Dan over at SaltShaker came up with this meme:
My thought in this meme is food items or events that changed your foodie life. Not some “oh, it’s the first time I didn’t put jelly on a peanut butter sandwich and used bananas instead” sort of change, unless you truly feel that affected you profoundly. That’s the key - it affected you profoundly, in some manner. A moment you can look back at and say “that was a defining moment”. The questions are simple, the answers might be harder - an item, person, event, or place that had that effect on you, and why. They don’t have to be big splashy things - sometimes it’s something very small and simple that changes the way we view the world - the famed “butterfly effect” (and I’m not talking about the Aston Kutcher movie). So, to those who want to participate, copy this and pass it on (and, if you’re so inclined, do a trackback to the originating post). Here are your categories:
1. An ingredient
2. A dish, a recipe
3. A meal (in a restaurant, a home, or elsewhere)
4. A cookbook or other written work
5. A food “personality” (chef, writer, etc.)
6. Another person in your life
Because these require a lot of thought, I am going to break them up into a few parts. My first installment, about an ingredient, should be no mystery.
“Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian; wine and tarragon make it French. Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek. Soy sauce makes it Chinese; garlic makes it good.” — Alice May Brock (of Alice's Restaurant fame)
Garlic, to one who dwelled in communal households in the Seventies and Eighties in Southern California, could be the bane of one's existence, as could cumin. Why? Because many were the heavy-handed hippies who thought themselves cooks, who merely threw garlic and cumin by the wheelbarrowful into tonight's dinner. Oh, the undercooked lentil, the too-chewy brown rice, the watery tofu: these were all challenges in their own regards. But never does one see a t-shirt for the Gilroy Watery Tofu Festival, and never does one read the words of Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870), in the Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine, altered to read:
“Provençal cooking is based on tofu. The air in Provence is impregnated with the aroma of tofu, which makes it very healthful to breathe. Tofu is the main seasoning in bouillabaisse and in the principal sauces of the region. A sort of mayonnaise is made with it by crushing tofu in oil, and this is eaten with fish and snails. The lower classes in Provence often lunch on a crust of bread sprinkled with oil and rubbed with tofu.”
No, Dumas wrote the savory words, below, which I replicate only so your poor eyes can recover from the blasphemy of the air in Provence being impregnated with the aroma of tofu. (I love tofu on occasion, but one doesn't base an entire cuisine—such as the Mediterranean cuisine—upon it.)
“Provençal cooking is based on garlic. The air in Provence is impregnated with the aroma of garlic, which makes it very healthful to breathe. Garlic is the main seasoning in bouillabaisse and in the principal sauces of the region. A sort of mayonnaise is made with it by crushing it in oil, and this is eaten with fish and snails. The lower classes in Provence often lunch on a crust of bread sprinkled with oil and rubbed with garlic.”
Until I was thirty, I never truly had garlic touched by hands that were gifted in its preparation. I have to confess to an aversion to raw garlic (and onions) that persists to this day...not because I don't like the taste. I can't taste it: my tongue gets burned and I taste the burn for up to two days. But until I was thirty or so, I also did not like cooked garlic.
My mother cooked with garlic powder, when she cooked at all. This was perhaps her only culinary faux pas, as the dishes she made were delicious. On the other hand, as she put it, "The way to make people think you are a fantastic cook is to make sure they're starving when they sit down to dinner." We were poor, so this was often the case, but in my memory, being one of the "tasters" of her huge pots of chili or beef stroganoff or spaghetti, I thought her food wonderful. I think it was, for its time, but the recipes would not hold up in my kitchen today, as many were more convenient than what I call "real." (Do you detect a theme in her signature dishes? My mother cooked when it was cold—summertime in Georgia with no air-conditioning will do that to you.)
So from Georgia to San Diego...Ocean Beach, to be specific. Best left undescribed are dishes in which the garlic would overpower the air (and patchouli! I have Post Traumatic Patchouli Disorder to this day!) in the house, and in which you could detect the cumin—which smelled astonishingly close to body odor—from the sidewalk.
Perhaps my peace and love brothers and sisters had read the words of Boulestin, and were attempted a shortcut at a culinary Woodstock:
“It is not really an exaggeration to say that peace and happiness begin, geographically, where garlic is used in cooking.” — X. Marcel Boulestin (1878-1943)
No, I did not like garlic. (I don't need your pity, I need an Italian nonna, please—and forty years ago—to have adopted me and taught me to cook.)
Somewhere along the way, I began to learn to cook. And many years later, we had a housemate, a man named Matt who was a helluva good cook, and who turned me onto the Cowboy Junkies and garlic. (I turned him onto Lyle Lovett. We're even.)
I can't name the first dish he made, but I was skeptical. And then he let me lick the spoon, and I was incredulous.
What was this flavor? This was garlic. THIS was garlic!
I began to buy it. I began to try it, a little here and there. I found the recipes of Mollie Katzen, so user friendly in their instructions, to be trustworthy and instructive. If Mollie says use two big cloves, hey, I can use two big cloves.
“No cook who has attained mastery over her craft ever apologizes for the presence of garlic in her productions.” — Ruth Gottfried, The Questing Cook (1927)
One day in 1992, I woke up from a dream. I dreamt the words "jalapeño pesto." I woke up and pulled out the communal food processor, and I invented exactly that—cilantro instead of basil. No cheese at all. Some jalapeños...I had the brined ones in the jar. Plenty of garlic, and plenty of pine nuts. Brr-r-r-r-r-r-rp: magic. Utter magic. To attest to the powers of the pesto, I tried it out on communal meal with the three women with whom we lived then. Two were vegetarians, so I made veggie burritos with tofu and other good stuff, and used the pesto. Score. It worked in scrambled tofu, it worked with scrambled eggs. It really worked with orzo and smoked chicken with red onions and pine nuts and cherry tomatoes.
And holding it all together was the magical clove: garlic.
Garlic is my friend now. Garlic is my ally. I don't think I ever use too much, and yes, there is such a thing as too much.
That's all for today.
Oh, wait. I'm tagging these people, whose thoughtful writings I enjoy very much:
Ilva at Lucullian Delights
Michael Ruhlman (guest-starring on the MegNut blog)
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: “Vulgarity is the garlic in the salad of life.”
— Cyril Connolly
Thanks for visiting.