“What some call health, if purchased by perpetual anxiety about diet, isn’t much better than tedious disease.” – George Dennison Prentice
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I love food. I really do. I suppose that it all traces back to the time in my life when I was allergic to SO many different fruits and vegetables, most meats, dairy, eggs, many grains. My mother used to bake soy or rice bread for me (that crumbled when you touched it), and I ate soy milk on cereal (or apple juice if the milk ran out). Rabbit and lamb were the only meats available to me. I didn’t taste a piece of pizza until I was a teenager! One could easily make the case that the perceived deprivation I experienced when I was a kid is now balanced by my culinary explorations and willingness to try almost anything. One could also make the case that my upbringing on the odd and the unusual made me who I am today – an explorer. I revel in reading about food, watching food shows and ogling food porn (like the moist, glistening example above).
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“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” – Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
I used to stress incredibly about my size and shape, being a 115-pound waif when I was in college. My bones stuck out and I was all angles. Not that I didn’t like being that weight, mind you, but it was a tenuous existence for my psyche. There was constant worry about what was going in my mouth, how it would affect what I looked like, wanting to be perfect. I was still smarting from the comment made by an old lover who told me (at 125 pounds) that if I gained any more weight he wouldn’t see me anymore. For several months I actually followed my ballerina roommate’s eating “plan”: a Pepperidge Farm brownie for breakfast and a salad for dinner. Dressing on the side, thank you. I lost a huge amount of weight, but I was always restless, always hungry. Duh.
Then I had an epiphany. I got an apartment with a kitchen and a new roommate. A Jewish roommate who loved to eat. One weekend, my family was coming down to have dinner and I wanted to make something special, so I went to a grocery store on Central Avenue in White Plains and wandered around looking for inspiration. It came in the form of a shark. I saw some thick, juicy steaks at the fish counter and knew I had to have them. There was no thought of seafood sustainability, no thought of where it came from or how it was caught, or even what I was going to do with it. There was just something in me at that moment that screamed to be let out to play. And I acceded to its wishes. I lovingly carried the shark back to my apartment and unwrapped it. I smelled it and poked it and had no idea what to do with it, but I was in love with the possibilities of the naked flesh. I vaguely remember serving broiled shark cubes on toothpicks with pommery mustard. It was most likely terrible. However, I discovered at that meal the excitement of finding ingredients and turning them into something wonderful.
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“There is no spectacle on earth more appealing than that of a beautiful woman in the act of cooking dinner for someone she loves.” -Tom Wolfe
Over the years, cooking for me has become synonymous with love. There was a time when we were first married that I tried to make things perfect and worried and stressed if Rick or our company didn’t like the food. Was it too spicy? Was there enough salt? Did they like the texture? Was it dry? I would get upset at Rick if he didn’t like something, as though he should be in awe of everything put in front of him. I imagine some of those early meals were awful and even I wouldn’t eat them. However, in the past 22 years, there has been a growing awareness on my part that the offering of food to people was really an offering of myself. It didn’t really matter whether or not people “liked” my cooking, it mattered that I had given the best part of myself while cooking for others, that what I set on the table was a gift, to be unwrapped in the mouth. It no longer mattered if I made burgers or some foo-foo meal. The act of sitting around a table, sharing lives and experiences, talking about politics or religion or school was more important than the actual food itself. If I put out a meal that DIDN’T call everyone’s attention to the food, they would relax, be comfortable and be themselves. Sort of the reverse of the celebrity chef experience that calls attention to the chef. That’s what I really wanted. As Julia Child said, “You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.”
Next weekend, we’re having an old friend over for dinner. A former coworker of Rick’s, I used to cook for him whenever he came over for meetings. He’s been to some of our summer parties and is one of my favorite people. I’m planning on marinating some ridiculously large shrimp and throwing it and some ribeye steaks on the grill (assuming I can shovel out to it, that is). Maybe some fresh early asparagus, rice, some homemade bread. I might even make dessert. What I make isn’t as important as how I make it. I will offer a meal full of curiosity, good humor and love. That’s what really matters.
“The best way to execute French cooking is to get good and loaded and whack the hell out of a chicken. Bon appétit.” – Julia Child
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