I’ll admit it, I am a sporadic blogger. Sometimes the ideas just aren’t there. So of course that for me began to beg the question, why write at all? What do you want to say? What would you like to share? When I read something wherein the author shares a glimpse of a truth, a speckle of an idea of what inspires them, what they would like you to consider I treasure that book and share it.
So that is why I write. To share my observations about food. Which begs the next question, why food? It is a question I have pondered and played with and at the end of the day the answer is simply, nothing excites me more. I love to dance, to sew, to paint, to draw, to write. But put some food in my hand and ask me to create something and I am transported. Perhaps it is because all of my body is involved when I get to cook something. My fingers can caress an ingredient, my nose is filled with the delicious wafts of whatever is simmering or baking, my ears can hear the sizzle as an ingredient hits a hot pan and my mouth gets to relish the end result. Truly for me this is where the magic happens.
Food in my household was always fresh, always interesting and always lovingly prepared. My grandparents had chickens who I used to bug and upset when I collected their eggs and a vegetable garden I podded peas out of. My dad’s garden was filled with seedlings in spring and boy did I know he was angry, especially when I stamped over them carelessly when playing in the yard. Summer brought about tomatoes and zucchini, beans strung up high and winter saw broccoli and cauliflower bursting forth. Biscuits used to bake every other day or a simple cake, pasta was homemade and my brother and I used to love to help mum make sugo or ragu to freeze for sauce. It is little wonder that when the time came to create my life beyond high school I chose to work with food.
I have often toyed with the idea of what else after an exhausting day, another small burn or another party missed. The answer is always clear. Nothing else will do. I admire all the head chefs I have worked with. Their desire to create menu’s that inspire, excite and tantalize. To lead a team of others in a common goal of serving the best food they can in the best way they see. For me though, the allure of sharing my love of food resides in teaching others how to create and enjoy food in their own home. I love watching people cook something for the first time and enjoy it. I know that some people have had awful food experiences that have put them off cooking or certain foods. These unfortunate events shouldn’t stand in the way of enjoying cooking and eating food in my opinion.
I’ll always remember one of my brother’s commenting that the reason he learnt to cook as we used to create family meals together, is that he held in regard the idea that if he is to eat, he may as eat well. My dad was very much the same. He came from a less than luxurious upbringing, WW2 being the background to his early childhood (I had a much older father by the time I was born, he was born in 1936) and good food was scarce, so what he did have was appreciated. Growing up it was no big deal for dad to come home with a tray of peaches or a roll of salami, explaining ‘I couldn’t help myself, it just looked too good’.
Food, with patience and someone to guide you can become something you enjoy, not despise. One of my sister in-laws never ate oysters but with a with a willingness to give it a go and enjoying ones that were fresh she has grown to love them. As an apprentice there were many food I didn’t really enjoy or want to taste but I did, to educate my palate. As a child I hated peas but as an adult I don’t push them to the side on my plate. Cauliflower used to horrify me but now I know to keep it slightly crunchy when I boil it and it’s much more pleasurable. Food has so much to offer if you can give yourself the opportunity to try. So really, in the end, you just gotta roll with it.
As you can see, there are many factors that have lent themselves to not only my appreciation but my love of food. It’s place in history as the sign of wealth, to the traditions of a culture to mark a special occasion, food has long been a part of life and this in turn inspires me to seek more, cook more and enjoy more. I hope that the food I share with you and my thoughts and ideas in turn inspire you to pick up a spoon and bowl or a knife and board and get cooking. If you would like to learn more about any particular food or see a recipe featured here please let me know. Happy cooking!
I’ll admit it, I’m a food nerd. I love learning the background of food names, history and the whys of food preparation. The names of pasta and their meanings has always amused me with their logical translation. More often than not the words are just simple meanings such as snail or butterfly but something about the romance of Italian language transforms cute “little ears” into “Orrechiette”, rolling off the tongue, sounding both exotic and inviting.
