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More Stories - The Way We Were

What I Learned in My Mother's Kitchen
by Giuliano Hazan                              

My earliest memories of my mother's kitchen would probably be of the pots and pans I would regularly pull out of the cabinets, and of olive oil.  I suspect the olive oil incident is more indelibly etched in my mother's memory than mine.  One day I decided to pour an entire bottle over myself, and the term "squirmy baby" took on new meaning for my mother.

As I grew older, the kitchen continued to be one of my favorite places to hang out, and I was often perched on a stool watching my mother prepare our meals.  Instinct and intuition play a very important role in cooking.  I think I mostly learned to cook through osmosis while watching my mother cook.  I got to help, too.  I probably stirred my first risotto when I was tall enough to reach the pot!

One of the things I learned was that once one got to know a dish, recipes were really only to be used as a guide.  Except for desserts, my mother almost never measured.  I remember she would say that if she had chopped a little too much garlic or onions she wasn't going to throw away the extra, she would just sauté it a little less.  Or if she had chopped too little she would sauté it a little more.  The most important ingredient in the kitchen, she would always say, was common sense.

Just as important as watching my mother cook and helping whenever possible was sitting at the family table and eating what my mother had prepared.  Accumulating those taste memories was indispensable to me when I started cooking for myself.  Just as a painter or a sculptor has an image in his or her mind as they work, when I cook I am often recalling a taste or flavor that I am trying to recreate.

What is probably the most important thing I learned is a love and respect for good food.   It not only makes one of life's necessities more enjoyable but it brings a family together as well.  Mealtimes were always a special part of our day, and they continue to be now that there are three generations at the table.

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