Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Art of Cooking

I've never been a fan of cooking until.... I came here.

In fact I hated cooking, so much so Mak never forced me into the kitchen. There was the occasional helping hand given in the form of chopping up the onions or blending the dried chillies which upon completion will see me disappearing from the kitchen. Mak got so used to my disappearing acts from the kitchen that she gave up on teaching her only daughter to cook.

One day she said "Nora, nanti dah kawin kalau tak reti masak nak makan apa?"

To which I slyly replied "Aiii Mak... kedai kan banyak. Order saje la. I think I can manage that quite well, thank you very much"

With that as my answer, Mak glared at me exasperatingly and said "What if you had to cook if your mother in law came?"

To which I replied "Ahhh... I'll just go out and buy something and popped it into the pyrex when I get home. Then, I'll present it to her like I had been slaving myself at the stove for the whole day, hehehhe"

Mak simply gave up and I was a happy lass thinking myself so bright and clever for being able to think such ingenius solutions.

But the smirk on my face didn't last long. The day I stepped my foot on white snowy Purdue Airport, I knew I couldn't rely on takeouts and there weren't any mamaks and apeks at my beck and call. The nearest Malaysian food available was in Chicago, some 2 hours drive away.

People say, necessity is the mother of invention and invented I did. I invented myself to be an amateur cook. The first time that I cooked was at Nong's apartment. I stayed at her pad for a week while waiting for Hawkin's to open up. Having stayed there and contributed nothing to the daily cooking rota, I was feeling a bit embarrassed of myself for imposing on Nong and her housemates. They didn't really expect me to cook with the jet lag and acclimatization to the weather and all but common courtesy ingrained by Mak in me was constantly making me guilty and I didn't want Nong and her housemates to judge me as freeloader and not welcome me into their house anymore.

So, I called Mak. I asked her what was the simplest dish that I could cook which will guarantee a success upon the first attempt? Before Mak bestowed her life-saving recipes, she nagged at me for not learning to cook. Why do moms always do that? It drives me crazy but since I was at her mercy, I just listened with ooo and ahh and ye lah in between.

After she had released all her fury (nahhh... I'm just kidding. She's just scared that her only daughter will starve to death for not being able to cook because she was too stubborn to learn), Mak taught me on the phone 2 simple dishes that she said "Even a blind man can cook" to which I jokingly add "Yeahh... now I'm not just blind, add dumb and deaf as well. So how?". I can hear Mak snorting across the transatlantic line. So, wise Mak dispense upon me the way to cook Instant Tom Yam and Ayam Masak Kicap.

I opted for Tom Yam since I wasn't confident enough to cook the Ayam Masak Kicap plus I had with me cubes after cubes of Tom Yam pastes. I made a one pot dish complete with chicken and veggies consisting of carrots, cauliflower and peppers. Nasib baik tau masak nasik. Kalau tak... ralat jugak. I was happy to see Nong and Co. slurping away happily my first ever Tom Yam.

What tickles me most was when I was chopping the carrots. These US carrots are darn hard! And since it was my first time, it didn't help either. I was making this very loud banging noise in the kitchen when Emi came in and said "Weih... bawak bersabar sket dgn carrot tu. Dari bawah aku boleh dengar" Aduhhhssss!!! Malunya tak tau nak cakap!!!!

A lesson well learnt indeed. Ever since then, I tirelessly called Mak every weekend and asked her for more recipes especially on my favorite sambal tumis udang. I learn to brace myself in the kitchen and try out one recipe after another, always correcting my mistakes along the way. Well, I truly learnt from my mistakes.

Then came the impending doom. It was Raya time and B and housemates wanted to hold an open house. Me being B's girlfriend at that time and the only one who can make passable dishes was given the responsibility of cooking the main dish. I was like "ARE YOU GUYS CRAZY??!!!" I accepted the challenge and faced it head on. I called Mak, again, and asked for my favorite noodle dish, Mee Jawa.

The day came and I was in the kitchen from the day before preparing ingredients for the Mee Jawa. Guests came around noon and tasted it. They have never heard of Mee Jawa nor have they ever tasted it but suffice to say, Alhamdulillah, they liked it and before I knew it, the pot was empty to the point of being spotlessly clean.

