It is something that I’ve struggled with in many aspects of life-not just cooking. I tend to base things off of my previous experiences and I tend to not acknowledge any different ways of doing things. It runs in my family. When it comes to cooking, our way has always been the best way. We cook meatloaf a certain way. We make gravy a certain way. We make pies in a certain way. Don’t get me wrong, our food always comes out tasting very good and the compliments from “outsiders” don’t necessarily help diminish our ego. But it is the closed mindedness that keeps us from perfecting new avenues of cooking.
I remember my mother teaching me to make rice. I always enjoyed these experiences with her. I loved learning how to cook. It mad me feel mature. It made me feel like I had something to offer.
“One cup of water for one cup of rice.” and “One cup of dry rice means 3 cups of served rice!” I was to bring the rice to a boil and keep it there until the rice is cooked through.
This is something that I’ve had a hard time perfecting. Even my mother’s rice didn’t always come out perfectly. But this is how I learned. This is how I taught others how to cook rice. I remember talking to my best friend Kim on the phone one day. She had no idea how to cook rice without burning the bottom. Even with my direction she still had the same problems. What could be the issue?
It wasn’t so much about the rice as it was about our ability to open ourselves up to new possibilities. A tradition is a tradition. Why change it?
Then I met someone. In my sophomore year of college and met a boy. No, this is not a love story (keyword being boy and not man). This is a story of knowledge and the procurement of knowledge. This boy taught me many things but what pertains to this story is how he taught me to cook rice. Adobo was the first meal that Roy made for me was. He is Filipino so adobo for his culture (it is prepared differently in a Spanish culture) is chicken with ginger, onions, scallions, and tomatoes over rice. At this point in our relationship, I was too infatuated with the fact that he could cook for me, that I did not pay attention to how he prepared the meal.
Then there was one quiet day in my apartment where I was going to make fried chicken and rice. When everything was prepared and I walked away from the stove to let rice boil and the chicken crisp. This is when he saw it. He saw what he considered to be blasphemy in cooking. “What are you doing here…” he asked calmly but with undertones of fear. “What do you mean? I’m cooking. Everything will be done soon…”
Now by this point in our relationship, Roy knows my sensitivities. I, as well as the rest of the women in my family, am confident in myself and my cooking. Questioning any of us is not an easy feud. He tries to let it roll off his shoulder but I am interested. Maybe there is something to learn. Maybe I don’t have all the answers.
The next time we cook, I ask him to show me his methods.
Roy’s mother is German but he learned a lot of his cooking skills from his father who is full Filipino. Adobo and red eggs and rice are his favorite cultured meals- his own traditions. Both meals authentic, both delicious, and both never attempted by yours truly.
We make adobo.
Roy begins by showing me how to measure out the rice and water. Unlike my mother, Roy uses his finger instead of measuring cups. He puts some water into the pot. Then he sticks his finger in the middle and tells me to take note of where the rice comes up to. “When you put in the water it should double that height.” Although a very different in technique, it is similar to my mom’s one cup of rice and one cup of water. The next part is where the changes come in.
We bring the rice to a boil.
Instead of keeping the rice on the burner, we remove it, cover it, and let it sit. “This is the hardest part.” he says. “You cannot uncover the rice and you cannot touch or stir it.” The rest of the meal is then prepared.
It is not until the very end that we uncover the rice. Not only is the rice perfectly cooked, but also it isn’t burnt on the bottom and it does not stick to the pan. This to me is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever learned. Just by doing things a little bit differently, I saved myself loads of time and frustration.
This, however, was about more than the rice. It was about more than the meal. It was a turning point. In a way, I had let someone in. I let someone offer changes to something that I had become comfortable with…and the outcome wasn’t as scary as I may have predicted.
No, maybe my way isn’t always the best way. I’ve been very humbled and blessed by seeking out new ways to do things. Many times I find that my way may be slightly more efficient but a lot of times I find that I have things to learn too.