Monday, April 4, 2011
CHAPTER 1: Appetizers and a Story of How I Started to Cook
My mother cooked serviceable dinners, pretty much the same conventional fare every week. Well-cooked pork chops, hamburger patties, french fries and green beans from the freezer, a salad, and ice cream. She had some specialties, like Beef Stroganoff, which were reserved for company. And on Sundays after church we would occasionally have a wonderful pot roast with carrots and potatoes or chicken and dumplings, both of which I adored. But mostly it was plain and simple mid-western food. And I took no part in preparing it.
So what happened?
• A move to Berkeley, California in 1966. Newly married to a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley, I moved from northwestern Ohio to the Bay area just in time for the action. Which for me included food as well as anti-war and anti-establishment. Here I am in my Albany, California kitchen, butterflying shrimp for a Japanese dish I was attempting. Not particularly successful if I remember correctly.
Coop Lowcost Cookbook, to supplement the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook I had received as a wedding present.
• Our friends Nick and Sarah were passionate and adventurous cooks and eaters. He was a Scot and cooked up “scurlly,” an oatmeal and onion combination, which we washed down with wine or Green Death, so called because of its green can and lethal effect.
Mastering the Art of French Cooking was first and was quickly followed by Craig Claiborne’s New York Times Cookbook and New York Times Menus Cookbook.
• Occasional dinners out at places in San Francisco and Berkeley, such as The Pot Luck on San Pablo Avenue, opened my eyes to the amazing combinations of flavors and exotic ingredients you could put in your mouth. “Blew my mind” as we would say.
• A chance to grow and eat really fresh produce came about as an indirect result of the People’s Park controversy in 1969. The university turned a field at the corner of Buchanan and Jackson into garden plots and offered them to residents of Albany Village where we were living. We signed up. Oh my god, fresh green beans, basil for pesto, and tomatoes.
• I was cooking all the time. Nearly every day. Hard to imagine now, isn’t it? Learning so much. Gazpacho from Craig. Salmon cheeks and Finnan Haddie from Spengers Fish Store, chuck roasts from the Coop, and fresh crab for special occasions.
I was really lucky to have such a perfect coming together of supportive elements: cookbooks, friends and a husband who liked to cook and eat, a good grocery store, and time. I made a whole bunch of mistakes. As I said to myself about the Japanese dish above, "Oh well, I never claimed to be perfect. And there are lots more dinners ahead of me." It's still the case.