11 February 2012

my cooking inspiration - free style

When I was in high school, one of my dear friends was from Belgium and I spent a lot of time at her home. I'm pretty sure my friend just wished her parents were more American and I know I wished mine were the least bit European.

They were stylish (I still have a scarf brought back to me from an annual "boring" Belgique trip) and, although their home was not particularly fancy, their creature comforts were all new to me...I grew up with 50/50 poly blend sheets & Dial soap while they had fluffy duvets with smooth cotton covers and exotic-seeming personal care products. Needless to say, I have had duvets with high thread counts since I started buying my own bedding (so much easier to make the bed) and believe that the items we use and touch every day should make us happy: I have a thing for nice soaps, lotions and potions...and kitchen tools!

It was at this home that I first had Nutella and "real" butter outside of a restaurant bread basket; we were a margarine household. I once saw her mom making mayonnaise with an immersion blender and it was a revelation - I didn't even know this was something one could make and had no idea what the implement she used was...my home strictly featured Miracle Whip from the jar. So many good things were had for the first time there - Olive Oil, boiled eggs served in egg cups, amazing cafe au lait. My mom was a very good cook but she also relied heavily on Hamburger Helper-esq food for weeknight meals.

I recall her mom throwing together (according to her) one meal in particular: lean pork chops sauteed in a bit of Dijon mustard with capers and herbs, because that's what was in the fridge. It was at least 25 years ago and I still remember a light bulb going off and thinking, "this is the way I will cook someday".

And you know what? I do. Of course I have many cookbooks and look to them for inspiration, even following recipes often. But I'm mostly an improvisational cook, sometimes employing my own immersion blender! The recipe calls for hazelnuts? Why not try walnuts or pine nuts? It's about about layering and deepening flavor profiles, even if the recipe doesn't suggest something or I don't have a particular ingredient. What's the worst that could happen? Just maybe it will be even better. It's part of what makes cooking fun for me. It's actually how I approach most things in life, I think - perhaps because I'm often too lazy to read the instructions! I sometimes wonder if my kids would prefer the Hamburger Helper, hold the capers - maybe the pendulum swings with each generation...

Very often when I'm cooking, I think of my high school friend's home and the debt of gratitude I owe to her family - their influence has made my life more comfortable and the food I prepare more inventive. Thank you, famille Goffaux!

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