Growing Up & Learning to Cook
I never cooked anything until college.
Then I got into hosting Renaissance dinners for awhile. A few friends would get together and we'd go find old recipes and make what we considered to be a feast, using what fish and game we had in the freezer. Shooting a goose or catching a big steelhead would tend to spark the whole show and everything we had would be turned out and bon vivants invited over for cooking, fire in the fireplace and glowing cocktails.
But I still didn't really know how to cook, didn't have an easy feel for it.
Although, I suppose I was getting a feel for it. I mean, I'd cooked some camp dinners.
I had a couple boyhood friends who liked to cook. They'd eagerly jump into anything in the kitchen. They were pretty forward otherwise, too. I could make things but when they were on the scene I had no problems playing second fiddle and would watch and help out.
We knew a family where the kids cooked a lot of their own meals from a young age. We'd spend the night and get exposed to the amazing feat of kids taking care of themselves competently. That was inspiring and empowering. Their parents raised them with the responsibility of freedom and they were our cohorts on many safe adventures (and some not-so safe).
My parents had a few simple dishes I could relate to. BLT's, corn on the cob, peaches and fresh muskmelon. We always had big gardens. I mean, we kids did. My dad had to when he was young and as an adult never touched a tool again if he could help it. But he encouraged us kids to garden, gradually ramping up that encouragement to suggest we make money doing it.
We'd see my dad making eggs'n'bacon or pancakes on the weekends. So that encouraged us boys.
My mom showed us about cakes and cookies, so that was good.
One of my uncles is an epicure and I visited him out in Hollywood while out there on a college internship. He showed me a can-do and appreciative attitude to food. Fresh tomatoes again featured prominently in what caught my eye, not fanciness.
I'm pretty sure he would've done some raving about the "Joy of Cooking," by "the mother." But I wasn't fully up to speed yet.
My first girlfriend, late in college, showed me the real ropes. She brought out the MOOSEWOOD COOKBOOK. And she also knew Rombauer. She was of recent and proud German descent and was high on enjoying the moments around food and kitchens. That's when I learned what real coffee was. And real pancakes made from sourdough starter kept in the fridge. And classical music and the NYT on a Sunday morning. (I also learned about contra-dancing from her. And Bonnie Raitt. And feminism. And bike racing. And ski racing and speed-skating. I showed her flatwater kayaking.) I suppose for me that my cooking came along with my coming of age. And that seemed just great.
(I ditched the habitual Sunday NYT after I started REALLY working in the (indie) media.)
After college, I started cooking for myself and with friends. Meals were what we've always gathered around. Joy and Moose have always been on the premises. We had super-great times around all sorts of tables and campfires.
I haven't regretted an inch of the road I've taken in my life as regards food. I think it's gone smooth and good.
So if you're a newcomer to food, or a bit uncertain about it (do any young people read this site?) my suggestion for making sure you get hard on the right roadwould be to lean on "Joy of Cooking" by the mother. And on the Moosewood Cookbook.
Actually, I suggest jumping off using these books. (Well, "Joy" has been my base ever since.) Really, all you have to do is get your own bearings. See how things work and what real food is. Then you'll be fine no matter how you cook. Macrobiotics will make sense. French will make sense. Thai. Soul. Deer-camp. You'll know what a recipe is and how it's there to guide you---it's not there to be your boss; you're not its slave. You'll have a feel for the tools. Get the big picture and don't sweat it and run with it if you feel like it or don't have everything just so. It'll be fine.
Disclaimer: I don't cook much anymore. But I can. And I know what's going on in our kitchen. ...And I admire it! : )
I sure hope that no one out there today is without good bearings as regards food. But maybe that's a lame presumption. If you do have wonderments, all I can say is to get Joy (mom) and Moose and take it from there.
Are there cookbooks out there today that are having as big of an impact on youngsters as Moosewood had in the early 80's?
Whatever your generatino, what was your key break-thru cookbook?
What was your base? Do you have a starter-rig to suggest for people today?