Cooking life begins…..
OK, full disclosure. My mother was a terrible cook. She married young, lived with her mother during WWII, and was busy giving birth to two children. So after the war, when our young family moved out west, she apparently took few cookbooks with her. At the same time, the aluminum industry was searching, searching for ways to use all that excess production. Some genius in the industry came up with the idea that everything… that’s everything…. could be made better by wrapping in aluminum foil and throwing it into the oven. And that’s what she did: meats, chicken, vegetables, desserts, and, of course, potatoes. If our house was any kind of an example, aluminum production never slowed.
To be fair, in retrospect, Mom didn’t have much to work with. We had moved to an isolated Wyoming mountain community, where food was fresh if the can showed an expiration date within the last year. At 7500’ above sea level, the growing season was so short that only small carrots and radishes were possible. Hollyhocks were the only flower I remember, and they weren’t edible.
And we were poor; she bought the cut of red meat that was closest to the hoof. How poor were we? The only part of chicken we could afford was the neck; I was 8 before I realized chickens and snakes weren’t the same critter. That year we bought some baby chicks, and they in turn grew up with a desperate look in their fowl eyes: produce eggs or end up as the centerpiece on the table that night.
Things improved when we moved to a small town in Illinois, surrounded by farms. I bought a gun, shot lots of rabbits, ducks, quail and pheasant, and we had… imagine that… a garden full of good veggies. But Mom, bless her soul, still over-cooked everything, and aluminum foil remained her best friend.
It wasn’t until I went off to college, and then later the Army, that I tasted char-broiled steaks, rare beef, al dente vegetables and pasta, interesting desserts. I even thought the Army’s “Stuff (not its real name) on a Shingle” tasted good. And later, when I discovered properly cooked seafood and not-in-a-can oysters, my eyes and stomach woke up to the concept of good food.
It helped that I married well. Biscuit had followed her mother’s lead and expanded our joint food horizons. In our first year of marriage, I learned her short breads must be eaten soon out of the oven, otherwise they’ll float to the ceiling, and she perfected pie dough (I defy anyone to make a better crust). Early on, one memorable night we discovered rare prime rib and Beefeater martinis are a pair made in heaven. And her mother, extracting a lifetime promise (“Never, never, ever let Biscuit use soap to wash them”) gave me her collection of black cast-iron cookware.
So it was no surprise that I started cooking as well. Oh sure, at first, it was the manly art of throwing raw meat and shrimp on the BBQ (did you know that BBQ has always been a guy thing? It was because a hole had to be dug, logs burned low, rocks thrown in, cows and pigs put on a spit… you can’t expect the flower of American womanhood to do that, can you?). I probably peaked out with a suckling pig, and started looking for other ways to show off. Plus, if I wanted lamb and oysters (something Biscuit doesn’t like), I had to cook it myself. I learned how and when to use the South’s Blessed Trinity, or mirepoix, the French version, learned to marinate, to use good wines, and so on. What fun!
So that’s what we’ll be chatting about in my blog. And yes, I use aluminum foil. It’s great for storing food in the refrigerator.