Lack of space and equipment as much of a challenge to a new cook as a skill set and a sense of humor
My mother and my aunt had given me a few extra pots, pans and utensils from their kitchens, which meant that I duplicates of some implements and none of others. I filled with items from John’s Bargain Store, all I could afford. Somewhere along the line, I acquired three or four cookbooks, none of which was that red-and-white checked Better Homes & Gardens cookbook that every other beginning cook of that era started with. And that was my early cooking environment, but enthusiasm and New York’s matchless availability of ingredients, even then, went a long way in helping me become a pretty decent home cook.
She wrote, “Before I began, I asked Mark for some advice on how to go about learning to cook. Should I just make stuff? Random stuff? Was there a hierarchy of skills I needed to master, in a certain order? Mark’s advice: ‘Think of things you really like and cook those.’”
Her first effort was a curried squash soup with frizzled leeks from a 1995 issue of Gourmet, a recipe she selected because she liked it when her mother made it. An early challenge was time, as precious a commodity in New York as space. It was 8:00 p.m. before she got started preparing soup for herself and her friend Jen. Her next epiphany involved an appropriate tool for the job. She wrote:
“Tip: Your Ikea peeler is no good for this task. I switched to a
paring knife but I didn’t have the steadiness of hand required for that. Then I
found a peeler that my mother must have given me, which worked the best. Despite
the shaky start, I was proud of myself for prepping the squash even though it
wouldn’t be added to the pot until the end of step 2. . . I didn’t have a cleaver to split the squash in half, a scale to weigh it (I needed 3 1/2 pounds’ worth, and so I just guessed, based on the recipe’s saying it would roughly equal 8 cups), or a bowl big enough to put all the squash in once it was cut into pieces. . .
“I didn’t have a cleaver to split the squash in half, a scale to weigh it
(I needed 3 1/2 pounds’ worth, and so I just guessed, based on the recipe’s
saying it would roughly equal 8 cups), or a bowl big enough to put all the
squash in once it was cut into pieces. . .
“Failing to be properly equipped became the theme of the night. At first I
started cooking the onions and the butter in a pot that was too small to hold
all the squash (it didn’t have a cover, either; I put a frying pan on top). Then
I realized I didn’t even own a pot big enough for everything, a realization that
escorted another: I was making a ton of soup. I had to use two pots, splitting
what I had already cooked between them and proceeding from there.”