What fascinates me about food is how it transcends language to be an invitation to an experience. From simple to sublime food can be the means to express your love for someone, the joy of a party and celebration, the upholding of traditions or just an honouring of your body through feeding it delicious items.
Food history is full of anecdotes and stories of the origin of dishes, their names and their place at the dining table. Out of interest I recently looked up the translation for Strozzapreti, a twisty short pasta that is a favourite of mine. Here is what I found care of Wikipedia:
Origin of name (original source Wikipedia)
“There are several legends to explain the name.
One is that gluttonous priests were so enthralled by the savoury pasta that they ate too quickly and choked themselves, sometimes to death. Another explanation involves the “azdora” (“housewife” in the Romagna’s dialect), who “chokes” the dough strips to make the strozzapreti: “… in that particular moment you would presume that the azdora would express such a rage (perhaps triggered by the misery and difficulties of her life) to be able to strangle a priest!” Another legend goes that wives would customarily make the pasta for churchmen as partial payment for land rents (In Romagna, the Catholic Church had extensive land properties rented to farmers), and their husbands would be angered enough by the venal priests eating their wives’ food to wish the priests would choke as they stuffed their mouth with it. The name surely reflects the diffuse anticlericalism of the people of Romagna and Tuscany.”
I love the passion, the drama and the imagery this simple name evokes. You can almost imagine an angry Italian housewife up to her elbows in flour and rolling out the pasta cursing the priest that was to dine on it soon. The fun of pasta names doesn’t stop there, below is a list sampled from http://garrubbo.com/pasta/ :
Farfalle: Butterfly-from the wing shape of the pasta
Orrechiette: Little ears – from the shell shape of the pasta akin to the curve of an ear
Cappellini: Thin hair – from the thin strands resembles long strands of hair
Penne: Pen (quilled pen nub)from the angled shape of the tube ends
Conchiglie: Shell – from their sea shell appearance
Lumaconi: Snails – from the bent tube shape pinched at one end like a snail shell
There are plenty more pasta types and translations clearly highlighting the Italians love affair with it!
Do you have any funny names for things? Has your family created a dish and christened it with its own name? My boyfriends family make a dish called green tuna.. I have yet to dine on this but it is an early family favourite despite the interesting name. Do you have any favourite words for food or interesting recipe history to share? Let me know, I’d love to hear them all 🙂
I love reading. Nothing scandalous about that but I can become lost in the words and world printed on a page to the point where reading about food makes my tummy grumble. I was reading the newish Jodi Piccoult book “The Story Teller” which tells the story of a concentration camp survivor, her granddaughter and an SS officer who has escaped to America. Much of the book is centred on baking and food as the survivor’s dad was a baker and her granddaughter is too. Reading the story and the evocative images of food eaten, food shared and food dreamed of when starvation was a part of daily life, had me considering how much a part food plays in our life. For the majority of the world food is not consumed purely for survival. We are aware that our body requires food as nourishment and energy but food also plays a part in many other ways. Food can be the love story we weave from when parents feed children to ensure their thrival and growth, to the food lovingly prepared by one for another. Food tells of family traditions, recipes born of necessity, it reveals the meshing of cultures and the complexities of flavours that have developed through travel and exploration.
Becoming a chef was almost like an extension of a role I already enjoyed. Cooking for me has always been fun and I have always loved sharing stories at the table and bringing together friends and family for a meal. I am sometimes asked if I enjoy having other people cook for me or do I find it hard as I would lean towards the criticising what they have cooked. For me, if I am not paying another professional to cook for me i.e. eating out, I cannot fathom why I would ever criticise someone sharing their food with me. Even if it is a toasted cheese sandwich, if the person making it has made it with intention and care I cannot help but enjoy it as it far surpasses just being a food item and becomes a statement of their intent to care for and about me.
Food evokes so many different memories of meals eaten and times celebrated.
