I really love to cook. To be clear, I really love to eat too. I know some people who eat only because they will die if they don’t; they get no joy and no pleasure from it, it’s just fuel, and I know many people who get no pleasure whatsoever in preparing food or cooking, they do it only as a chore or obligation. I know people who are so fussy that they eat only a handful of things and never want to try anything new, or won’t even try something they actually like, but prepared in a new way. Picky, squeamish, finicky eaters and I don’t really combine well, kind of like a perfect Umbrian Coricelli extra virgin olive oil and water. I prefer being around people who like the experience of food… the eating, the preparing, the entire interaction with that which sustains us.
When I cook for myself or for guests, it’s with so much gratification in the act itself, sometimes as much, if not more than the final product. The whole process, the sounds and the smells, and the actions involved, is something I really like. I enjoy having a full freezer and well stocked pantry so that I can create what I feel like, when I feel like it. My daughter never enjoyed helping in the kitchen, she liked to help my mother bake, but seldom liked to help me cook, but her youngest daughter does, and that excites me. When a three-year old asks to learn how to use a knife, and before she is four can hull and slice her own strawberries, and now likes to julianne peppers and wash dishes, and when at your house, often turns on the cooking channel, you know you’ve got a little ‘foodie’ in the making. My Mimom was the consummate hostess. She could throw together a lunch for her bridge club ladies at 1 o’clock, have assorted snacks and a cheese platter for cocktails later at 6:30, and a delicious and visually delightful meal at 8 for eight, without breaking a sweat or having to leave the house because she was “out of something.” Her pantry was like C.S. Lewis’ magic wardrobe to me and I loved being around her while I was growing up and am sure much of my love of entertaining, stocking cupboards, and preparing food, comes directly from her tutelage.
I remember one night so clearly, she was prepping for a large dinner party…having her show me how to set a full formal table and where to put the water glass, the wine glass, and the liqueur glass, how to fold the napkin, and how to arrange the plates for bread, salad, and dessert…all those details that mattered so much to her and now matter to me…everything about her kitchen that afternoon and night excited me…I don’t remember much about the snacks served with the cocktails, other than nervously balancing nuts and cheeses on a tray and asking her friends if they would like some, but I do clearly remember helping my Mimom to bring out the main course, crab imperial. I can remember helping her pull apart the crab meat that afternoon and being sure there were no shells, and even watching her mix all the ingredients couldn’t prepare me for the thrill of seeing this crab casserole get spooned into these beautiful enormous shells and then baked and served…the presentation was like something out of a magazine…maybe they were just normal sized shells I see on the beach, but as a little girl enthralled with all that was going on that night, those shells looked like the most magnificent serving platters I had ever seen!
Years ago my Sunday mornings used to start very early, and at 5 or so I would sit on my big fat purple sofa and sip my coffee and crochet and watch -Nigella Bites- It was my favorite cooking show… I liked Nigella Lawson’s accent, I liked how she cooked, I liked how she used a knife and a mezzaluna, I liked what she cooked, I liked her kitchen, I like how she served, I liked how she explained things, I just loved my Sunday mornings with her and I would get inspired, and usually Sunday supper was in my mind before my second cup of coffee was empty because Nigella energized me. Three years ago my small town lost its A&P, a store I ADORED, and soon thereafter lost its Genuardis, a grocery store I liked well enough, but didn’t love, and has not had a supermarket since. What kind of town does not have a grocery store??!! We have SEVEN places at which a person can buy tires but NOT ONE place to buy a head of lettuce, a wedge of Gruyere, or a steak. There are MORE than enough pizza places and take-out places where I live, but if you want to put together a luncheon for your girlfriends, snacks for evening cocktails, and dinner for your guests after dark, you have to go someplace else. FOR THE LOVE OF FOOD, my town needs a supermarket, or a gourmet little grocery store, or a specialty shop, or a butcher, a baker, and a cheese shoppe. I drive out of town because I must, but what kind of town council or committee thinks it’s okay to keep approving building permits for more housing but neglecting to recognize the fact that there is nowhere for residents current or future, to buy food!!??
My work truck is my only vehicle and it gets 10.2 miles to the gallon, yes, that point 2 really makes a difference, BUT even with that fact in mind, I admit that a few times a year I do in fact drive some 41 miles west of me, not far from Philadelphia, for food…the towns in that area have a Trader Joe’s, a Whole Foods, and a Wegmans, and you might think it ridiculous that I would even consider driving that far for groceries and totally preposterous that I actually do, but I really love food shopping when it is in a place that makes me remember that I love to cook and love to organize my pantry and love the whole experience of purchasing and preparing food.
Where I live has a lot of residents who are from someplace else and I don’t mean to sound rude, but many of the women from these ‘someplace elses’ have voices and accents that make my skin crawl, and it seems that so many of them crack their gum when they talk, and that makes my skin crawl more, and they seem to always be in a tremendous hurry and often are insulting to the employees at the supermarket…understandably, this is of course not the case with all the people shopping in the grocery store, but sometimes it feels like it to me, and as a result my love of grocery shopping is significantly diminished…BUT when I drive 41 miles west…oh goodness it is like a buzz…it seems that everyone shopping in those supermarkets is there for the same reason I am…to happily buy unbelievably overpriced produce and protein and fabulously packaged food stuffs in a well-lit, clean, and organized store, where one almost feels healthier just being IN the store, like we are doing our bodies good, and don’t have to “shop the perimeter” because the entire store seems to be filled with high quality foods. Does it make me seem like a snob, who, mind you, can’t afford to be, that I like to shop there? maybe. But I really love food shopping when I get ‘into’ the entire experience of food shopping. When I do it here, I am often feeling annoyed that my town has no store and it feels like a chore…but today I am going to change that up.
The last few times I have had to go food shopping I psyched myself up for it, and walked into the store with a really positive attitude, and when I heard an accent that made my skin crawl or a gum cracking woman hit my cart of I heard somebody be impolite to the boy stocking the avocados, I just thought that I should feel sorry for them, that they were choosing to be miserable and rude, and I should feel glad that I was not them…and I have found, admittedly slowly, my love of food shopping returning. I have a list today and I have some menus planned, one of which includes a black bean soup with tequila lime marinated shrimp. YUM! Yesterday I reorganized all my spice racks and cleaned all the jars and made all new labels, I emptied out and organized my kitchen pantry and started rotating my stock in my utility room pantry, I know what I am low on and what I am out of, and I am going food shopping this morning with a smile on my face, a positive attitude, and a grateful heart for the love of food.