PART I: Cooking Is Like Love.

Recently I was completely inspired by another’s blog (Hi, Jean!) concerning the topics of food and cooking. Some of my thoughts on all things culinary …

That said, here in our society food can and should be so much more than fuel

I truly believe life is what you make it! From what you choose to fill your mind with, the thoughts you feed on, to the way you decorate and keep your home, the tone it evokes with lighting and music provides atmosphere, a feeling you hope others will be enveloped in and carry with them. I create my own world, not to escape reality, but to enhance it. That most certainly includes food, and the whole experience of dining. My dad’s former chastisement as to why I often make such a production out of everything has shifted over time to sincere compliments for creating beauty, building a home that’s inviting, and for my chasing after a newfound passion for cooking whole heartedly. The words “You should be a chef!” are heard from his mouth, despite his less than adventurous “meat and potatoes” view of food that contrasts starkly with mine. At its most basic, I try to think of food as fuel, my body as a machine and a gift, I get only one and if I mess it up too badly, I have to leave early. That said, here in our society food can and should be so much more than fuel, we’re afforded the privilege and luxury of abundance.

Growing up, I always wanted to help in the kitchen as lots of kids probably do. Generally, I was considered in the way and made to leave sooner than later. By the time I was a teenager, I really looked at any cooking to be done as an inconvenience, and had crossed over into the realm of thinking it was a necessary evil to be hurried through and accomplished with minimal effort so as to get back to life. Then in my early twenties, I began preparing picnics here and there for friends and boyfriends and discovered I really enjoyed it! Classic sandwiches led into experiments with the occasional offbeat meat or cheese combination and then grew to the inclusion of all kinds of breads and spreads. A sandwich connoisseur, I am! And such a bread snob! No plain, packaged, pre-sliced, ordinary white or wheat bread for me, no sir. It’s gotta be whole so that I can determine the thickness for myself -thick-cut mild sourdough for French toast with bite. Thin-cut grilled jalapeno cheddar bread with pepperjack, roast beef and chipotle mayo for a sandwich/soup combo. Bakery-bought cinnamon-raisin bagels toasted and spread with crunchy peanut butter, slightly melted, and piled with crispy bacon, Presley inspired, a little frightening, but I swear you’d love me if I made you breakfast. Later on, as a volunteer on the 20something leadership team at my church, there were plenty of opportunites to prepare dinner for a large group, sometimes alone, but often with others ready and willing to be delegated to which added to my learning and now loving of entertaining.

This and then that kept me from delving much further into actually learning anything substantial in the way of cooking, and years passed by, while I waited for a time when I wasn’t in school or working or volunteering too much. Enter this past January! After a few false starts last year, I’ve really got down to business about cooking this year. It’s such an art thing. A feast for the senses, from the aroma wafting up to fill your nostrils, to the sight of the rich and decadent. The first taste exploding in your mouth, a culmination of flavors dancing on the tongue, beckoning and calling in enticement of more, heavy with satisfaction. Nothing short of ecstasy. The smells and textures, the colors, they provide infinite combination possibilities. It’s like love in a whole new form.

My role models have been few and far between when it comes to cooking:

• A distant and rarely seen uncle who makes killer salmon on the grill no matter the season or weather.
• Two friends, husband and wife, who worked beautifully as a team in the kitchen last Thanksgiving, to provide a meal to blow nothing less than your socks off.
• A few of the cooks where I once worked …

There’s a popular belief out there about simplicity in cooking, a minimalist view where one learns to prepare quality ingredients well.

Yes, thanks to a few too many years working at an Italian restaurant, I’m all about the pasta. Favorite food genre: Italian! Too often when I mention that, people say something like, “Oh, you like Italian? I guess it’s alright, but kinda boring.” Oh, do let me convince you otherwise! Surely, you’re referring to that old standby of spaghetti and meatballs, I take it? Enter REAL Italian, thank you very much. I shall make you any number of delectable dishes, a Chicken Cacciatore, a Fettuccine Primavera, Bucatini all’Amatriciana, or one of my very favorites, a Chicken Picatta or Marsala, maybe. Picatta, so good with a butterflied chicken breast in lemon sauce with capers, and the Marsala, based on the sweet red Marsala wine reduced down with just a bit of heavy cream among other ingredients and combined with mushrooms over pasta. How about a Penne all’Arrabbiata, meaning “angry,” so spicy with its abundant crushed red pepper and garlic. I simply adore garlic with a capital “G”. I forgive you, if you don’t. Or Pasta alla Puttanesca which means “Pasta in the way a whore would make it.” Or if you prefer, Spaghetti alla Puttanesca, “whore’s spaghetti.” Made with Kalamata olives, crushed tomatoes, anchovies (just the essence and a smidgin at that, so no worries) capers and garlic. The name’s origin? Possibly the sauce’s spicy flavor, though, I was taught that the ingredients was placed into many a glass jar during the morning back in Naples, Italy. Those jars were then lined up along the window sills of the brothel where the hot sun would beat down on them throughout the day causing the smell to waft out and down the street to passersby, potential customers, drawing them in for more than a meal. Either way, baby, that be the schtuff!

So, as of this past January, I had sandwiches, breakfasts, and pastas down. Time to expand! I have some stellar cookbooks, but when browsing through them, though, inspired and appetite wetted, the list of ingredients per recipe can be nothing less than daunting. So, I set aside my cookbook collection in want of starting with the basics. There’s a popular belief out there about simplicity in cooking, a minimalist view where one learns to prepare quality ingredients well. That’s where I chose to begin. ♦

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