My cooking blog has started out by providing step-by-step illustrations and text of the way I prepare dishes, but I haven’t talked about what I really think about food and cooking, and what it means to me. Today I will.
Cooking for me, and feeding others, is about love. The joy of a meal, simple to elegant, provided to others, transcends mere.nourishment. It is a chance to slow down, have a conversation and enjoy each other’s company, something that we rarely take time to do.
Many of you might say, “Sure, I’d love to make a homemade meal, if I only had the time.” Make the time!
There are plenty of us who work full time, have activities of our own, or those of our families, or are worn out by the end of the day. A tepid piece of grey meat out of a paper sack eaten behind the wheel is not a meal, happy or otherwise.
Make the time.
My mother, with ten children and a husband to feed, was in the kitchen constantly. I think she must have spent the better part of her time in the kitchen preparing meals for the family. Menus were heavy on roast beef. Not cheap, but guaranteed to satisfy the whole family. Broccoli, iceberg lettuce, carrots, and occasionally asparagus would be the vegetables. She was also partial to Uncle Ben’s Original Wild Rice. It must have been difficult to prepare the lowest common denominator for a menu, week in and week out, that would keep all of us fed and happy. What I discovered later, was that she liked cooking, and when the number of meals or mouths decreased, she was far more creative.
I started cooking or, rather, baking when I was eight or nine years old. As I’ve said before, it started with a box cake mix, an egg, a bit of oil, and some milk in a mixing bowl. But wait, you had to preheat the oven (always check it before you start!), grease and flour the pan (be careful no flour on the floor please!) first.
Using an electric hand mixer was like magic, but I suspect the best part was licking the beaters. After carefully pouring the batter in the pan, I’d wait at the kitchen table, the smell of chocolate cake or gingerbread gradually filling the room. The only part I didn’t like was waiting for it to cool, I was impatient to frost it and eat it!
As I got a little older, I started making the salad. While this is very easy to do, it was then I started to learn about knives. The right tool makes any job easier, and while you can make do in a pinch, in the long run you want the right tool.
College came and went. It was pretty much a gastronomic wasteland. The schools carbohydrate intensive food service was only a little better than 365 ways to prepare ramen noodles. Only when I moved home after school did I have the ingredients to really start having fun. Easy, satisfying meals of chicken, pizzas, calzones, lamb chops and garlic mashed potatoes were some of my first efforts.
I started to hang out at the now defunct 302 West restaurant and got to know the late Joel Findlay, arguably the best chef in the Fox Valley for more than a decade. Listening, watching, and sampling did much to further my culinary knowledge and desire to learn more.
I also started watching food programs on PBS. Oh the joy! The magic! What were they doing? What the heck is that? How will they prepare it? Julia Child, Jeff Smith (the Frugal Gourmet), and Martin Yan were some of the first I watched. Later Food Network became a daily fix; so much that a former girlfriend, when breaking up with me, derided me for my habit. Come to think of it she never complained while she ate what I was cooking. I occasionally watch the Food Network after sucking its marrow for years. You can learn from it, but after some time you’ll know what is coming next in a recipe and it won’t be so new anymore.
During my first marriage, I did most of the cooking because I liked it and because I was good at it. I love the challenge of “There’s nothing to eat!” Hmm, really? Let me check. Here eat this!
So, why read this blog? Am I certified or formally trained? No, not at all, though perhaps someday.
Read this blog because I love cooking, and people love to eat what I cook. From the clean plates, I’m guessing they aren’t just being polite.
I like butter, I like cream, I like bacon. There is much known about the dangers of saturated fats. There is no doubt that high fat meals on a regular basis can’t be good for you, just as there is little doubt that a diet based on refined carbohydrates is a sure path to obesity.
Isn’t it time we used common sense? Enjoy what you like, don’t overdo it, and have fun!
David P. Offutt
The Gastronomic Gardener