Sunday, November 22, 2009

Welcome to my wanderings!

Hello All!

This blog is a coming-out of sorts. I confess that I love food, in virtually all forms in which it enters human culture: as sustenance, as art, and as entertainment. Yes, it keeps us alive, but if that were all it did, we wouldn't have countless restaurants, books, shows, classes, or films on food as we do as a species. Some people remember a country, a period of their existence, through the lens of politics, couture, books, or music. Those exist for me too, to be sure, but what I remember best is what I ate and how it tasted.

I am not a gourmet by any means. Well, I amend that. Contrary to the belief of some Italian friends from years ago, some Americans do know the vast difference between home-made pasta with tomato sauce and Spaghettios. But I am flexible enough to enjoy both, depending on the context, or my mood.

My earliest memory of food, or more precisely, of the act of eating, was of me sitting in a booster seat eating some sort of sweet beige porridge. I couldn't have been more than two years old, but I clearly recall my tastebuds tingling with the sweet, mildly acidic taste of fruit and soft higher brain interprets this food as likely having been Cream of Wheat with mashed peaches. Yet, deep in my primitive memory lurks the simple experience of, "Me like!"

These years were followed by the tastes I associate with Maria, the woman who helped raise me. Carne picada, or ground beef, with cubed, boiled bits of potato. Small bowls of honey, important to her because she believed honey relieved constipation, and vital to me more because I loved the sweet syrup enough to sweep my fingers along the bowl, then lick them clean. I don't know for sure where she got her knowledge base, but my mother admits her applications of food to bodily functions did have their desired effect. Most of all I remember her weekend buttermilk biscuits. I would wake up on Saturday or Sunday mornings to that delectable buttery smell and run downstairs, where she would be grinning and pointing to the counter, where a round wicker basket would be sitting, a bundled cloth inside. I would unwrap the cloth to reveal the still-warm biscuits. She would always make at least one or two in the shape of a single loop, just for me. Looking back, they were the same exact shape as the iconic ribbon which nowadays represents various causes depending on the color: breast cancer, AIDS, autism. This link may be an absolute red herring, but my brain just now made it. My brain wanders as much as my tastes. Anyway, Maria measured my love for her largely by how well I enjoyed her food. I did not fully appreciate this until much later in life.

I got an inkling during my teenage years, when I tried to negotiate my love of food and eating with the longing to be slender and svelte, a message driven into most women from the time they become aware of their bodies as potentially attractive. I entered into various wacky negotiations with food: Counting calories, eating high protein in vast quantities but nothing else, exercising like crazy. This new, wary relationship with food, paired with a new tendency to isolate myself in my room after school, led to Maria's feeling utterly rejected and somewhat angry. She saw herself as my nurturer, and when I made wordless, adolescent declarations of independence such as wanting to wake up via alarm clock, or eating nothing but an apple and string cheese for lunch, she took this as nothing less than abandonment. Which of course, it was. I wanted no one to guide my choices, including food. I remember loads of cottage cheese, string cheese, and hamburger patties during this time, along with Chef's Salad. But without me to nurture, she felt out of a job. Truly, how long can a nanny stay with a family, before the children grow? On the surface, her transition out of my daily life was presented by everyone involved as the natural next course of things. At some level I was relieved to not have her presence sulking daily in the kitchen. But once she had left, I guess I missed her, because I began bingeing. Four or five Snickers at a time. Late-night snacks of melted mozzarella cheese and flour tortillas. Deep down, I think, I missed her and wanted her back. I tried to counter her absence in my daily life with the substance that had always linked her to me: food. But this nourishment was fast, simple, instantly gratifying and packaged, not like her made-from-scratch dishes. A longing for the dishes that were, in shadow form.

In my first apartment after college, I willingly took on the role of chef for my roommate and myself. She used to joke that every night after work, "I'd come home and my wife has dinner ready". Loads of beans and gastritis formed this period of my life. On one ambitious evening, I had found several recipes in a cookbook, and was determined to make at least three of them. This I did while watching Babette's Feast. One of the dishes, I remember, was bread pudding, something that came out remarkably tasty, but which I have not made since. I savored it while watching Babette cook her sumptuous meal for a handful of Swedish locals, all unaware of their host's amazing gourmet past. A few months later, I acquired an Indian boyfriend and began experimenting with chili powder and curries accordingly.

So I have always enjoyed food. But it was with adulthood, and especially, wife and motherhood, that have made food planning and preparation a daily reality. This has required me to be flexible and plan ahead, but also, has enabled me to indulge in my love of food to a greater degree than ever. With that in mind, I wanted to share some of my thoughts, dishes, and opinions with you, reader! You may disagree with me at times, or even think of a better restaurant or way to do things. So much the better, because I am always open to ideas. Food, like life, is a process. Thanks for joining me on the journey.