Tell me if this sounds familiar. It's Wednesday evening. Hump day. You're tired and pissed at your boss but still determined to make a delicious homemade meal for your family. Let's say, oh, maybe a nice juicy pork roast redolent of rosemary with roasted vegetables.
Then you realize...damn! I forgot to take the roast out of the freezer to thaw before work. So the whole sear-and-stick-garlic-cloves-in-slits thing isn't going to work out so well. If you slam it in the oven still frozen, well! Ever heard a pig cry? And then there's all the vegetable prep to do. Ugh.
So it's frozen pizza for supper...again. Not that the kids will mind.
Gravy has always been Michael's speciality. His kids loved coming over for visitation because Dad made gravy. I've had his gravy. It's so good I'd have pretended to be a 4th Thompson Child just to sneak into visitation to have his gravy!
But it's so much more fun to give culinary things a fancy French name and gravy falls in the French Mother Sauces category of Béchamel pronounced "besh-uh-mell." Basically a béchamel is a dairy-based sauce thickened with flour and flavored with meat juices, drippings, herbs, etc.
Craving! That's what it was. I was craving sushi, California Rolls to be exact. There was only one problem. Well, two problems actually.
Firstly, we didn't have the money. Secondly, the nearest sushi restaurant was an hour away. Up hill. Both ways.
Now logic has never been my strong suit. So it took some time for the obvious to occur to me.
If life hands you wasabi, make the sushi yourself, dumbass!
And so I did.
We don't pick our passions. They pick us. Mine is kitchen hacks.
Maybe it's because I really don't like being 1) on my feet in the kitchen for hours, 2) struggling with manual dexterity and 3) fighting with the damn physical world (which is definitely out to get me). Kitchen hacks help me work smarter, not harder and the food is better for it.
But, as we all know, the cooking's not done 'til the dishes are done. As I'm fond of telling my step-daughters: "Screw diamonds! It's Lysol wipes and dishwands that are a girl's best friends."
"We have to hurry to the hospital," Mom said worriedly one evening over supper.
"What!? Why? Why are we going to the hospital?" my seven-year-old self asked, very upset.
No one had remembered to tell me that Grandpa had suffered a heart attack that morning. After bypass surgery, he recovered nicely and lived another thirteen years, but the way we ate never recovered.
After all the talk by his cardiologist about blockages and cholesterol, transplanting veins from his legs to his heart and eating absurdities like margarine, the food at my home (never great) got even worse.
Oh! Don't get me wrong! Mom's food was always hot. It was nutritious. It was plentiful. It was legume-heavy. It was complete proteins. It was very, very low-fat and it rarely tasted good.
I hated it. The call of "Supper's Ready!" filled me with dread. I once confided to a tape player that I hated "botato soup." The only good part was the melted cheese...but you had to take off your coat and go diving in your soup bowl to find it. (Not original. I read that somewhere!)
Mom tried, I guess, but "rich and unctuous" were simply not in her gastronomic repertoire. She followed recipes to the letter, and despite watching plenty of cooking shows, had no finesse in her cookery, no tasting along the way.
In my cosmology, the Good Lord spoke the world into existence so fast, there just wasn't time for any cheese to properly age.
Imagine poor Eve. It's the most important meal of her life. The first meal served on Planet Earth and the first meal she's serving to her new, adorable, buck naked husband. It's not like she had any competition but still. We ladies all know the way to a man's heart is indeed through his stomach and poor Eve had no cheese for the cheese course!
I imagine she felt like I do when there's a culinary emergency. A distraught expression on my face, both hands working my hair as if stimulating the follicles will inspire an idea.
Then God looks over his shoulder, sees Eve's distress and whispers, “Oh, by the way, let there be cheese.”
Most foodies relate a moment when they discovered that food could be something more than mere sustenance.
The year was 1987. Christmas Day. I was seven years old.
The place: Grandma's house
Long before anyone wanted to look at food again after the truly Ghost of Christmas Present Dickensian feast, Grandma called us to the dinner table for an amuse bouche. Well, she might've called it an amuse bouche if she knew what an amuse bouche was or had ever heard the term amuse bouche. It's just fun to say amuse bouche.
