Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Treasure Box

Some were hand-written.  Some, she typed.  A few of the really good ones bear stains from being frequently used--so long ago.
My sister Marci, who left us too soon at the unripened age of 30 in 1987, loved to cook and sew.  She was creative--and she was fun-loving.  One of my most precious mementos of her is her recipe box. It is one of the few tangible connections to her I have.  How I love going through those recipes!  I can almost feel her sitting next to me at the table, with her curled inward left hand holding the marker over the index card, precisely printing out the letters of each ingredient and instruction.
After she was gone, it took me a while to be able to open the box. It was almost too painful to look inside.  But a few years ago, I was needing a recipe for Spiced Tea Mix.  You know--the kind you mix up, put in jars decorated with pretty ribbon and give as Christmas gifts.  I knew Marci had a recipe for that.  So I found the recipe box in the back of my kitchen cabinet.  I took a deep breath and opened the lid.  And there it was--the very first recipe I pulled from the box was Spiced Tea Mix! 
I smiled.  Just like so many other times before, I felt her presence.  As I was thumbing through the recipes, I found one that actually made me laugh out loud.  It is the one in the middle of the picture above; homemade Cranberry Wine. 
I have often wondered if Marci ever made a jug of that wine.  I suspect she did--and I suspect she enjoyed it!  I included the recipe in my cookbook, page 5 to be exact, along with several more of her wonderful dishes. 
I now refer to her recipe box as my treasure box.  And I do treasure it!  I hope if you decide to make your own jug of Cranberry Hooch, you will feel the presence of a fun-loving angel on your shoulder. And don't forget to let me know how it turns out.  Better yet, invite me over and I'll share a glass with you!
Much Love & Happy Brewing!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Lasting Impressions

"Our moments of inspiration are not lost though we have no particular poem to show for them' for those experiences have left an indelible impression, and we are ever and anon reminded of them." Henry David Thoreau
People often ask me where I learned to cook or how I came up with some of my recipes.  Well, my palate was not exposed to very many exotic flavors when I was young.  In fact, if we truly are what we eat, then while growing up, I was a Baked Chicken and Turnip Greens! But that would drastically change as I ventured out into the world!
We are all products of our particular experiences and food is a visceral experience for me. My passion for creating original and unique combinations of flavors and textures has become my greatest creative outlet and has been a continually evolving process.  Creating a new dish is an undertaking that involves all of the senses; visual, taste, texture, aroma.  Did I leave one out?  Yes, the clink and clatter of dishes in a diner, the sizzle of meat hitting a hot grill, the bubbling of champagne being poured into a flute...even sounds become a nostalgic inspiration.  Just like hearing a song on the radio can transport you to a certain place in time, certain foods have the same effect for me.  I have so many memories of certain dining experiences that remain vivid in my mind and have indeed left an indelible impression.
One of the first culinary events that impacted me in a big way happened my senior year in High School, 1984, while I was on a school sponsored trip to Dallas, Texas with my FHA Chapter.  My Home Economics teacher, Sheila, accompanied us on that trip.  She was such a wonderfully interesting person.  I wanted to be just like her!  I don't think she had any idea what an impression she made upon me at the time, but I hadn't been around many people like her.  After all, I was a "Baked Chicken"...she was a "Spicy Honey Mustard Glazed Chicken Cooked In A Smoker".
Sheila was so pretty.  She had beautifully highlighted hair that was perfectly feathered, just like Farrah Fawcett's.  I remember being so impressed with her as a young woman.  She knew how to do everything.  She could cook, sew, decorate...she was so stylish. 
While we were in Dallas, we went to eat at TGI Fridays.  That may not sound too adventurous to most, but keep in mind I was a small town girl from Meadow, Texas.  Dallas was "the big city"!  When it came time to order, Sheila talked me into ordering the Chicken with Marsala Wine Mushroom Sauce, Fettucini Alfredo and Steamed Veggies.  I had hesitated to order this because it was made with wine.  I was raised in the Church of Christ and my parents had me believing that the Devil himself would pop out like a Genie if I ever uncorked a bottle of wine.  Sheila assured me that all of the alcohol content was cooked out of the sauce, so I took a chance and ordered it.  I'm so glad I did!  I can still remember how wonderful that meal was.  And Viola!  I left my Baked Chicken days behind!
Since then, I have been on a mission to overwhelm my tastebuds.  Although I have not traveled as much as I would have liked, I have made several trips to Santa Fe, NM and have experienced cuisines from all over the world in "the city different".  I have taken a few cooking lessons there and honed my palate in the process.  Also, I found that you just never know when misadventure will turn into fortune.  During my single days, I dated men who came from backgrounds that were in stark contrast to mine.  I came away from the relationships not only a little bit wiser, but with some good recipes in hand, to boot!  I pocketed culinary treasures such as Pasta Carbonara and Bolognese Sauce from Italy, Chimichurri Sauce from Argentina, Garlic & White Wine Poached Escargot via a French-Canadian, Corned Beef & Cabbage from a Scotsman, Black Forest Cake from the mother of a man who grew up as an air force brat in Germany.  Some of those recipes were good enough to almost make the failed relationships worth surviving.  I became somewhat of a culinary pirate. ;-) In the process, I have traveled the world through my kitchen.
You will find some of these recipes in my cookbook.  Others, you may have to garner a visit to my dinner table to experience.  By all means, give yourself the gift of savoring different tastes.  Don't spend your existence being a Baked Chicken!