my history in food

I have a confession to make. I'm addicted to cooking shows and cooking competitions. I spend countless hours scouring the internet for episodes to indulge my habit. On one such obsessive search I stumbled upon an episode of masterchef australia where contestants were confronted with an interesting challenge: "cook the dish that changed your life." I have been pondering this question for a week now. (evidence that i could never be on a show where there are time limits) I still have not been able to come up with a dish that changed my life but this reflection has left me with a solid idea of how food in general has changed my life. Or rather, how cooking saved my life.

My favorite memories as a child were either around a table or in the kitchen. Whether it was making candy with mamaw, Saturday breakfast dates with pop pop, opening the deli drawer of my nana's refrigerator to find liverwurst and pastrami, my dad's pancake and waffle mastery, sleepovers at mamas and papaw's followed by lunches of ham salad and all the pickles a pickle lover could dream of, chili parties, barbecues, has always been an integral part of my life and family.

I loved being in the kitchen with my mother watching her culinary adventures move from 1980's casseroles to elaborately planned meals, each one like a catered event. We were eating sundried tomatoes before anyone else knew what they were. While my classmates school lunches consisted of pb&j or bologna I would unwrap a bagel loaded with hummus, lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese, and sprouts. There was a time when I just wanted a "lunchable" like everyone else, or a ding dong instead of an apple but I realize now that I was learning then that every meal could delicious, healthy, and special.

The turning point came when I was 23, married, and having just suffered a heartbreaking miscarriage. I was empty, lost, and terribly depressed. There were a few months that went by where I couldn't bring myself to get off the couch except to go to work. I was drowning and unable to talk about it. Thankfully, my dear friend Kendra got me off that couch. They were small steps but she would come over after work and we would cook meals together. They weren't gourmet by any means but caring for one another through shared meals taught me to care for myself again. Occasionally, we were joined by David who as it turns out is a natural chef. One evening they came over and I, proclaiming I had nothing to eat, suggested we go out. David went through my
fridge and pantry and pulled out the most random assortment of ingredients resulting in one of the most delicious pasta dishes I've ever had. My eyes were opened! We then started to get real about these suppers. We had soul food night and Indian night where David taught us tricks he learned from a summer there, we had Mexican night where Kendra made chile rellenos with fresh salsa and guacamole. We've come a long way from there; Kendra is now is Kansas, David in Florida, and I'm in Switzerland but those meals were an important step in my food journey and I will be forever grateful to them both for that time.

I suppose no food story would ever be complete without a trip to Paris. It may seem clichรฉ but Paris was where it all came together for me. The food was great, of course, but it wasn't the food that made the lasting impact it was the way of life and the role that food played in that life. The French taught me how to take pleasure in food. They showed me how beautiful apricots and figs could be, they gave me my first taste of a real baguette, and introduced me to fresh unpasteurized dairy products. It was in Paris that I learned the art of a picnic in the park and most importantly to the joy of enjoying a glass of wine anytime during the day on a terrace.

I haven't made candy with my mamaw in decades, my weekly breakfast dates with pop pop ended long ago, and I couldn't tell you what's in the deli drawer of my nana's refrigerator. Thankfully, there are still chili parties and barbecues, and my dad was chief waffle maker on Christmas morning this year. I carry all of these food memories with me every time I enter the kitchen and I cannot wait to create new ones with my little girl.