Etsy, my online venue for Brave Mable, regularly features an Etsy artist with an interview of what must be a choice of standard questions. Often an artist answers the question,What would be the title of your memoir?
Mine would be, Bacon & Wine: Food to Believe In
To be honest, I wasn't a very adventurous eater as a child. Neither was our father. Our menus tended toward the uniform; green beans, rice, rare meat (often venison he shot himself). And my mother, a fabulous woman, great doctor, well-read, super fun to be around, just wasn't a great cook. Broccoli was bland, beans were stringy and texturally offensive, lima beans dry and chalky. Her spaghetti was amazing, as well as the lasagna and I always loved, loved, loved her creamed spinach with chopped onions. Or perhaps it was the simplicity of the menu that offended me? Would I have been more excited about vegetables if they'd been sauteed in olive oil and garlic with a squeeze of lemon?
In college I worked at a bed & breakfast with a fine dinning restaurant downstairs in a quaint little cottage called Crippen's, named for the owner and my bosses, Jimmy and Carolyn Crippen. This is where I fell in love with food, with the nuance of flavors, the variety of options and the pure, sweet indulgence of luxurious edibles. And wine. I was only a bus girl, and later a food runner, but when I expressed an interest in learning about wine, Jimmy generously lent me his copy of Kevin Zraly's Windows on the World Complete Wine Course - a book based on Zraly's famous wine course taught at the restaurant in One World Trade Center from 1976-2001, on the 107th floor where I helped organize and conduct a different sort of wine class for the ASA on Monday, September 10th, 2001. Simple coincidences. (And Zraly still teaches the class today.)
Jimmy also let me sit in on the waiter wine training classes with visiting sales reps. This is where I first heard the sultry vocabulary of a wine lover, first learned to absorb the aroma of a wine, and to let the flavors wash over my palate and awaken my senses.
I first started cooking, really cooking, when I worked at Crippen's, even working a short stint in the prep kitchen before being asked to return to the dinning room (too slow, they said). I was destined to be a front of the house gal. But in my apartment kitchen I was free to experiment, to move at my own pace, to be my very own head chef.
After moving to New York I cooked so seldomly, my apartment too small to have company, my kitchen for the first year was nonexistent, just a hotplate, and for the next six years an efficiency stove and oven, rarely used. Food of every kind and caliber sits on every corner of NYC, most of it available for delivery. I could spend a whole day in PJs; coffee, pancakes and eggs for breakfast, noodle soup for lunch, and a steak with grilled asparagus for dinner, never soiling a dish.
Being in the restaurant business afforded me the snobbish attitude to critique both cuisine and service every where I went. (Only recently have I finally relaxed, having lived long enough in a town generally disinterested in innovative, or 'fine dining' food to let it slide - a chill attitude my patient mother and sister appreciate).
Moving into the wine business after leaving the restaurants made indulgent eating even easier. I had an expense account. I had customers, friends, who fed me for free, always matched with the world's most superb foods in the country's top restaurants.
These days I cook. I enjoy cooking, but I enjoy eating more. I cook to eat. And I buy locally as often as possible, from venues that appeal to my sensibility, local farmers at the flea market/sale barn, where up-for-auction cattle moo in the background, and from the local butcher who's small business sits out in the county, his cows mooing in the pasture behind the shop, the stench of manure lingering in the parking lot, and from Charlie Thompson, the Omnivore's Dilemma famous Joel Salatin-style mad man forty minutes away who raises chickens (1,000 of them), rabbits, goats and bees, all naturally, in addition to a full time engineering career. At Charlie's I watch my food go from live action breathing animal to ready-to-cook raw material. And I love it.
These are not fabulous markets with beautiful displays. They are not Wholefoods with hand-written price signs and the falsely assumed organic parade. They are not Wal-Mart, where I refuse to shop on a bad-business-associates principle, where they 'stack them high, sell them cheap' under the premise of 'being on the customer's side.' The venues I shop are real. The food I eat is local, nutritious and grown by hands with faces I can talk to, relate to.
When I think about the idea of a food memoir I have to consider all the amazing meals I've had in countries across the world, and of meals ahead of me in countries I have yet to visit. And I can't discount the over riding thread, that each of those best meals were created from food derived locally, recipes passed down through generations, written by cooks working with what they had, what they could afford, without the aid of a supermarket shipping in the perfect fall apple in the middle of winter.
The American menu is a curious one. We expect to have what we want when we want it. We've been sold that right. And have we created with it? Fried chicken and hamburgers, pimento cheese and chili dogs.
And then there's the simple joys of simple flavors; of thick cut, smoky bacon and oak-free, pure fruited wine. Maybe I'll write this memoir after all.