I didn’t know we were poor. I just knew that growing up in a multi-household of amazing cooks (and bakers) that there were two rules: you never know who may show up famished, so be able to stretch your meal, and never let anyone leave hungry.
Sometimes I’d walk into my grandma’s Coney Island, NY kitchen where she and my Aunt Fanny would be stirring big pots of chicken matzoh ball soup or layering a black-and-white speckled enamelware roasting pan with stuffed cabbage, just in case unexpected relatives and friends happened to pop in… and they always did. The women in my family didn’t just cook. They cooked from love with limited budgets and unlimited imagination.
From the time my dad’s sister, Aunt Golda, guided me through making my own apple pie tart at the age of five, I have always baked and cooked. I have cookbooks, but mostly I just cook with what ingredients are on hand. I visualize the ingredients melding together, and then set about making that materialize. Between the sumptuous Eastern European dishes created by my mom’s and dad’s families, and later the exotic influences imprinted upon my mom as we lived and travelled internationally, I grew up experiencing the “throw a bit of this, a dash of that, smell, taste and be sure there is color” philosophy. When my mom returned to work, I was 11 and responsible for choosing what I would cook and then making the family meals.