so when i was growing up the food in our house was good. mostly everything was healthy and home made, made with love, and an eye towards taste.
but i always had the sense that there was something missing. not lacking, just missing. being young and not exposed to much i had no idea what that was.
until one day in high school when i was hanging out at the goddess mother's house and we went into the kitchen for a snack. she forgot something in her room and left me in there with her mother who was doing something at the other end of the long island. now, this was back when her mother didn't care for me (though it must be said that her mother wasn't ever ungracious or unkind to me in any way) and i sort of knew that. and so of course i tried to engage her in conversation. because i have manners. and also because back then and even to this day i still can't believe there are people who don't like me. so of course i throw myself at them.
so i wandered down to the end of the island to make small talk. and lo and behold what i saw mesmerized me! it literally stopped me in my tracks. it was nothing short of magic. alchemy.
"what are you doing?'
"i'm sugaring violets."
she could have said she was creating a bust of my sophomore english teacher out of head cheese and i wouldn't have been more shocked, or understood less the reason for it. or absolutely loved the idea of it more. (the sugaring of violets, not the head cheese bust)
so i asked her how and why and all the questions one might ask about something they found so odd and delightful and fascinating. and right then and there i knew what i couldn't put my finger on all those years growing up. and that was that food was and could be totally fabulous. that the possibilities were endless. that food was sustaining and delicious and nourishing, but that there was always the potential for something more. for fancy.
and by fancy i don't only mean fussy or elaborate. that, too. sometimes. by fancy i mean more than just food on a plate. and anyone who loves to cook, or loves to eat good food so much they seek it out whether it's served from a kitchen table, a stick on the street, a truck, or a fine dining establishment knows exactly what i mean.
because at that time in my life the idea of that, food being more than just on the plate to eat, was about as fancy as it got.
then when i finally got a kitchen of my own i was a hippie vegetarian and all the money and creativity i had went towards making truly awful tasting soymilk and internal organ rattling herbal tinctures. i didn't even have a cookbook and i actually only ate the same. four. things. every. single. week. ramen and bean and cheese burritos and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and cheese pizza. sometimes with mushrooms or the occasional black olive. ooh. fancy.
then i got another, better, more adult kitchen and a vegetarian cookbook. i had a little more money, and a little more creativity, and i ended up making the same. four. things. every. single. week. boring. i know i know, vegetarian cooking isn't boring at all! NOW. now when we've all been exposed to so many different cuisines and techniques and spices, etc. THEN. then it was pasta and brown rice and tofu scramble and the occasional badly devised quiche. at least it was in my kitchen. the day i learned to make mushroom gravy i nearly broke down and cried. i think there was at least a tear or two. the flavor! oh my god there was FLAVOR!
then right when i started to get the hang of vegetarian cooking that had some flavor, i put all my energies towards trying to be the coolest girl in the room. you know, drinking my weight in beer every night, dancing at the clubs, sucking in my already flat stomach. as you can imagine this didn't leave a lot of room for actual cooking, let alone any fancy sort of cooking. in fact, i don't really remember doing any cooking. i think i survived on bar snacks and the occasional garnish in a cocktail. good times.
oh, and the occasional fabulous meal out when i could get it. which actually did a lot to spur the foodie in me, but i didn't know it at the time. at the time i was probably just happy to be eating something other than bar snacks and cocktail garnishes.
then when i became a responsible, okay who am i kidding...when i started my family there had to be more routine, and apparently bigger than a 24 inch waist. by then i wasn't a vegetarian anymore, THANK GOD, had a bigger and even better kitchen, got a different cookbook, discovered trader joes, and ended up making the same. four. things. every. single. week.
it wasn't until i discovered Gourmet that all of that changed. because i always knew the potential was there, but i never knew where to start. sure i had seen Gourmet around through the years, but i never really picked it up to check it out. then one day at a dentist or doctor or baby appointment i picked it up and i was hooked. right then and there. all of it. hooked. so i stole that copy, filled out a subscription, and never looked back.
what grabbed me was the variety, the depth, the sheer load of information, technique, and know how in each copy. every single month there was something new to learn. about food, restaurants, drinks, travel. it was endless and fascinating. this was right around the time the internet was still newish and the food network was getting going, but they still really only had emeril. god, remember when BAM! didn't annoy the hell out of you? yeah. i don't either. so this was back when you actually had to physically pick something up, a book, magazine, encyclopedia, and actively seek out information. wow. that is a truly depressing sentence.
and as these things go, i started being exposed to more by way of technique and ingredient, and i sought out more cookbooks, different ways of shopping, and stopped making the same four things every single week. i started planning weekly menus with an eye toward variety and excitement on the plate. an eye towards fancy. cooking, which had been enjoyable if not seeming a bit of a chore, and boring with the same dishes every week, began to be the absolute highlight of my day. i could spend hours cooking and be as happy as a clam steamed with white wine, garlic, and just a hint of red curry. happier still to put the food on the table and feed my family and my friends.
i love Gourmet for giving me Ruth Reichl. she is hands down simply fantastic. a true foodie, an excellent writer (her books, please read them!) and i feel, a kindred spirit.
i love Gourmet for giving me Jane and Michael Stern. their Roadfood column and books and radio spots are some of the highlights of my month, my sunday afternoons, and a few of my road trips. i will always love them for introducing me to the Golden Light Cafe on Route 66 in Amarillo, Tx. it was everything they said it would be. right down to the two busty, saucy waitresses (okay, so i said busty, they didn't) who kept me plied with frosty mugs of cold Shiner Bock and the honest to goodness golden light that poured through the windows in the afternoon.
i love Gourmet for introducing me to some of the most fabulous restaurants i could ever hope to visit (they are on my list) and to those that i have. most memorably The Slanted Door in San Francisco that really truly did exceed expectation and was worth the two month wait, the 1000 mile distance, and the 9:30 pm seating.
i love Gourmet for introducing me to chefs i never would have known about and cookbooks i never would have seen otherwise. and for their Christmas cookie issue. i will miss the Christmas cookie issue. a lot.
i have also learned from Gourmet, in a roundabout way, that big kitchens and fancy kitchens and inspiring kitchens are fabulous and wonderful and well, inspiring. but despite all of that, good food comes from simply combining ingredients and preparing them with love and care. sure you have to search some things out, learn a new technique, explore and explode your boundaries, make mistakes and correct them as you go along. but it really, in the end, it is just a simple process. (if it works, right? ;) )
i also learned from Gourmet that recipes printed in magazines can contain errors and that some just plain suck. (and sometimes it's your execution that just plain sucks) and that's okay. the thing about cooking is the ability to work with the mistake to make something different than you originally intended, or to just chuck the screw up and move forward. because there's always another meal, another recipe, one more chance to make it good. better even. if only everything else in life was so easy.
i loved Gourmet for showing up every month and giving me just that bit of time to explore a world i always knew was out there and is now always at my fingertips. a chance to express myself and my love for my friends and family in the most time honored and primal way and loving way possible.