I grew up in a food family.
No matter how many times you told my grandmother you were full, she’d still whip out a 4.8 pound piece of lasagna, a loaf of a garlic bread, cucumber salad and a bowl of grapes.
My dad would Shake-n-Bake pork chops at home and then Tupperware them.. or he’d use one of those little throw-away charcoal grills to cook kabobs. This, by the way, was all so we could eat dinner at the baseball card store he owned… A place we’d spend every day (and night).
My mom is creative. My step dad hated potato pancakes. So she invented “potato croquettes”. A great ruse.. that lasted until I argued (in front of my step-dad) that we were eating regular potato pancakes. My mom also helped me to love making Christmas cookies (something I do to this day – with her recipes!).. so did her sister, my Aunt Darlene, who every year, would have me over to make Christmas cookies. I can still smell her Thanksgiving day dinners and I can see the bowl of black olives she always had on the table for those holiday meals.
I can remember being maybe 10 or 11 and, while my dad slept, I watched an infomercial on one of those immersion blenders. You know, the ones that kind of look like a lava lamp. You stick ’em in a cup, hit the button – and boom! You have mayo… or so they say. I remember, the commercial telling me that I could put an egg and some oil in a cup, blend it (with the product) and I’d be halfway to a fantastic BLT. Well, I learned the hard way that you REALLY need the immersion blender. I put an egg and some oil in a cup and tried to stir it really fast with a fork. That batch ended-up in the toilet (so my dad wouldn’t find it)!
My dad often reminds me of how he’d find me in the kitchen making a salad to bring to school. I loved cucumbers and Ranch dressing.
My step-dad made the best biscuits using Bisquick.
My step-mom is Greek and her family recipes could turn your mouth into Niagara Falls.
When I was in high school, I’d get on my bike and ride to the grocery store. There, I’d buy whatever I needed to make a simple dinner. With the bags hanging from my handle bars, I’d ride back home and then bang out tacos or something simple (I was too afraid to cook chicken back then). I did it because my dad and step-mom worked late and it was either cook before they get home (and leave the leftovers for them in the fridge) or eat at 1 a.m. when they got home!
In college, dorm food took over (and yummy Miami restaurants), but in the summers when I worked at the TV station as a writer, I’d make Rice-a-Roni and peas and bring that to work for dinner.
Then, it happened. I moved halfway across the country to Arkansas to become a TV reporter. I knew no one there or anywhere close. On his last day there, my dad bought me a rotisserie chicken, a jar of gravy, instant mashed potatoes and a can of green beans and then left. I choked it down as the fear of being alone set-in.
Eventually, I found a new friend. One that moved-in and never left: The Food Network. I was addicted. On my days off, which were Thursdays and Fridays, I’d go buy the ingredients I needed to make what I’d learned that day. That led to experimenting. Switching out ingredients, finding a way to replace ones I didn’t like (blue cheese = barf), or just having fun.
I threw out some things, but for the most part, I’d felt like I found gold.
Luckily, I made good friends (Tiffany! Tyler!) who LOVE to eat and cook. They also helped me learn about wine and how to cook with it.
It got to the point where I’d concoct a lasagna and bring it to the newsroom on my days off. My boss would call me all morning wondering when I’d get there! I also made Thanksgiving dinner for the newsroom misfits who, like me, were far from family.
The power of food really changed my life. I realized that it was a magnet for so much: enjoyment, happiness, humor, Tums, friendships, love, Peptobismol…etc.
If you cook it, they will come. It’s true.
And nothing makes me happier than seeing my food ignite a smile, or a joyous grunt (Brian).
I’ve spent every day in the last 6 years (at least) deliberately trying to learn more about food and what to do with it. I buy things I’ve never had before and taste them. I go to sleep brainstorming the next night’s dinner.
My point is this: Eat. Learn about what you’re eating and find a different way to make it. Cherish what you’ve eaten, and more importantly who made it for you. Share your food and your secrets to creating it. If you have a child in your life, make cupcakes (or Christmas cookies) with them.
There’s no doubt that food is a necessary ingredient in the recipe for a life of happiness.
Tip: Think before you leave for the restaurant. Ask yourself this: “Can I make what they have here at home?” I bet you can, and I bet it’ll be better (and healthier). Eating out is easy, but it’s difficult to beat homemade.