My experience with food was limited, if not negative, while growing up. My father ate two slices of wheat toast with strawberry jelly for breakfast for 30 years. My mom managed to assemble dinner every night while eight kids ran through the kitchen distracting her at every opportunity.
Food normally when unseasoned or left forgotten in the microwave. We ate a lot of beans and overcooked rice. My father required a meat and a vegetable at dinner, resulting in the only culinary guidelines I grew up with. My parents viewed food as a necessity, never as a creative interest. The only seafood we were given were fish sticks and salmon patties with the little bones left in, and so I grew up thinking I hated seafood. We were punished with eating cold spaghetti squash when we were disobedient. To this day I avoid squash when possible.
Lately, I’ve been attempting to process things from my past and I feel like my family missed out on a lot of things by dismissing all the wonderful things about food. I think my parents spent more time judging certain foods and refusing to venture out of their comfort zone, than they did than helping their children understand different cultures, people groups, and their own personal tastes through different cuisines. We missed a lot, and now I find myself trying to make up lost ground.
Although I’m nearing the end of culinary school, I would not consider myself a “foodie.” I eat a bowl of cereal every day because I love cereal. You can look in my pantry and see canned salmon, animal crackers, and basic pasta. I don’t keep a lot of extraordinary ingredients on hand. When I first moved out and started cooking for myself, I felt trapped by my lack of experience and knowledge in this very basic discipline. I thought dinner must consist of a meat and a vegetable. I had no creative abilities in the kitchen and this made me feel uneducated, embarrassed, and like an extension of the family from which I was trying desperately to distance myself.
But all that is changing. I try new foods when we go out. I learned to try things before deciding if I liked them or not. I picked crabs for the first time today. Two years ago I learned to love fresh fish. One year ago I gave up meat to challenge my culinary ability to create amazing dishes without depending on proteins to carry the flavor. I learned how to use herbs and seasonings. I learned to cook live lobster and to use lots of salt on steak.
As I spent more time on my own, I began to see how burnt out I was from living in a very legalistic past where my actions, “heart motives,” and spirituality were constantly evaluated against other Christians. It had been a toxic environment. Coming out of that place, I needed a fresh start where I could begin to reconstruct my thought process. It was healthy and freeing for me when I discovered there are no rules in the culinary world. Principles, yes, but not rules. It was a safe place to begin again and it’s been a good journey so far. I’ve succeeded in taking a negative part of my past and making it something I can be proud of.
Food can be artistic expression. It can take on different meanings for individuals and it can be whatever you want it to be. I’m learning that I have the control when I’m the one cooking, creating a dish that suite me and what I want it to taste like. I love finding recipes and pulling out the parts I like and leaving the ingredients I’d rather not have. Recipes are only guides and aren’t meant to control anything. For examples and new ideas, I get a cooking magazine sent to me each month. This recipe came from Food Network.
Bucatini w/olive-caper sauce
2 garlic cloves
1 T. capers
Pinch of red pepper flakes
2 T. Olive oil
1 lb tomatoes, diced
2/3 cups kalamata olives, chopped
3 T. butter
3 T. chopped fresh basil
8 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese
Cook the pasta. Chop the garlic and combine all the ingredients except the butter. Toss the pasta with the butter and then combine with tomato mixture.
I enjoy modifying recipes, so I would take this recipe and sauté the veggies down to develop more flavor and add the fresh herbs right before tossing with the pasta. The cheese I would cube very small and toss in before serving, so that it just barely starts to melt. I might leave out the olives since I don’t like those, or else diced them very small. I would also add a little thyme and rosemary if I felt like it needed it. I think this recipe could also be prepared as a cold salad if the veggies were kept raw and the pasta tossed in oil. Additional seasonings might need to be added since flavors tend to be muted when served cold.
Enjoy the freedom of trying new things based on principles, rather than rules!