After triumphantly declaring, “I think I finally know how to cook,” the food gods laughed, and I haven’t been able to make a successful meal since then.
Last week I had an epic food fail while making dinner for my husband and son. I was making a very basic meal that I’ve made dozens of times before–chicken adobo, steamed broccoli and white rice–and I got every single part of it wrong. My adobo was underseasoned, and the sauce had no depth. Worse still, I overcooked the chicken, so not only was the meat tasteless, it was dry. I left the covered pot of broccoli on the stove too long so instead of bright green, tender-crisp broccoli, I had barely edible mushiness. I couldn’t even handle using a rice cooker! I put too much rice in my small three-cup cooker and not enough water so it came out hard and undercooked.
Adobo has been called the national dish of the Philippines, and it’s the Filipino food that I make with any kind of regularity for my family. So I really hate when my adobo isn’t good, especially because it’s so simple. Put meat in a mixture of soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, onions and pepper, and slowly cook everything on the stove.
How could I get this wrong?
I started thinking about my parents and how they cooked dinner for me and my brother pretty much every night of the week. This was pretty impressive especially during the work week. They were both employed at the naval shipyard in town and came home together at five o’clock every day. Dinner would be on the table by six. By the time I was 18, my parents had completed this routine literally thousands of times.
So it really should come as no surprise that my mom’s adobo was the right mix of salt and tang, with chicken so tender it fell off the bone. She made adobo at least once every two weeks. That’s a lot of practice.
My relationship with my parents has often been contentious, but even when there were few good feelings between us, there was still good food. I remember being at college halfway across the country and calling my dad and asking him how to make some Filipino dish that I was craving. The few times I would come home, my mom would always have the same beautiful and simple meal waiting for me: chicken adobo, broccoli and steamed white rice.
I know now that cooking is an act of love. Love for the ingredients. Love for the magic that can happen in the kitchen. Love for the people that you are feeding. And though I may fail again and again, that’s why I keep trying.
Thanks, Mom and Dad.