When I think of my Polish grandparents I think of many food items
– my grandfather’s Sunday pork roast and apple sauce
– my grandmother’s chicken curry made from shredded chicken out of the stock pot
– my grandmother’s periogi which we used to fight over
– warm jam donuts from the polish church canteen
– poppy seed stollen and other cakes whose names I forget
When I think of my dad i think of
– A garden groaning with vegetables
– Green beans which he ate by the bowl full and boiled eggs
– Pasta in all forms
– Loaves of bread ripped apart to be dunked into the leftover sugo
– Percolated coffee and numerous biscuits for dunking
My mother evokes
– Handmade pasta and biscuits
– Apple tea cakes
– Crostoli and donut balls
– Spaetzle and chicken broth when we were unwell
– Pickled cucumbers and grilled vegetables
– Margarine containers of home made brawn which made me recoil in horror
When I hear of these foods or eat them the memories of those that nurtured and cared for me are evoked and recalled. These are the stories and memories of those that came before me that I hope to share and expand upon with those that will come after me.
It can be argued that we place too much emotional emphasis on food and that can certainly be the case, but we can have enjoyment from food and evocative memories without shovelling the meal down. There is no reason that a small version of one’s favourite dish can’t be made to celebrate an occasion or just because. What if we could create easy and enjoyable meals that become part of our family’s story? I have my mother’s recipe books from high school, carefully hand written and graded accordingly. I love that I have this part of her history with me, tangible evidence of foods she cooked and shared with her parents and siblings and then it turn the family she create with my dad, us. Two recipes from that book feature here, the pumpkin scones and jam drops. Two old fashioned favourites that I recreated and shared, a little part of my mum, a little part of me. We can’t help but be influenced by those around us at the best of times, but to me it is delightful when that influence is the sharing of ideas and stories from which we can choose what we take from it and create as our own. To me the most interesting and enjoyable recipes are the ones in which a chef or cook or just you or me have taken an idea, an example and had some fun creating it for enjoyment and tweaked it to suit the individual palate.
As a chef it is always the objective to create food that is stimulating and interesting. Flavour combinations and techniques are akin to a painter’s tool box, they are the colours and textures we use to tell a story or create an experience.
One of my favourite catering jobs was for a previous co-worker that was in the finance department. She asked if I could create a surprise five course menu for her and her husband as an anniversary present. Her only guidelines were he likes Asian style food. This was so much fun to prepare and I scoured my cook books and dialogued with her the ideas and a menu was born. Five courses from light (soup) to heavy (curry) from mildly spicy to something with some kick. Each dish was only three to four mouthfuls but each was created to be full of flavour. Her husband arrived home from work to find us in the kitchen, the table set and me in my uniform and a look of puzzlement on his face. ‘Surprise’ she said, ‘Welcome to your anniversary dinner’. The fact that I could create an experience for these two, memories and enjoyment at home created in their kitchen was the beginning of the idea that this could be how people choose to eat more often. What if we could create fun menus to celebrate or just enjoy? What if your wedding menu consisted of your favourite meals shared through your dating years?
Recently I made baked stuffed apples for my brother and sister in law. My brother smiled fondly as he recalled how my mother used to make this very dessert for us all. It created a space of quiet contemplation as a lovely memory was recalled. What if the mere consumption of the food was only half the story? What if the act itself of creating the meal was half the fun? 99% of the food I create professionally I don’t eat myself. Well except for some sneaky mouthfuls. So what’s in it for me? What drives us chefs to create meals we never eat? I believe it’s the knowing that those that come and choose to dine at our tables enjoy sharing that which we create. They enjoy the experience of eating well prepared food and the expertise and experimental flair of those that love to create with food. ? A part of me smiles as I recall all the beautiful meals I have made, all the near misses I have salvaged and the team work that has created a successful food service. Why indeed? Are we crazy? Are we silly? Or do we just know that for us, creating food, sharing food and talking about food is just a part of who we are. We couldn’t imagine it any other way. Nor would we want to.
What are your favourite foods to make for yourself or loved ones? Are there items you make when it’s just you as the other doesn’t like it as much? Do you have a family recipe that has been handed down for generations and is part of your story? I would love you to share these ideas with me as I have with you.