How did you learn to cook? Maybe you didn’t. Some people learn from their mothers, but My Mother wasn’t very experimental. She knew what she knew, and that’s what she cooked. She made the usual comfort food, pot roast, fudge, and spaghetti. She also made foods unique to where I grew up in Detroit, like stuffed cabbage with sauerkraut and City Chicken, and food from her old Kentucky home that no one north of the Mason-Dixon line had seen in the 1950s, like cooked eggnog, Red Velvet cake, and unsweetened cornbread. She only owned one cookbook, Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook, so my exposure to international cuisine was limited.
The summer that I got married (1972), I worked for a lady who had traveled the world and who insisted that I needed a copy
of The Joy of Cooking, the 1971 edition of the classic by Irma Rombauer. I had never heard of it and found it daunting, as I leafed through it. Make my own stock? What was wrong with Campbell’s soup in a can? Béarnaise sauce? What was tarragon? Pâté à choux? Cabbage paste? They seemed so exotic. So time-consuming. So uncomfortable.
The Veterinarian knew how to cook bacon, eggs, and that mid-Atlantic mystery food of his childhood, scrapple (Rapa-brand, of course). His mother made the food of her Virginia childhood, fried chicken, fried chicken livers, and scrambled eggs with shad roe (the accompaniment to the scrapple). She passed along to her son her mother’s recipe for chip dip, cream cheese flavored with Worcestershire sauce.
Armed with Joy of Cooking and the current edition of Betty Crocker, we set up housekeeping. Within months, we gave our first dinner party for another couple. We decided to have ham (because who can’t heat up a ham?), scalloped potatoes, a vegetable that escapes memory, and cheesecake for dessert. From Betty Crocker, I had learned to make a medium white sauce for the potatoes, and the results were a revelation of creaminess. The cheesecake was an easy recipe from my best friend’s mother. I put the softened cream cheese in the blender with the eggs, sugar, and vanilla, and, when it stuck to the sides of the jar, I scraped it down with a wooden spatula, WHILE THE BLENDER WAS RUNNING.
That’s right, at our first dinner party, we served a dessert with extra fiber, wood chips. We ran it through a sieve and were able to get out the big chunks. I was near hysteria, until The Veterinarian pointed out that the graham cracker crust disguised the very tiny splinters that were left. After all, he reassured me, the spatula was clean, and the wood was organic. Washed down with enough Blue Nun wine, our dinner was a success. (And the other couple remain dear friends after 42 years.)
Soon, we branched out. We couldn’t afford to dine out often, so we cooked for ourselves. There was lots of trial and error, but, mostly, we found that, with regular practice, cooking wasn’t so hard. We watched Julia Child, Graham Kerr (the Galloping Gourmet), and a wacky minister who went by the name “Frugal Gourmet.” We delved into that Joy of Cooking, whose step-by-step directions and explanations of buying and storing food revealed techniques and tastes that we had never imagined. We started cooking with wine, real wine, not that salty stuff labeled “Cooking Wine.” We started drinking better wine, too.
Then, I acquired a copy of Julia’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and we were off and running into heart disease territory. I can still reproduce her signature Boeuf à la Bourguignonne, Carottes Vichy, and Coquilles St. Jacques à la Parisienne without looking at the recipe. The Veterinarian perfected Vichysoisse [btw, you pronounce the final “s” because an “e” follows it — don’t let a snooty waiter bully you into saying, “Vishyswa”] and turning ordinary granulated white sugar and water into the perfect golden syrup for Crème Renversée au Caramel. [Helpful hint: Use a microwave.]
We acquired even more cookbooks, such as Pierre Franey’s 60-Minute Gourmet, which taught us to cook efficiently with fresh ingredients, and Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible, which explained the chemistry of baking.
Within 10 years, we were full-fledged foodies. As we began to travel, restaurants famed and unknown were always on our must-sees. We returned home to reproduce our favorite dishes either from memory or from their cookbooks, such as Union Square Café in NYC (for the Tuna Burger and Garlic Potato Chips), The Inn at Little Washington (for the Butter Pecan Ice Cream and Caramel Sauce), Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen (Etouffée and Blue Cheese Dressing), The Ivy in London (Roast Poulet des Landes), and Hawaii’s Roy’s (Chocolate Soufflé).
The two very best recipes came from Chef Cindy Wolf of Baltimore’s Charleston. She shared her stock and lobster bisque recipes, which The Veterinarian adapted and left me. Yep, he actually left lobster and veal stock and a Paul Prudhomme gumbo in the freezer, proving you can’t take it with you.
With the advent of Google, there is almost no recipe that you can’t find online. In fact, you can find hundreds of recipes for the same dish and can pick and choose between them to create a unique version. I learned to make my own Tom Kha Gai soup that way and have lowered the fat in the Cheesecake Factory’s Louisiana Chicken Pasta.
Some things never change. I still use the Betty Crocker fudge recipe that My Mother used. I still make the best real Red Velvet cake with Buttercream Frosting and an awesome stuffed cabbage with sauerkraut. I’ve adapted the City Chicken to simmer in white wine and veal stock, unheard of in 1950s Detroit kitchens, and I actually learned to make that pâté à choux to reproduce Detroit’s favorite Sanders’ Hot Fudge cream puff shells.
Several years ago, a friend gave me a vintage copy of The Joy of Cooking, which started The Veterinarian collecting them. Imagine my surprise to find, in the 1931 edition, the recipe for his grandmother’s cream cheese chip dip. It survived the 1943 edition, but, by 1971, it had disappeared, maybe because it says to spread the mixture on the potato chips. Who in their right mind would do that? Not even the most ardent foodie, I suspect. [Hint: Stir a little milk into the softened cream cheese, add a few drops of Worcestershire and some grated onion, and the mixture will be thin enough to serve with chips. Wouldn’t Irma Rombauer be surprised to know that it’s my good luck charm whenever the Baltimore Ravens play?]
My one month trial to chemistry expired, so the site “treated” me to a free month. When I declined to renew my match subscription, they offered me three free months. Good. I’ll still have something to write about.
This morning alone, the scammers are either cloning each other, or there’s just one guy or gal with a lot of time on their hands. The theme is “I will love to know you better [sic], as long as you have a pulse”, although I suspect that may be optional, if I, the “lonely” little widow, can provide access to my bank account. You be the judge.
It’s not the distance that’s the potential problem. It’s your multiple personality disorder:
From a man whose name leads me to believe that he is not the Catholic that he claims to be in any way, shape, or form:
From a man who is only slightly more discriminating, but pulse may be an option in the 105-year old date:
Finally, we can agree that this guy is still a “boy”:
Well, I’m not lonely enough for that, so, who am I to complain? Life is good (mostly). Soli Deo Gloria!