Friday, May 15, 2009

Being a Foodie

I reckon I had the latent potential for "foodieness" all along. My mom loves trying international foods. When I was growing up, she cooked delicious meals for us every night (her Spaghetti Carbonara and Buttermilk Pound Cake recipes continue to be two of my all-time favorites). She loves to brag that my favorite meal as a 3-year-old was steamed clams and a green salad. As we grew older, once a year Mom and Dad dressed us up and took us to The Nicest Restaurant in Town, where I cleaned my palate with a sorbet course. My grandmother visited us and made mouth-watering Southern meat-and-veg with glorious biscuits. My aunt lived with us briefly while I was in high school and made spectacular creations--I well remember coming home from school one day and being greeted by perfectly browned stuffed game hens.

Then I went overseas and tried everything that was set in front of me. I spent a summer eating wurst and gelato in Germany. I spent two years in Indonesia eating grilled fish with my fingers and cultivating an appreciation for avocado juice with chocolate syrup. I had dim sum for the first time in a Chinese restaurant in Malaysia. I ate a slice of lemon pie in Australia with a meringue so enormous it hung off the edge of my plate. I slurped enormous bowlfuls of Tom Yum soup for breakfast in northern Thailand. I dolloped fresh mayonnaise on my cold roast beef in Paris.

Food has always excited me, but I didn't start cooking until I got married. And for the first year or so of our marriage, Ickie was treated to commonplace casserole fare. Then I read Cooking for Mr. Latte by Amanda Hesser. I've read other food books since (I'm currently reading the beautifully written A Homemade Life by Orangette blogger Molly Wizenberg), but Mr. Latte was my original foodie book inspiration. Suddenly I was putting lemon zest in everything and making my own salad dressing.

I began to recall the noodle soup stands I frequented in Southeast Asia. They always had a basket of condiments on the tables: fiery sambal, syrupy soy, astringent vinegar. I gleaned that I could construct a great meal by combining salty, hot, sweet, sour, and bitter flavors. Then I moved to Santa Barbara, where I learned anything works if you begin with fresh produce and really good olive oil. I've become a person who doesn't follow recipes to the letter. Ever. I'm a sloppy, impatient person when it comes to creating anything, yet generally the end result is darn yummy.

We foodies are snobs in different ways. For example, I'm incredibly picky about pancakes. They have to be made from scratch, with buttermilk, cooked in an iron skillet with good unsalted butter, and served with REAL maple syrup. Yet I don't insist on warming the syrup and plates to go with my pancakes, whereas my brother-in-law does. I can make some tasty potatoes, but I don't cradle them in dish towels lovingly like Ickie's sister. I have strong opinions about wine and can really throw back Italian Nebbiolo. However, I really don't know jack about beer, a fact my beer aficianado friend probably considers unsettling. I love love LOVE corndogs.

Here are a few books I've enjoyed that pair narrative and recipes:

Cooking for Mr. Latte, A. Hesser
A Homemade Life, M. Wizenberg
Like Water for Chocolate, L. Esquivel
Untangling My Chopsticks, V. Abbott Richardi


Jason said...

I have no problem with you not knowing anything about beer, as long as I'm allowed to occasionally introduce you and Ickie to some of the more interesting brews out there. :-)


Watoosa said...

Yes, please! I do really enjoy beer. At least my virgin beer experience was drinking pilsner in Germany. That seems like a good start.

Karen and Sean said...

Alright, when have I cradled potatoes in towels? Really? Oh, wait, that was to dry them off so they would brown nicely seared on their cut little sides. And you benefited, sistah! PS Happy Mothers Belated Day!

Watoosa said...

I did benefit from your careful handling of those potatoes. They were wonderful! I've made them per your method twice since Easter. They are DELICIOUS. I have no need of french fries ever again.