I was only seven and more inclined towards scrambled eggs and Mr. Donut than savory food. Then it happened. The dazzle and twinkle of something so savory, so mouthwatering, so delicious that I suddenly became aware of food as a Thing. "A very thingy-thing," as Piglet said.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Or is it?
Actually, I'm something of a late bloomer when it comes to food and cooking. Cooking shows, cookbooks and chefs' biographies have been my Happy, Safe Place for two decades.
But I hated to cook. To this day, I am strongly reluctant towards it.
Hey! I have OCD. I can clean you under the table. But engage in something that puts grease on my hands, bread crumbs on my floor and a mess in my kitchen sink!!! Are you nuts!?! I don't think so!
But if you notice, the second part of this blog title is "cheap foodie." Ergo if we want good food, someone with OCD had better get her ass in the kitchen cause buying expensive pre-fab (tasteless) food or frequenting restaurants just isn't in the budget.
And this is where Michel Roux Jr, Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, Jennifer Paterson, Clariss Dickson Wright and Anthony Bourdain come to my rescue. If I can make all that loathsome, messy cooking an intellectual challenge, then Michael has a fighting chance of eating pork that isn't just cooked...but transcendent. Memorable. A meal to be eaten slowly...savored...remembered. One for the Journal and now, The Blog.
It happened last Wednesday. I was so exhausted after making the pork ballotine filled with a Portobello duxelle plus apples, onions, garlic and $13 Bordeaux with a pork jus and cranberry reduction sauce, that we've eaten hamburgers ever since. But they were very, very good hamburgers indeed! Sautéed onions. Melted comté. Raw tomatoes, lettuce and homegrown onion. Brioche. Mmmmmmmm.
Why start a new blog? Why write about food!?!
Because at forty I suddenly realized it's my lifelong passion. Oh, I sneak as much foodie talk into Narcissism Meets Normalcy as I can...but it's not enough. I'm hungry for more!
More food talk! More writing! More inspiration! More experiences! More celebrity chefs! More food shows! More virtual gastronomic travel! More ingredients! Just more!
It's not about jetting off to experiencing the tasting menu at Alinea, Le Bernardin, Noma or the Fat Duck. (But apparently it is about shameless name dropping.)
It's about bringing their ideas and ingredients home to my little cottage kitchen. I don't care about money per se. It's just numbers to me. Numbers come and numbers go. Memories last forever.
Nonetheless, for so long, I've wanted to earn a little extra pocket change through food writing mostly so I could afford more "haute" ingredients. I've considered being a food critic? A restaurant critic? I've even considered being a one-woman Hello Fresh...but if my "meez" (food prep) isn't done yet chances are I don't have the energy to prep your mise en place either. I did make $70 selling hand-kneaded Amish bread from my roadside stand...and I'll never do that again!
In a perfect world, a purveyor of high-end ingredients like D'Artagnan will read this blog and send me free stuff to try, cook, photograph and write about, linking back to their site, boosting their sales. That's my underhanded, low-down, sneaky strategy.
Because I can't (usually) afford The Good Stuff.
Well, I can now. Temporarily. Thanks to the very kind readers of NmN who blew my freakin' mind by donating to my recent GoFundMe, for this golden moment in history, I can afford The Good Stuff.
But that won't last forever, no matter how careful and thrifty I am.
In the Bible, Jesus told a parable about stewardship. He talked about a servant who increased their Master's gold by investing it wisely. This blog is, theoretically, that investment.
In my dreams, I'll become one of those paid food bloggers who post an annoying amount of pictures of every step in a recipe's progress. Just gimme the damn recipe already! I'm not an idiot! Mama taught me well how to follow a recipe, dang it! I don't need my hand held.
Or, alternatively, what happened last week will happen again. Ingredients will just show up on my doorstep for studying, researching, tasting, trying, cooking....writing! (Virginia - You never hit a gift more perfectly on the head than that basket of French cheeses! Thank you again! More on that topic in a future post.)
So here we go! The inaugural post of Reluctant Cook, Cheap Foodie.
No pressure! No schedule! Just delicious food talk when inspiration strikes. Click here to subscribe.
P.S. I still make Grandma's cheeseball but I double the seasoning and add diced jalapeños. Email me if you'd like the recipe.
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