And I can use that subject line in part because way back in eighth or ninth grade I was one of the lighting people on the high school production of Oliver! way up in Saratoga Springs, New York. That was also the time I think was the conclusion of my first real cooking bug, though I don’t think the two events were related. As far as I know.
But on the larger point — as you can see in the Flickr photo collection to the left, I’ve quite some patience for taking photos of meals I’ve eaten and loved over time, and it’s doubtful that streak will end. It’s all seemed to have had an impact — one friend today said she wanted to fly over from the UK and live in my kitchen, another insisted that had she known of my abilities I would have been held hostage to cook for her and her husband forever. Flattering to be sure though I always tend to look at my end results askance, wondering if I can do better.
This said, however, it’s the latest act in my own personal development of a sense of taste and cuisine, which I should note is far less elevated than some folks I know, and I’m admittedly jealous of it. Some dedicate themselves fully to an excellent meal and a specific joy in the act of detailed cooking every time, and that to me is quite a standard to live up to. In my case, it’s a bit more chaotic, but hopefully with some good end results.
But to step back a bit — as noted, when I was younger, after quite simply happily eating away whatever was given to me and developing fairly common 1970s kid food tastes (I sure loved my Spaghetti-Os), I first got a sense of a cooking bug in the latter part of the decade, though small things and side sources. For instance, more than a few Star Wars tie-in books, while of the generic ‘fun activity’ sort, had these random recipes in them to make — create your own big ol’ Death Star cookie! (Which I did, and it was damn delicious.) Meantime I adored Cheerios (still do, frankly, though I haven’t had breakfast cereal as something regular to eat in the morning for over a decade and a half) and ending up sending away for a little recipe book that they put out on things to do with said oat cereal. This led to a legendary incident when, after creating a seasoned version of Cheerios, coated with various salts and spices and the like, I went one today to put them in soup and was puzzled to find the bag in the pantry gone. I asked mom, she knew nothing about it, and I had to have been very confused the rest of the day. Then dad came home and over the course of dinner he mentioned that he was really surprised to find that the Cheerios he’d had that morning for breakfast tasted really strange in milk. Exactly why he passed over the huge box of Cheerios for the small plastic bag of them in the same pantry remains a mystery.
Now I have to say that I wasn’t a stellar eater through and through at this time — I remember my first encounter with green salad and thinking that raw tomatoes were of the devil (a stance long since rectified). I do definitely remember thinking that peas, lima beans and above all else the horrible squishy mess that was boiled zucchini were all designed as punishments for my hubris, though I doubt I put it in those terms. But surely an annoyed deity or fate had set it up so I had to eat them — which I did very grudgingly. (And don’t get me wrong, I love my mom — a very solid cook all around and I had to have learned a lot from her over time, more than I truly understand, but I still don’t quite get why she thought BOILING zucchini was a good idea. Anyway, I digress.)
But somewhere towards the end of middle school I stopped actively cooking as much and, quite frankly, from high school through to the early part of this decade my cooking skills as such were minimal or atrophied. I much preferred the standard options available — dining out, ordering in, or ‘cooking’ in the ‘so you heat the sauce and then soak the pasta’ sense. I had the occasional moment, I’m sure, but mostly I was slack.
What changed was a combination of things over the past few years — getting the place on my own, working in gardens on the UCI campus with close friends, a growing reflection that my diet wasn’t the best. My efforts were sporadic rather than sustained, though, and ‘heat and eat’ was still a standby. But then the best possible thing happened — at the local restaurant I’d grown to love, the Avanti Cafe, they’d set up a community supported agriculture project with the farm who supplied them with their fruits and vegetables, further south in the county. On impulse, but guided by a good spirit, I felt that this was exactly what I needed to get me out of a bad rut — by ordering a lot of random stuff in advance and then by getting it, it would force me to try new things, get me to see what else was out there. While I wasn’t vegetarian, I had no problem cooking vegetarian at home, and ultimately I thought it couldn’t hurt at all when it came to diet and health.
It’s been almost a year now and it was definitely one of the best decisions I’ve ever made — not least because now I know how to work with zucchini properly, and a number of friends are to be thanked for it. What I have also realized, though, is that I am very fortunate with this pursuit — I can and often have taken several hours to create a meal, working on it carefully rather than rushing through it, nibbling on things to tide me over just enough, and so forth. But this is the luxury of the solitary dweller — there’s nobody else (and especially no kids!) to provide for, often in a more immediate way in comparison.
So with that thought in mind, I do hope to use this blog in part as an extension of my interest in sharing photos and talking about recipes and food not to show off or to indulge in ‘food porn,’ but rather to inspire, to encourage. Not everyone has the same luxuries I do — I do after all live in a state noted for its excellent year round harvest season, for the variety of its food products, and that just scrapes the surface, and I do have the money to be able to spend regularly on both my biweekly basket and the numerous other elements needed to try various recipes that catch my interest. Still, there is no reason not to try and encourage others, I feel — the photos aren’t there to simply glisten in the eyes of others, but to serve as notice: “Hey, it’s not that hard to do this. Give it a whirl and see what happens.”
So more as it comes. Or rather is made and eaten.