Sunday, June 7, 2009

Confessions of a Food Snob

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!)

13 comments:

  1. I love fancy food too. But there's nothing like a delcious NYC stand hot dog, or crackers with squeezy cheese on it.

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  2. Yum. Deliciousness is definitely the ultimate standard.

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  3. Wow. I'm always impressed by people who really know food. Delicious is my standard too, and I refuse to waste my money, time, calories or energy on food that's mediocre; but I have a pretty uneducated palate. I have a friend that I love to go out to eat with because she knows so much about food. She picks the best restaurants and orders the most incredible things. I always learn when I dine with her.

    I hope you get your grandmas pot someday. It should go to someone who will appreciate it and fill it with delightful food again and again.

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  4. "No they have nachos too."

    Snort :) Best line and paints your Dad perfectly.

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  5. I'm totally curious now about that store you mention in your story ... claudia.jara@gmail.com ... would you tell me which one and where it is???

    I enjoy eating ... snobby food, junky food ... I just love eating and trying new flavors!

    :)

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  6. You can find Tillamook Cheese here? Seriously? It's the best cheddar I've ever had (and maybe I'm biased, I grew up in the northwest). I'm just slightly jealous right now.

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  7. I have two words for you: VISIT PORTUGAL I never knew food could be that amazing until we lived there. The British have some AMAZING cheeses and food choices for pretty cheap, but they're really, really sad with their cooking. It doesn't hold a candle to anything Poruguese. Actually I have been to a lot of places from around the world, and hands down Portuguese is the most awesome. They even make plain potatoes taste divine.

    When I can't have portuguese I settle for Mexican.. LOL! I love mexican! Jenni

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  8. Snarkinkmom here to defend herself...I do make the best soup in the world and award winning chili, beat only by Inkmom's husband...but his gives me heartburn, though it is delicious. And I believe there were cookies galore when the kids were little and fresh fruit always. And I don't remember anyone complaining about Thanksgiving, especially the stuffing that no one yet has duplicated...I could tell the story about Emily's innards, but there are too many for her to tell about me! I love that she is a food snob...I benefit so often. What I dislike about cooking is the standing in front of the refrigerator and wondering what to fix...what do you want for supper? I don't know. What do you want?
    Sigh.

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  9. Excellent post. I was just reading it going, "Man, she's got to submit this to Scribbit's write-away contest!" Sweet stuff and I'd love to share your dinner table any night of the week! :)

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  10. Greetings from one food snob to another. In fact, I don't remember the exact words, but I am pretty sure that is how I introduced myself to you that first day, "Hello, my name is Vanessa and I am a food snob." Or something like that. Maybe that is why hit it off so well! I'll have to send my mother and father your post... they would appreciate it only too well!

    BTW - my mom is still regularly catering weddings these days...you should hear about some of her latest menu offerings!

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  11. When I went to France a couple of months ago, I enjoyed every single bite. I am a food snob too, when the occasion arises. But yeah, I can also live on Mac & Cheese and cereal too.
    Great post!

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  12. I am a food snob too. I love cooking shows though, they are my drug of choice. I have millions of recipe books. I was putting together a recipe collection for my coworkers a while ago and found that I got really irritated when someone would submit a recipe that was too easy or included something like cream of mushroom soup. Is that too snobby?

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  13. This makes me laugh -- and nod in agreement -- all at the same time. The whole time I was reading I thought ... "I hope she's entering this in Scribbit's..." and sure enough...

    Best of luck, from one food snob to another (trying not to covet your le creuset dutch oven)

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Sock it to me!