the table?
We mustn't forget that from the farmer who rises early to pick our produce at its peak, to the cashier who works the late shift and carefully bags last-minute rotisserie chickens for harried, hungry, commuters, each plays a significant role.
The fact that we have any meal at all to share in these trying economic times is a blessing worthy of pause and gratitude.

I spent a significant amount of time this past week reflecting upon all that I have to be thankful for, specifically the blessings I have been afforded in 2008. Although it seems I was foolishly short-sighted in my own annual resolutions, so many others rose to the occasion and made me proud to call them my friends or relatives (or both).
I didn't follow through on Oprah's advice to start my own gratitude journal, and perhaps that will be something to consider for 2009. Instead, I made it my mission to thank a few special people on their birthdays and remind them (in many, many words) of their qualities and contributions for which I am so grateful. These are the people who remain oblivious to the fact that they consistently teach me valuable life lessons because they teach by example (and for the record, they remain oblivious because they are too busy helping others to notice). They provide me with a higher education of sorts; one that exceeds the parameters of professional development--they are the ones who simply make me want to be a better person.

And where education is concerned, I am no longer afraid to admit that I am still learning how to learn. At forty-something, I struggle with a not-so-reliable memory and I've had to face the cold hard truth that whatever education I seek will likely be limited to short-term retention. I am an avid reader and most of what I choose to read is culinary in nature. My failing memory has turned out to be a blessing at times because there are many kitchen experiments I'd rather forget. Sadly, the same condition has not befallen those who dine with me regularly, and perhaps this is the true reason they occasionally neglect to thank the cook. Nonetheless, I remain mindful of the basic tenets of good cookery; using the freshest ingredients and the best tools available.

Recently I was reminded of the value of great cookware. I was hosting a holiday gathering with friends when a curious neighbor inquired about my pantry cabinet and why I chose to store cookware inside, instead of the obvious non-perishables. I responded with a wordy complaint about the cookware's heft and size and my need to have it in close proximity to my stove. Our dialogue prompted me to demonstrate and lift the largest enamel-over-cast iron dutch oven I owned onto the stove, where it sat for two days until I was inspired to put on a pot of hearty soup. Quite honestly, making gallons of
pasta e fagioli seemed easier to me than the prospect of wrestling with the pot to return it to its rightful place. The soup was a huge success but the thought of storing leftovers and washing that pot was daunting at best. I used every last Tupperware within my arsenal to freeze the leftovers and filled the dutch oven with warm soapy water to soak, dreading the task of scrubbing the pot clean.
A short time later, much to my amazement, that pot cleaned up like a dream, with no elbow grease involved.
For a moment, I stood alone in my kitchen, embarrassed. When did I become a middle-aged, kitchen wimp with a failing memory?
Really, I can't answer that because I can't remember. Had I recalled why I shelled out top dollar for these pots in the first place (superior heat conduction, low maintenance, easy to clean), I might have been more motivated to use them. But there is a greater lesson to be learned here. I soon realized that on more than one occasion in my life, I have avoided tasks that, while rewarding at their completion, are difficult in their execution.
Simply stated and as shameful as it is for me to admit it, I dislike hard work. But who doesn't?

Reality dictates however, that most of us are strangers to what hard work really is. The majority of us will complain about the day job, the rush-hour traffic that follows and the self-inflicted, organized chaos we impose upon our children for fear of 'downtime'. There will never be enough paid vacation or sick days to appease us and the minor catastrophes we classify as "crisis" pale in comparison to what others endure. It shames me to think that I complained about lifting a
too-heavy pot in the comfort of my own kitchen, blessed to have more than enough ingredients to feed a not-too-hungry family, because this has been a painful year for so many, both financially and emotionally.
I have to believe that things will get better, but until they do, I can't think of a better time for us to practice being better people and put words into action.

In addition to the ones that hang on plaques in my kitchen, I am reminded of adages I heard throughout my childhood but didn't fully understand until not so long ago.
Perhaps these will serve as guideposts as I navigate through a new year of hope and possibility.
I invite you to join me and make any or all of these your own:

Many Hands Make Light Work

If You Won't Help, Don't Hinder

A Simple Life is its Own Greatest Reward

Dirty Hands = Clean Money

If we all gathered, formed a circle, and placed our problems in the center, when asked to pick one out of the center to keep, each of us would likely take back our own.

Kiss the Cook

Shut Up and Eat

Until next time,

Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My favorite italian saying "Ogni pisciette fe na pinzette." It sort of fits, in an odd way.