I started cooking at a young age. It has
been just my mother and I since I was barely talking. One of the things my mother
prides herself on is that even though she worked, she never
wanted to be the kind of mother who cooks food from a box. No Mac and Cheese,
No Hamburger Helper! I was a stirrer, a pourer, a measurer, or a sit and watch
and taste kind of kid. Our first house was a Cape Cod with a blue linoleum
kitchen. Pastel blue cupboards, blue vinyl walls and blue tiled floor. I loved
it---the 1950’s of it, but revisited with the 1990’s more inclusive definition
of family. In that kitchen, mom taught me how to bake, braise, sift, measure
and create. Blue is still my favorite color.
My mom’s cooking style was chicken, potatoes, vegetable. So when I became a vegetarian at twelve, I threw her for a loop. She wouldn’t break from her standard meal. She didn’t want to eat vegetarian so thus began my adventures away from the familiar. The first thing I made for myself was spaghetti with Ragu tomato sauce with tofu. It was terrible, the tofu watery (then, I didn’t know to drain it, press it, and marinate it). Eventually I caved in and let mom make brisket and lemon chicken and I happily returned to life as it was.
My vegetarianism went latent until the end of college when I had my own (shared) kitchen. The only rule I had was no using my wok and keep the ham out of sight. Mostly I made vegetable stir-fry, and the sauce was the variant. Lemon, spicy, tamari, peanut, it was enough invention for me. But after a while, I got sick of salads and veggie burgers. Just the sight of the wok was enough to make me lose my appetite. With no one to cook for me (my roommates were all carnivores), I looked for recipes. And this is one of my favorites. I came across it in Real Simple and fell in love. And then I tested it out with my mother. It’s one of her favorites now too. My joke: Chick Peas are the new Chicken. Gradually, she’s come around to see that the student can teach the master a few tricks. She now eats vegetarian at least once a week and has figured out how to modify some recipes to fit both of our tastes. She’s still hesitant about the tofu but I can throw in fake sausage and bacon and for a minute, she thinks I’ve gone back to the dark side until I show her the packaging.
I know I’ll never get anyone to change their minds about eating meat. That’s a personal choice, but what I like is being able to make something that tastes good and that two people with different eating habits can enjoy. That’s why I cook—because it is a way of connecting and telling a story. I have to admit, I don’t really measure anymore but that’s the fun, tasting as you go along, forging the path until you get to that eureka moment, not too hot, not to cold, but just right.
And yes, I am wearing an apron. This one is one of my great-grandmother’s. My grandmother added the pink top because I told her I was a messy cook and just the around the waist wouldn’t cut it. All of this makes me feel connected to the women in my family who taught me how to be a woman, and even if I don’t always cook like them or share in their opinions about how to live, they taught me how to navigate the kitchen (and beyond), how to take care of my own hunger, and how to feed those you love.
1 tablespoon olive
3 cloves garlic, chopped
7 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 pound pasta (I've used penne)
1 15.5-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1/4 cup unsalted roasted almonds, chopped
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the broth, red pepper, and 3/4 teaspoon salt and bring to a boil.
Add the pasta and cook, stirring, until the broth is nearly absorbed and the pasta is al dente, about 6 minutes. Stir in the chickpeas and parsley.
Divide among individual bowls and top with the almonds and Parmesan.