in our home there were no preserves, no little silver tins of beluga and sturgeon. there was no creamed butter, tenderloin or rosemary risotto and thymed lamb. we were potato people, hoarders of the infamous oodles and noodles, packages foods and chicken legs wrapped in brown paper, so you looked less poor. we bought $1 legs when were flush and fashioned 42 dinners with bags of idaho spuds when we were bust. spices were salt and pepper – there was no cumin, mustard seed and coriander. aubergine did not exist in my vocabulary.
we feasted on bon ton chips, plantains – our fingers were greased and salty. the best part was licking them clean.
in long island, everything was fried. there was the year when my father and i refused veal. he had woke one morning in ireland to hear the slaughter and i received PETA tapes in the mail. we couldn’t touch the fragile kid meat. but my mother was prone to frying (she was wicked with a vat of oil and tongs) and cruelty so one christmas, when we were presented with plates of breaded chicken cutlets, pork, veal and braciole, we couldn’t tell what was what. we asked about the veal and were told to take our chances.
we held our forks steadfast but hunger took over and we cut and sniffed, cut and sniffed until we sure we hadn’t participated in the killings.
although i’ve always had an affection for food, i didn’t have the means to experiment. in college, i added steak sauce to lasagna and breaded chicken in japanese bread crumbs (panko, I believe it’s called). my dishes were playful disasters and i spent months perfecting a stuffing, a cream pasta, a chicken with rosemary and lemon. i kept it simple and used good ingredients. i watched cooking shows (an obsession from watching them on pbs and channel 13 as a child when the rabbit ears were kind with reception) and learned words like “sift”, “bÃ©arnaise”, “rue”, “bÃ©chamel”, “twice-baked”, “deglaze”, “chiffonade” – fancy terms that made themselves clearer with much practice.
i made my first cheese cake watching nigella lawson, my first wellington watching ina garten. i perfected the apple pie, spent days on the damn muffins and found that while i could make complicated dishes – the simplest things were suddenly becoming foreign. i dreaded the cupcake, the cilantro pesto, and god forbid you say the words chive biscuits and there i go, with a sifter, screaming. but bring me flambÃ©, alaskas, and tartines. i cook when i’m blue, i cook when i’m tense. i cook when i’m happy. i cook to bring other people closer to me.
lately, i’ve become obsessed with the cookbook and i’ve spent hours in restaurant supply stores, cooking shoppes – marveling at microplanes and other gadgets that do the unimaginable. a mayo maker, an apple peeler, the uber hip of kitchen aids with double digit paddle attachments (a pasta-maker attachment!) i’m still in debt so i like to window shop. i have kind friends in publishing who gift me with books.
after a VERY stressful day in the office where i wanted to throw staplers at people, i ditched my evening plans and came home, lugging a bag filled with cookbooks on the crowded subway. at home, i poured over the beautiful pictures – imagined paninis with the fresh vermont mozarella and roasted seasoned tomatoes, seared grilled chicken with six spices, curried pasta (it’s delish, i assure you!), gelato without an ice cream machine!
currently obsessing over: Simple Italian Sandwiches: Recipes from New York’s Favorite Panini Bar, the new mario batali cookbook (the italian bible, although some of the gamier and fowl fare scare me a bit) and my fave: The Improvisational Cook by Sally Schneider. . i have to say i was disappointed (at first glance) at the lack of photographs and the drab paper, but then i actually read some of the recipes and i was addicted. you know how to make oven baked fries? SWEET! now learn 40 different variations. it’s all about mastering the fundamentals and the rest is all play in the kitchen. it’s about getting the technique down and not being afraid to screw things up.
some people prefer cocktails till dawn and collecting 8-track tapes. give me a whisk, a cast iron skillet, and a good recipe and i’m golden.