This column is going to be on a topic I have never written about before. No, it is not sex…I have written on that topic several times. In fact, I have written on many topics, but there is one love in my life that I have never written about in my column in great detail - cooking.
Cooking is for me a way to relax and clear my head. It is a lot like writing for me in that I find it an artistic expression. I love to cook recipes from all kinds of cultures, but my very favourite is Caribbean food.
When I first started cooking, I felt completely out of my element in the kitchen. My mother did not teach me to cook, so I was lost about so much. Since I married young to my Guyanese husband, some of the first dishes I attempted to cook were those I knew he would like. At that time, I could not even cook a decent pot of rice.
Lots of practice led to feeling of confidence, which led to experimenting on my own until I was proficient enough to play around with almost any recipe to make it something I knew I would enjoy. I made pine tarts without having ever seen a pine tart in my life – and they were pretty good.
However, I have to give a lot of credit to one friend who has helped me whenever I had a question about a recipe or dish. Cynthia Nelson, who writes a column on Caribbean cuisine for Stabroek News, has been a patient mentor for me for years. She also has a blog (www.tasteslikehome.org) that has inspired me over and over throughout the years.
I am one of those learners who need to see a map to understand where I am in the big picture. My Guyanese family are wonderful cooks, but they cook like most Guyanese do, they just throw this and that into their recipe without measurements or cooking times. They just know when something is right or wrong. This made learning to cook from them quite frustrating.
I did not have that cooking intuition at first, but Cynthia’s recipes gave me the opportunity to explore Guyanese cooking with a map to guide me. Her recipes, both in her column and on her blog, give step-by-step instructions on everything from pepperpot to roti. To a large degree, it was because of Cynthia’s help while learning to cook Guyanese food that I now feel comfortable enough to venture into cooking any and every food culture that strikes my fancy (because I am also an adventurous eater).
Here is the good news; Cynthia has now put out a cookbook entitled, Tastes Like Home – My Caribbean Cookbook. This cookbook is the most spectacular cookbook I have ever seen. No matter if the cook is well seasoned in the kitchen or a novice who is just starting, Cynthia’s cookbook will inspire with her cooking memoirs and instruct with her easy-to-follow recipes.
I was so excited about Cynthia’s cookbook that I bought one for three family members for Christmas. Two were seasoned cooks and one was new to Guyanese cooking. All three loved the book and were cooking from it from the very first day. This cookbook far surpasses every other cookbook I have seen (and I have seen a lot) in quality, content and instruction. It is truly the premier Caribbean cookbook.
When you see this cookbook, when you run through the pages and read the memoirs and recipes, it will make you proud to know a Guyanese wrote it.
I also bought a copy of the book from Austin’s Bookstore for a friend who was thrilled because she, too, has been an avid reader of Cynthia’s column for years. She intends to have the cookbook signed by Cynthia at the book launching at Herdmanston Lodge on February 20. I would encourage all cooks, both men and women, to go to the launch and get a good taste of Cynthia’s recipes.
Another valuable aspect of Cynthia’s cookbook targets those in the Diaspora who feel the next generation may lose their connection to Guyanese cuisine because this cookbook is essentially a textbook for anyone who has the desire to make great Caribbean food. I cook Guyanese food not just because I enjoy it, but also because I was adamant that my children knew this part of their culture.
It is interesting that my family in the Midwest part of the US said that even after knowing how to cook most of the traditional recipes for years, time and space had forgotten this ingredient or that dish. Cynthia’s cookbook helped to put some of those missing pieces back in place to make sure the tradition of great Guyanese food continues for generations to come.
I know I may seem a bit partial when it comes to Cynthia’s cookbook, but she was there to walk me through my first tomato choka, assured me that I could make a mango chutney and taught me how to make green seasoning so that my chow mein tasted Guyanese and not American. These recipes may seem simple to most Guyanese, but they are not simple for those outside of the Caribbean.
So yes, I am giving Cynthia’s cookbook a raving review because I have tried and tested her recipes for years and know they are spectacular. I have never written on cooking before and I do not know that I ever will again (after all, there are so many things cooking outside the kitchen in Guyana that I want to write about), but I could not miss this opportunity to write about Cynthia’s new cookbook. I hope you enjoy her recipes as much as I have.
(Cynthia will also be signing her cookbook at Austin’s Bookstore on February 19 from 10:30 am to 1 pm. For those outside of Guyana, Cynthia’s cookbook can be found on Amazon.)