These are a few (OK, two) of my favourite things:
1) When friends adopt me for the day (or hour, or afternoon) and let me cook with them and their families, and I get to pull up a stool and sit in their kitchen and watch their moms make dishes they learned from their moms.
2) When what they make is unfamiliar to me, and I learn something entirely new, like the joys of a fresh coriander chutney sandwich on buttered white bread. I’ve since learned these were the sandwiches of many friends’ childhoods – just the chutney, on squidgy white bread, with butter. It’s apparently a thing. I now know this thing, and although I didn’t grow up eating them, I can start now, and I’ve learned to make coriander chutney the likes of which I’ve never tasted before from someone who knows.
Because fresh green coriander (otherwise known as cilantro – yes, it’s the same thing) chutney does not run in my family, but it does in Vanessa’s, she invited me over when her mom, Theresa, was in town so we could sit and watch. Vanessa needed to pay attention too – her chutney, though made by the same recipe, never turned out quite like her mom’s. And so we sat and watched her blend, taste and tweak, and we asked questions, and I made notes on the printed out version of the recipe, which had been strayed from – just slightly – often enough to make a difference.
The grandkids helped add ingredients and press buttons, arguing over whose turn it was and how many raisins (raisins! who knew?) went in. Theresa tasted and adjusted and scraped down the sides of the blender (which she prefers to a food processor) until it was brilliant green and almost perfectly smooth. She included the seeds and membranes of one of the chilies (to keep it tame, for the kids – and also me) but the finished chutney didn’t have the heat you’d expect from looking at the recipe – it was just well balanced. The coconut cream came from a little green box with “Grace” on the front – it’s easy to find beside the canned coconut milk, and is like a condensed version that comes in a solid little white puck in a plastic bag – it melts quickly into curries without watering it down. Theresa makes big batches of this when cilantro is on sale, keeps some in the fridge and freezes the rest. “The most important ingredient is Grandma,” said Kai.