My livelihood, my life. That which not only brings home the bacon but also fries it up in a pan.
My interest in food ebbs and flows, much like the mood swings of a hormonally-imbalanced, slightly promiscuous, and hyperactive 16 year-old girl.
My introduction in cooking and food started long ago in a little town in northern MN in a little farmhouse tucked in the woods. Both of my parents came from hardy do-it-yourself German/Scandinavian stock. I believe their family mottoes were "Just suck it up and do it lazyass!" and "What are you, some kind of sissy?", respectively.
In the summer we had three gardens bigger in area than our house, apple trees, plum trees, currant bushes and rhubarb everywhere. We grew potatoes, onions, carrots, green & wax beans, tomatoes, strawberries, raspberries, rutabaga, turnips, lettuce, peppers, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and sunflowers.
We lived in a house in the far west corner of Duluth until I was in-between my kindergarten & 1st grade years. Our neighborhood in Duluth was starting to slide downhill (didn't I know it! We lived next door to one kid that ate sand and another that liked to take the occasional shit on the sidewalk) and my parents decided we needed to get out. There was a series of books, called The Foxfire Books that were making the rounds among my parents and their friends. The books were written about a self-sufficient community in the Appalachian Mountains that was basically isolated from the rest of the world. They lived off the land in the truest sense of the word. I was transfixed by these books. Until I started reading them I never knew that you could make your own soap! Who knew?
With these books as their guide, my parents moved us to the little house on 40 acres surrounded by fields, woods, ponds and farms.
As I got older I hated every second of it. But, our isolation on our little homestead is the reason I learned to cook and became the crafty, resourceful person I am today.
As we were not exactly well-off, the bi-weekly trip to the grocery store was meant to stock up on staples (flour, sugar, etc...) and things to supplement the several freezers of locally-procured (and sometimes raised by us) meat, a room full of home-canned goods, and the root cellar in the basement. Things like the much-beloved pre-sweetened cereals and store-bought cookies rarely made the cut. If we bought soda, it was always the el cheapo Shasta- never Coke or Pepsi. You had Mountain Dew, I had "Moon Mist". My parents even attempted to make our own root beer once. I'm sure it was delicious, but because it didn't come in an A&W can we turned our noses up at it. Ingrates.
So, out of necessity I learned to cook. Want cookies? Bake them your damn self, I learned.
Our kitchen was where I taught myself how to make pate a choux dough for cream puffs that I filled with ice cream and topped with melted chocolate at age 10. I learned the hard way that flour and powdered sugar aren't interchangeable just because they're both white and powdery. I started tinkering with Asian recipes, with a goopy "Moo goo gaipan" as my first foray into this type of cooking, and my first time using the wok properly.
It never occurred to me that I had a marketable skill and a notable talent with this cooking thing. For me it was always just a way to eat the things I wanted to- I could change recipes to include more of the things I liked and less of the things I didn't. I never saw this as anything to be proud of, and in fact I was always a bit embarrassed that I "had" to learn how to cook because we were kind of poor.
After high school I rarely used this skill. I lived on macaroni & cheese, ramen, PB&J's and Hamburger helper. McDonald's and Little Caesar's pizza saw me more often than any of my cookbooks did. A typical lunch for me in college was a bag of Gardetto's Snackens and a diet coke.
I cooked for all of my friends exactly one time those first years after high school- stuffed pasta shells with homemade marinara, walnut & parmesan crostini appetizers and a salad. It was a hit, and I love love loved each and every compliment or "thank-you" that I received. I'm pretty sure that was the moment I realized the power that food had. We all came together as a group, we shared an o.k. meal and we had a good time. For me, that's what it's all about, plain and simple. Food should be fun.
When you do it for a living, sometimes it's fun and sometimes it's not. It's amazingly creative, you're not confined to an office and you get to play with food.
When you pull off an amazingly intricate preparation without a hitch- you think that cooking is the most perfect of all jobs and why the hell wouldn't anyone NOT want to do this? A Saturday night where you pull off 250 covers and not one thing goes wrong? Not so much as one refire? Well, it makes you a little misty in your undies sometimes, the feeling is that good. When your students actually listen, take interest in, and manage to successfully complete a difficult cooking project? Well, it makes you happier than Paris Hilton in a hall of mirrors.
But when it's bad- it will suck your soul clean out of your body, stomp all over your pride, kick you in the crotch and then piss on you, just for good measure. Your body will feel like you were dragged behind a dump truck on a logging trail for 2 hours. You will be prone to irrational anger. You will throw things. You all will drink too much after the shift to try and forget how much it sucked. You will stink. Your feet will look like hamburger. You will hate mankind as a whole.
But deep down you know you still love it. No normal person would subject themselves to the sort of torture that we food people do unless they loved what they were doing. Some of the most creative, talented, artistic, addicted, brilliant, scary, fucked-up, hilarious and entertaining people in the world are your co-workers. You eat well, you drink well and you have inappropriate relationships in store rooms. You create memories- some you want to lock in a box and save forever, some you wish would disappear the instant they are made.
But most of all, you have a great time.
Not sure where I'm going with this post- I've just been thinking about my job, my skill, my passion, my livelihood today.
My on-again, off-again love affair with this vocation of mine.
I'm wondering where I'm going with it, what my next step is. Will I guide the direction or will the vocation guide me?
It's just what I'm thinking about today. No reason.