The Happiness Inquiry

A teacher's quest to cultivate happy habits in her students

11: Home Cookin’

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Growing up, the kitchen was my mom’s sanctuary. The entire cooking process all the way through doing the dishes was therapeutic for her, she said. She was (and still is, just don’t get to enjoy it as often) an awesome, cook, too. She did the classics really well: lasagna with all day long-simmered marinara sauce was my perennial birthday dinner request, but I also loved her fried drumsticks, chicken and rice, and roasted chicken and gravy. To prepare these dishes, she’d disappear into the kitchen for hours at a time while I was probably tucked away in some corner reading a book, both of us enjoying our alone time. In retrospect, my mom probably only allowed herself that one activity in solitude because at the end of it all, she was still creating a meal for us to eat. She was never one to partake in purely self-serving activities, you see. That’s just my mom. 🙂

The result of years spent staying out of the kitchen? I didn’t pick up many cooking tips as a kid. In college, I did work as a Cook’s Help and enjoyed sneakily assembling dishes without measuring like I was supposed to. I never did like exact measurements so baking has been a bit more of a challenge for me…But still, there was only so much actual cooking I got to do in that position, and in the end I was only slightly better off than before. Living alone after college, I mostly enjoyed making myself “killer salads”, as I call them. There’s no cooking involved, really, just a lot of fresh veggies and ALWAYS an avocado and some soft cheese, like a goat or feta. I admittedly was a bit thinner living alone, but still not fit to cook for anyone, including myself.

Luckily, from 2009-2011, I was fortunate enough to live with the sister Marks, also known as Gwen and Meliss, and Liz, who were all quite a bit more experienced that I was in the kitchen and exposed me to all sorts of delicious foods. They also came with a number of useful gadgets, quality pots and pans, and cookbooks (two made by the sisters themselves) that I was at liberty to experiment with as I so pleased, and they were always willing to give me last minute advice and answer questions when I got hopelessly lost. 

It didn’t take long for me to realize that cooking was not only something I could do pretty well, but it was something that I actually needed to balance out my day. My roommates learned that on Kat’s dinner night, it’s best to just leave her be with the music blaring, and definitely don’t talk to her–she’ll lose her momentum and probably measure wrong or burn something. This was especially true because starting then and still today, five years later, I love to cook new recipes the majority of the time, and feel like that requires a bit more attention.

But even if I had the recipe memorized, it wouldn’t matter. It turns out that I’m just like my mom when it comes to cooking, and prefer it be just me, some music, an open window if it’s nice out and the ingredients until it’s all said and done. And don’t expect me to have it ready when I said it would–tack on an extra 30 minutes at least. Again, just like her. I just get so relaxed that I guess I dilly-dally sometimes. Once everything is finished, though, the more the merrier! Cooking for others is one of my favorite things to do in the world and luckily, my friends don’t seem to mind. 🙂

All of the plated pictures below are dishes I’ve made on this trip. Below all that are some throwbacks. 

Salmon roasted with a lemon/garlic/dijon sauce

Salmon roasted with a lemon/garlic/dijon sauce

A really simple dish you should try at home--roast some salmon in olive oil, salt and pepper wrapped in foil for about 12 minutes. Serve on couscous and a salad of avocado, chives, olive oil and lime juice. Based on a recipe from the first cook book I ever owned.

A really simple dish you should try at home–roast some salmon in olive oil, salt and pepper wrapped in foil for about 12 minutes. Serve on couscous and a salad of avocado, chives, olive oil and lime juice. Based on a recipe from the first cook book I ever owned.

My first attempt at french fries (twice fried) and a burger to quell some nostalgia for home

My first attempt at french fries (twice fried) and a burger to quell some nostalgia for home

Pork fricassee with a creamy mushroom sauce. Man, this one was good...

Pork fricassee with a creamy mushroom sauce. Man, this one was good…

This recipe I made from a Danish cook book--chicken curry with fresh snap peas and cherry tomatoes. Also, coriander--aka cilantro.

This recipe I made from a Danish cook book–chicken curry with fresh snap peas and cherry tomatoes. Also, coriander–aka cilantro.

Roasted garlic

Roasted garlic

Broiled whitefish with remoulade and dill, alongside roasted new potatoes.

Broiled whitefish with remoulade and dill, alongside roasted new potatoes.

The Marks sisters taking names in the kitchen one friends Thanksgiving, about 5 years ago.

The Marks sisters taking names in the kitchen one friends Thanksgiving, about 5 years ago.

30th Birthday friends dinner in Wisconsin--the perfect birthday gift!

30th Birthday friends dinner in Wisconsin–the perfect birthday gift!

Author: henrykat

I am a middle school special education teacher in Chicago. I was fortunate enough to receive a Fund for Teachers grant that allows me to spend a month in Denmark, considered to be the happiest place on earth. I hope to use my experience to inspire my students to make choices that will increase their personal sense of well being.

6 thoughts on “11: Home Cookin’

  1. Oh wow Kat you’re an amazing cook!

    • Haha, looks can be deceiving! No, actually, those dishes all turned out pretty well. 🙂 There were a couple of others I was less pleased with, and they didn’t make it into the collection.

  2. Loved reading this! You are spot on about cooking being my therapy and that people get to benefit from the end results😉 You turned out to be an amazing cook & if you weren’t the best teacher ever (your students are so lucky to have you), I would suggest you open a Cafe!

  3. The food you made look good. Your are not a bad cook at all.

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