I used to be a gourmet cook. I did just about everything but churn my own butter and I probably would have done that, had I had access to organic cream. I put up summer tomatoes in jars, made my own jam and sought out obscure ingredients. Gourmet magazine was the bible from which I cooked complicated recipes that took all day. Julia Child was my mentor. You remember that movie about Julie and Julia? That could have been me. I had specialty pots and pans and Williams Sonoma was to me, like Toys R US is to kids. The gourmet market, the Italian Market were my Saturday quests. I spent time developing culinary delights and actually invited people over to eat them. I traded increasingly complex recipes with other foodies. I once invited my parents to Thanksgiving and told them I was making turkey hash with Mornay sauce that I had read about in Gourmet. But at the last minute I decided that traditional is best for some meals and I went to a lot of effort that year roasting my free range turkey and making all the sides from scratch. Spring Mix salad, created from a variety of greens that I had hand picked at the gourmet market, was new then. I guess it was too much for my mother, because for all my efforts at dinner, all she told my sisters was that I had fed her weeds. For years, Lamar and I referred to Spring Mix as “weed salad”.
Channeling the ghost of my inner gourmet past, last year we invited Lamar’s son, his wife and her two girls to Thanksgiving (and mysteriously, her mother showed up too, but Granny didn’t make it. Such is life in the South, where you never know who will show up). I bought a big indoor turkey fryer at Costco and gallons of peanut oil. I made an expensive trip to Williams Sonoma for special seasoning and special bread crumbs for dressing. I needn’t have bothered. Her mother, Lamar and I ate the dinner, my step son’s wife ate about a teaspoon of everything, and the girls ate the biscuits with ketchup. My stepson, told the table to take whatever cranberry sauce they wanted, because he would eat the rest…. and he did. That was all he ate. And it wasn’t a even homemade cranberry sauce, it was the regular old canned. I was sure glad I had bought 2 cans, otherwise he might have starved to death.
My mother did not cook, and if she did, we were sorry for it. She could make a grilled cheese that was burnt on the outside and not melted on the inside. Until my sisters were born (when I was 10), we had a large dorm refrigerator and no freezer. We ate out. At age 10, I might not have seen a roast, but I could face down any menu that you put in front of me. Fast food burgers were just making their appearance about that time, and one summer, while my father was away taking a class, my mother and I lived on them every day. Once my sisters were born, we acquired a full size refrigerator with a freezer. My father, who did all the shopping, discovered the golden age of frozen food. Everything we ate involved an aluminum pan and an hour in the oven. When other people talk misty eyed about an old family recipe, my sisters and I smirk since our only “old family recipe” is frozen lasagna. Well, there was La Choy canned chow mein too.
These days, my gourmet cooking is behind me. Williams Sonoma is just a place to buy overpriced sauces, despite the best efforts of a pushy saleswoman trying to interest me in pots and pans that I already own. I tell her that I have been buying from Williams Sonoma since they were just a catalog, but given her age, I doubt she knows that there was such a time. Julia Child has gone to that big kitchen in the sky and Food Network doesn’t inspire me. I’m about convenience and taste, less about fancy techniques and food to impress. Most of my fancy specialized pans are resting in packing boxes and will likely be donated to Good Will where people will wonder over my Windsor pot, polenta pot and my saucier. My copper pots when to auction last year and sold to a man who seemed delighted with his bargain. Now that I have all the time in the world for spending the day cooking, I’m more about what I can do in 45 minutes or so.
Last night, I had a cooking disaster. I purchased a jar of Thai Red Curry Simmer Sauce from Williams Sonoma and decided to use it with some chicken and vegetables and brown rice. It was inedible. I watched my husband’s face turned redder and redder as he felt the burn. This is a man that used to be known for his 6-alarm chili, his willingness to sample hot chilies, and even to try some hell fire hot sauce. I don’t know where that man went, because he no longer exists as my husband. He declared it inedible and made himself a ham sandwich. Even with the sauce wiped off, the dogs wouldn’t eat the chicken. To make it up to all of them, tonight I’m making a plain old pot roast in the crock pot, no cayenne involved.
Until next time, Elsie