At the end of my junior year in high school, my career counselor asked me what my plans were once I graduated. He had to cover the school’s liability when sending kids out into the world with no planned occupation or college acceptance after 12 years of academics.
I told him I wanted to travel. When pressed (apparently travel wasn’t a viable option), I confessed I loved to write. When pressed further, I said I also loved to bake. His suggestion was for me to write cookbooks.
Over the years, many other things came up. I wrote and baked all the while, but never did I stop to write about baking. I made my own versions of others’ recipes—tweaking this, getting an idea from that—but these remained marginal notations, or scribbling on the telephone pad and backs of envelopes. I developed fictional characters and wrote about events in their lives. A little bit of the kitchen found its way into my short stories, but not a whole story about food.
Several lifetimes later, I got organized. I began to conceive a food book. I wrote a few food related essays and began actually writing out recipes of dishes I’d made for years without measurements, guessing at the quantities, experimenting until it was right.
I have written a cookbook as a result of these inspired activities. Some of the recipes are so familiar to me that I almost blush to include them. Reminiscent of when someone compliments you on the blouse you are wearing: “Oh, this old thing!” you say, embarrassed that you’ve been caught still wearing it after so many years, but you can’t quite get rid of it, not just yet. Add a tomato; swirl on some caramel, and it’s good for another run.
Foods in the rough have their own characteristics. Potatoes, for instance, have that hearty, down-to-earth quality, a soft touch when buttered up. Bread can be full and voluptuous, or flat and crisp, accommodating whatever comes its way. There is a fine line between the no-nonsense cleanness of celery, and becoming strung out. The bourgeoisie chocolate, such as chips or mass-produced candy bars, try to imitate rich chocolate, warm and almost spicy in its heritage of quality.
Tomatoes and crabs come from completely different places, but both are sweet in their own way; whereas, the fragrance of overripe fruit doesn’t have quite the same attraction as say, a bowl of freshly squeezed lemon juice or a tablespoon of sherry vinegar.
A fresh New York steak, raw and firm is as tantalizing as a grilled one; as is a piece of raw fish, firm and sliced perfectly in sashimi, compared to a fresh fillet, lightly poached in white wine with capers, served with a browned-butter sauce and toasted almonds.
Yes indeed, food has its own combinations of intrigue and amour; love affairs where flavors marry to form a new union, or chemical imbalances prove fatal to the coupling, leaving a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. The salt of the earth isn’t necessarily the best; some stand by Poseidon’s harvest. There is mellow or tart, spicy or bland, a little saucy or a little flaky. The characteristics of food and people are so very similar it was easy to shift from writing about fictional situations to real life food. And yet, there is nothing new under the sun. Fictional situations spring from real life; and real life food is as old as time itself.