Tuesday, October 02, 2007

food meme

This is a food meme. Feel free to publish your own responses!

1. What memorable experiences did you have at the table as a child?

I remember that after church every weekend we went out to eat Dim Sum or other Chinese food and my sisters and I once complained enough that we got to eat McDonald's while my parents ate Chinese food instead. As far as ar home, I think my mom got all her recipes out of American housewife magazines because some of the recipes started out with a can of Campbell's cream of mushroom, a pantry item I still am addicted to when recreating homey recipes my mom made. Also, my mom made us Kraft Mac 'n Cheese making me a fan of orange non cheese processed cheese for life. One of my most memorable experiences as a child was coming home on Thursdays, half days, where May and I would make lunch which consisted of grilled cheese sandwiches and canned Campell's chicken noodle soup. we'd cry dibs for making the soup because you only had to warm it. Sometimes we'd have to break into the house because our quite deaf grandfather wouldn't hear the doorbell. I don't know why they didn't give us keys! Also, deviled eggs were the first recipe I ever made.

2. How have your eating habits changed over the decades?

It was actually going to Amherst College that broke open fine culinary dining for me. I don't mean high dining, but I mean really well thought out food like the plethora of wonderful and unique restaurants in Amherst and Northhampton really widened my horizons substantially. It was at the college's international food dinners I learned to love love love chicken tikka masala and spinach and paneer dishes. While living for four years in Amherst, it made me realize that I had only been eating at chains when eating Western food, and that original restaurants were just a whole new level of better. So, effectually I went from eating Chinese food for dinner nearly every day to eating at Amherst's cafeteria (Asian food is not their specialty). Eating Western food all the time really didn't work well with me. I was eating so much less fruit (California is fruit mecca) and more pie. More cookies. More calzones. I probably won't eat that unhealthily again in my life. Lived at the Zu and started cooking for the first time in my life. Was always ambitious, at the very least. I remember my fellow Zu members being impressed with my Pad Thai, but being quizzical at my soy sauce eggs over rice (another homey dish to me). Now I think I've evened out to about half Asian and half other foods. If I don't eat enough Asian food, I get this weird malaise, as if I'm msg deprived or something. Maybe I'm just "umame" deprived. I tend to cook very ambitiously now that O and I live together and I cook less since he does weekend cooking. However, with O in my life, my big chunks of meat diet has rocketed through the roof, and it's still taking me major adjustments to maintain my diet properly while O eats three times as much food as I do, and pays very little attention to fruit and vegetables (boys, eh.) My mom always served us the leanest, healthiest foods which I think made us develop a taste for it. We didn't often eat fast food. Nowadays, I've boycotted all fast food, but I still get drawn into thinking I want a filet 'o fish from McDonken (this a Swedish nickname for the restaurant), but that's because I had my 5th b-day party at McDonald's and they' preyed upon my young consciousness.

I was initially skeptical of the organic movement, but am now a strong supporter of local eating. We try to eat produce only from Europe. No, it's not the 100 mile diet, but I just got a local grown focused Vermont cookbook and will make a strong plug for local eating here on my blog soonish.

3. If you cook, how did you learn?

I did try to learn how to cook from my mom, but it never worked. She's very controlling and apt to take over any cooking efforst in the kitchen, plus she adds soy sauce to everything. I made fettucine alfredo once and she did try to add soy sauce to the pasta sauce. Also, my mom doesn't work with recipes very much anymore since she knows everything by heart, so she's pretty useless for copying down recipes from. My sister and I have eked out a couple from her like the lasagna we grew up on that uses cottage cheese (cheaper less fatty option) instead of ricotta. As I noted above I started cooking at the Zu, a vegetarian coop situated off-campus where one had to cook with a partner a two to three course meal for thirty people every two weeks. When I was listless after graduating from college and living at home, I took refuge in cookbooks and cooked quite a lot. I have a more complex approach to food these days whereas my mom uses the leanest of everything, I'm not afraid to splurge with cream or butter or cheese for a heavenly experience. just like my maple cinnamon buns I made the other day (will post the recipe post haste), I don't make them often, so I didn't mind using a lot of butter. I read cookbooks like fiction.

I'm learning how to cook Arabic food just now. I would love to get into Persian also, and North African -- although many North African recipes are a bit too heavily spiced for me to get into. For some reason they don't seem to find that fine balance like Indian or Thai food.

4. In a crisis, do you pig out or starve?

I both cook and eat a lot when stressed out. Cooking relaxes me. I think because it's a banquet for the senses both in preparing the food and eating the food. Also, I think good cooking takes a great deal of bodily intelligence and intuition. Somehow, I thrive on that challenge.

5. Are you influenced by the Zeitgeist in your eating?

I don't know who the Zeitgeist is, is that wrong?

I'd also like to mention while I think I'm a good cook (I have to be since I'm a food writer) I often experiment and fail, but then I go back and tweak and see what's wrong. A lot of cooking failures stem from not understanding how each ingredient works -- meaning how is it best cooked and featured, and when it won't go well with what you've imagined. If any of you cook and often get disheartened, just know that there's a learning curve, and that cooking gets just more and more rewarding as you gather skills and gain experience, and then try to accomplish the next difficult thing, which is pretty exhilarating.

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