Slapdash Gourmet: A foodie of the eating varietyWritten by Amy Campbell | | firstname.lastname@example.org
When my friends first saw “food editor” after my name in Toledo Free Press Star a few weeks ago, the responses ranged from, “Hmm, that’s a little ironic, isn’t it?” to “You?” I am not known for my cooking skills; in fact, in close circles I’m known for my lack of them, and for my great good fortune in having married someone who loved to cook and had the time to do it.
I greatly admire the people who can do it, and all the ways they’re smart about flavors and not burning things, but I am a “foodie” of the eating variety — everything about the dining experience has the potential to delight me. I love the gathering of like-minded eaters, the atmosphere that tells me about the people who are feeding me, the anticipation of trying something new and delicious or a tried-and-true dish perfectly executed. I try hard to never waste a meal. That being the case, I try hard never to make one.
You can imagine how my culinary world was thrown into a tailspin last fall, when I abruptly found myself without the personal chef, the guy who’d not only done the cooking but the meticulous meal planning and grocery shopping as well. Amid the emotional wreckage lots of scary concepts loomed large, and one of the scariest was that I was going to have to cook for myself and, God help her, for our 10-year-old daughter.
One of the first bits of disaster relief I received was my mother’s help in taking inventory of the freezer, so at least I’d know what I had to work with. One of the first laughs I had was when a neighbor saw me in the yard and told me he was relieved. He was starting to worry we had starved.
So far we haven’t starved, although for the first couple of months I wondered how I’d ever do anything but plan, shop, thaw, prep, “cook” and clean up again, or how it was possible, after spending a frustrating hour-plus preparing the meal, that it took us only about eight minutes to eat it and be on to other things — in my case, cleaning the kitchen. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to make our whole situation OK — or at least not excruciating — for my daughter, and on that score meals were by far my weakest area. At the time, I’d lost sight of the fact that this wasn’t news to my little girl. Once when she was 3 years old she asked, as I was getting her up from her nap, where daddy was. I told her daddy had to work late and I was going to make dinner.
“Mommy make dinner?” she said, not just asking, but awed. “Mommy make dinner, on da stove?”
So after a while I started cutting myself some slack. Just because my daughter has a sophisticated palate for a fifth-grader, for example, doesn’t mean she’s not just as happy with hot
dogs and beans as pork ragout and polenta. And if creating three piles of food every night — protein, veg, starch — wasn’t fun or interesting to do or to eat, what foods would make me happy? What would I look forward to eating at the end of all that work? And if it turned out to be variations on pasta four nights a week … so what?
That’s when the tide started to turn. I signed up for “weeknight recipe” newsletters. I started paying attention to the grocery circular and let go of the idea — demonstrated to me for years by the former personal chef — that every element of the meal should be made from scratch. I treated myself to ingredients I liked then started figuring out how to use them. Cooking feels less like a chore, and although I’m not good at it yet, for the first time in my life, I want to be.
I still delight in the food world as much as I ever did, so I’m excited to explore it and report back to Star readers, and I’m going to do it with gusto. But I’m also hoping to get something from you: cooking help. So occasionally, interspersed with stories about culinary events and destinations, I’ll offer some of my own kitchen exploits and await your insight and advice. I promise to be honest about the disasters, and if I have a success … well, we’ll just cross that bridge when we come to it.
Amy Campbell is Toledo Free Press Star Food Editor. Email her at email@example.com.