When I was in the eighth grade, we had a writing assignment in English class: describe, in detail, the MOST PERFECT MEAL. I still remember mine. While my classmates' menus included things like hotdogs and popcorn and food you buy at a ball park, mine included things like spanakopita and shrimp scampi. My mom, who has always been my best editor, read the essay and just shook her head. Where did this kid come from? When it comes to my food choices, she's still shaking her head.
Consider my culinary roots. My dad attends the ACC basketball tournament nearly every year. He doesn't miss a game, at least until his beloved UNC Tarheels are eliminated from the competition, at which point he sells the rest of his tickets and heads back home. Best case scenario: Carolina takes the whole thing and Dad gets to enjoy a solid four days of non-stop basketball. This past spring, I asked him in passing about his attendance at the event.
"So, Dad, do you just eat hot dogs all day long?"
"Oh, no, they have nachos, too."
He was serious. For four days (well, three . . . they didn't win) he ate nothing but Georgia Dome concession stand food. Willingly. Now. The man makes some mean cornbread, and my husband only aspires to make breakfast the way my dad does. But still. Nachos?
My mom dislikes cooking. She loves being in the kitchen, because that's where everyone usually congregates in her house, but for her, cooking is a little like cleaning the bathroom: sure, it's nice when it's done, but who enjoys the process?
Growing up, we ate well, and consumed lots of things fresh from our garden, but my most vivid gustatory memories take me back to the respective kitchens of my two extraordinary grandmothers. I hope to inherit from my mother THE POT that my Grandma Clare used to make a pot roast. I can nearly duplicate it in my Le Creuset dutch oven . . . but only nearly.
I wish I had inherited Grandma Stella's flour board. She made biscuits at least once a day, and never measured an ingredient. The board stayed on the counter, full of flour, covered by a dish towel. To make biscuits, she brought it to the table, scooped some lard with her fingers, poured in some buttermilk, and mixed it by hand. And by hand, I mean, without a spoon. Then she shaped the biscuits, pinching off just the right amount from the large ball of dough, and baked them in her wood stove. I can smell them right now.
We spent this past New Year's Eve at my sister MommyJ's house with most of the extended family. We all brought lots of delicious things to share, and my mom, at the request of Little Brother, brought pigs-in-a-blanket. If you're unfamiliar with this delicacy, they're pretty basic: wrap Lil' Smokie sausages in crescent roll dough. Bake. Eat.
Except I didn't eat. Because there were MUCH more delicious things to choose from: mushrooms stuffed with bacon, cheddar, parsley, and chives, anyone? Spinach dip? Boursin, and brie, and gouda, with gourmet crackers? My brother gave me grief for turning my nose up at ordinary food. I told him I simply chose to spend my calories in more delicious ways.
I do not deny it: I am an unapologetic food snob. I read Bon Appetit and Cook's Illustrated religiously and regularly try new recipes from both. I find myself wanting to take Julia Child's The Art of French Cooking and just work my way through the whole book from start to finish. I consult The Joy of Cooking more regularly than I check the dictionary.
When I have an extra dollar to spend, I head to our local gourmet grocery store -- not your ordinary earth-nuggetty hang-out specializing in all things organic or natural. This place only specializes in one thing: Food that Tastes Good. I push my cart and meander through the store, taking in the visual feast of the produce aisle, selecting some strawberries, endive, or Brussels sprouts still on the plant; I stop by the deli and window-shop, wishing I could justify spending $20/pound on prosciutto, but settle for their house brand honey roasted turkey; I linger at the cheese case and agonize over the choices of Gruyere and Brie, Tillamook cheddar and chevre and mascarpone.
The store is not large, but they stock an array of choices for the discerning palate. My brother served his mission in Germany, and he gets mustard and sauerkraut there. I buy salad dressing and arborio rice in bulk and vanilla almond granola and Martinelli's sparkling apple cider and sea-salted dark chocolate caramels. And I love every espresso-scented minute I spend there.
Yes, I love food. And while there are certain packaged staples that I rely on (Kraft Mac & Cheese, but please don't tell anyone), and a few treats I like to sneak when no one is looking (peanut M&Ms, Pepperidge Farm Chesapeake cookies, Minute Maid triangle popsicles, chocolate milk made with Quik powder), I hold myself to the ultimate standard: deliciousness. And, my, oh, my, how we are enjoying the culinary journey around our kitchen, across the farmstands, and through the restaurants of our little corner of the world.
(Another entry for the Scribbit Write-Away contest here, folks. You should try it, too!)