It is very easy to take tragedy at face value. To look at a situation that is temporarily bad and see the problem and not wish it on anyone. Yet oddly the abilities I have in the kitchen were the result of a minor tragedy. At the time it was a huge problem. Thirty years later is was simply a miracle.

My mother is a lovely woman. She is great with kids. She is extremely intelligent. She has many great qualities.

Her cooking is not one of them.

This is not an issue for her. She proudly displays the refrigerator magnet that proclaims “If God had intended for me to cook, why did he invent restaurants?” She makes five things well, four of which are stews. It is difficult to set a stew on fire. You only think that is a joke because you never ate her brown “steamed” broccoli. Or frozen broccoli that was still frozen and made a clanking sound when put on the plate. Once she made a pie crust that was so tough that we stacked plates on it to see how many it would take to dent the crust (the answer is ten heavy ironware dinner plates..before we quit because we were afraid the plates would fall) which also had undulations in it.

I think we just used a steak knife to free the filling (which was quite good) from that pie.

Eating this way was not tragic, it was actually quite helpful in preventing obesity, However, when I was ten she got very sick with what we now know was Epstein-Barr. So my father, who was in night school and working full time, took over making dinner.

He also has many wonderful qualities. None of them involve cooking. Unfortunately he makes her look like Julia Child. After three dinners of exploded hot dogs (If you drop them into a rolling boil of water with traditional casings on and without pricking them with a fork, they do indeed explode) and two of tuna from a can, I realized that the situation was serious.

So I went to my mother and told her that she seemed too sick and that I did not think my brother and I could live for very long on a diet of exploded hot dogs and breakfast cereal. I was starting to miss vegetables. So using multiple stepladders (like many celiac kids I was abnormally tiny, smaller than any of the kindergarteners at my school) I figured out how to make spaghetti and meat sauce with steamed broccoli.

And a cook was born. Within a year I did meal planning and was trying my hand at Chicken Kiev and cooked fudge frostings. Even after my mother recovered I frequently made dinner. I had a new hobby.

Over the years a lot of people have expressed sympathy that I had to learn to cook like that and learn to meal plan and grocery shop. They thought it was tragic that I had responsibility for a family at the age of nine. The truth is that it was kind of fun for me. It was rather a grand adventure.

In addition, because of all the time I spent cooking as a child, when we got the news that we could no longer eat what everyone else was eating and that I would have to prepare virtually all of our food from scratch, it was OK. I had not cooked much as an adult, but those skills, that real understanding of how food works was baked into me from all that time doing it as a child. I smoothly moved into cooking allergen free and it was only when my neighbor (who is not really into cooking) also got sick that I realized how many people are up a creek with this condition because they do not cook.

It is easy at times to look at things as a problem or as being tragic. Poor little girl. Her mother is bedridden. Her father works all day and goes to night school. She has to grocery shop, budget, and cook for her family and she is so tiny and so young.

The truth is that my child and I would not be where we are today if I had not been through that experience. It was not a problem, it was a benefit.

It just took time to see it.