Unfortunately, the cooking rendezvous stopped when I came back home after graduating. Either Mak cooks or I eat out. Even after marrying B, I seldom cook. I didn't see the point of cooking when there's only the two of us. Weekends would be spent either in Klang or Subang where Mak or Mama would cook up a storm.

When I was pregnant with Zareef, things got from bad to worse. I had terrible all-day sickness and one of the allergies was not being able to stand the smell of cooking. Even the tiniest whiff of frying would see me dousing my head in the toilet bowl. So, it was off to restaurants, stalls, Mak's or Mama's with the condition that they cook in advance prior to my arrival.

I came here when I was 6 months pregnant. By that time, the sickness was over. There were no Mak or Mama to cook for me so I had to cook or else we'd starve to death. So, I cooked. I looked up recipes from the internet. I enquired from friends whenever I was invited to their house for dinner. I was not afraid to ask nor was I afraid to learn. Suddenly I realized that I like cooking. I like to try out dishes. I like seeing B's satisfied face when he tastes my dishes of labor. B is glad to be my guinea pig and taste the good, bad and ugly dishes that I concocted in my kitchen.

Now, I'm proud to say, I've moved from being an amateur to an intermediate borderline expert. In fact, I have this group of friends who meet up ever so often during the week just to learn to cook and taste each other's specialities. Just yesterday I learned to make Pasembor Penang. Fuhhh... terangkat sehh!!!

So to lasses and mommies out there who thinks that they suck at cooking, please do not despair. There is always hope of becoming a cook. A fine example would be me.

ps: here is an excellent site to turn to when you're short of recipes. Tried and tested, they never fail to make me drool. Go on... take a peek at Yummy Recipes from Mommies.


marsheque said...

Huhu, so there's hope for me just yet.. Hehe, thanks for giving me some hope dear..fyi, i was brought up by my grandma and a really pampered gal, going into the kitchen only to get myself some water.. And during high school I was off to boarding school where my only shot at cooking were during KH.. hehe and after that was college and when I was in Amherst, my best bud Adly did most of the cooking for me.. Heheh.. and now that I'm married and still live with my family, still no need to cook.. heheh, even my MIL dun expect me to cook, paling kuat pun just help out sket sket in the kitchen..

Aiyoh, dun know what will happen when we eventually stay on our own.. I guess I will have to learn then, kan? hehehe takpe, in cases of emergency, I can always call you gals up for recipes.. hehehe or SOS!! hehehe take care ma fren!

/Mummy Chomel

nong@kween said...

huraghhh!! Those walk down the memory lane. Hehehe, tak sesia aku ngan Emi jln kaki pick up ko dlm sejuk2 masa ko sampai kat errr, Krannert? :)) And..... kesedapam Mee Jawa tu will be forever in mind. Mmg sedap weeehhhhh... Dlm banyak2 bende, mmg Mee Jawa tu reminded me of you.

noresh said...

hehehe MC... there'll always be hope for you la. staying in m'sia is so not the problem when it comes to cooking because ada bermacam jenis kedai. it's when staying abroad with your own family that will get you started. firstly, there aren't many things that we can eat. secondly, it'll cost a bomb if i eat out everyday. tak mampu weih. thirdly, when the craving for msian food gets to huge to contain and m'sia restaurants are far, far away. so, nak tak nak... terpaksala masak sendiri. i've even learnt to make my own sushi, soba and tempura because japanese food is so costly here. a sushi can set u back at £2 a piece.

yes nong... i am so thankful that u and emi saved me from the loneliness at hawkins on my first day of arrival at purdue. kalau tak, macam dungu je aku dok sorang2 kat hall tuh. nanti aku balik, i'll cook the mee jawa and invite everyone over. amacam??

Along said...

eh...aku dah lupa camne masak mee jawa. Alahai, cikgu...anak murid lama tak buat revision ah...

Ni le bala ada maid..hehehe..malas sungguh nak masak. Setakat masak air boleh ah..

Ni maid dah balik indon, padan muka aku...kena start masak sendiri balik!! Uwaaaaaa

mama farizal said...

Nora, all written sebijik-sebijik kat hidung aku! Hehehe.. Even nowadays me don't really cook. Cuma masak untuk si Fraser aje. Before, only cooked one/two meals per week je (weekend). Lelain.. we ate at ma parents' place be4 we went home. Now pulak, my SIL yg masak. Er, she's bit fussy esp FIL dishes. So, I dare not intervene.. :)