As I read food magazines and other food blogs, I feel that I am stuck in a sort of culinary “no-man’s land.” I see beautiful dishes, with complex flavors and exotic provenance, but before I can get the post-it on the page I see that the recipe requires “anchovy,” “mussels” or “one chicken liver, lightly sauteed.” I want to produce the kind of blog I love to read, in which a steady stream of exotic dishes are produced and beautifully photographed, but I often feel that my own kitchen output is unadventurous and dull in comparison. I find myself admiring recipes for things like bitter melon soup or pissaldiere, and thinking that I want to make them, photograph them and put them on the blog, despite the fact that NO ONE in my house would eat them. Just because I could do it, you know?
Here’s the thing: I am cooking for three people, two of whom are not me. My son will not eat seafood of any description, organs, “funky” cheeses, unfamiliar grains, cabbage, okra, tofu, and probably other things I have not yet offered. My husband will try most things, but would rather not eat salmon or tuna, whole wheat anything, tofu, organs, meat with fruit, anchovies, eggplant, French food, ground turkey, sushi, bitter greens, or anything too “nutty crunchy granola.” (Think Moosewood). I have learned, this summer, that they do not like gazpacho, they do not like pesto, and I am guessing they will not love ratatouille or tapenade. To their credit, they are very good about trying different flavors and cuisines (provided there are no prohibited ingredients) and will both happily try anything from last night’s Cuban sandwiches to a variety of Indian and Thai curries.
Although I started out my cooking life with a pretty adventurous attitude, for my ten years as a wife and mother, I have mostly cooked the kinds of recipes commonly found in “Quick Cook” and “Taste of Home.” There is nothing wrong with those publications or their recipes, but there gets to be a sameness to the casseroles using cooked, cubed chicken, and the “easy” stir fries with five ingredients including the rice. Sometimes I went out on a limb and made a beautiful lasagna from scratch, or a Buche de Noel, but mostly I played it safe to avoid controversy or inconvenience.
This summer I have fallen in love with what I can really do, full throttle, in the kitchen. I can make bagels! I can make authentic Thai curry! I can make a Bolognese sauce that makes me want to weep because its so damned good! With few exceptions (the aforementioned pesto and gazpacho), the men in my house have been delighted to be along for the ride. I have reached a point where I do not wish to have in my house canned, cream soup, processed American “cheese food,” pre-chopped garlic or ginger, powdered onion soup mix, Kraft macaroni and cheese, muffin mix, canned pie filling, or parmesan cheese that is indistinguishable from baby powder. I will never make another mushy-meat-in-gravy dish in the crockpot, no matter how easy it is to throw things into the pot in the morning.
I guess I have to accept that its necessary to pick and choose from the tempting array of recipes that I encounter on a daily basis. I am not free to cook my way through Patricia Wells’ newest cookbook (too French) or even The Silver Palate Cookbook, because I live with people who would not find many of the recipes appealing or, in some cases, edible. I can’t cook all of the recipes I find “Gourmet,” “Saveur” or “Bon Appetit” for the same reason. I probably can’t ever again cook much of anything from Laurel’s Kitchen or The New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook. I also have to relax about the fact that there are some convenience foods that are not cheating – I will still use frozen ravioli and tortellini, good quality packaged broth, and canned beans. For emergencies, I will always have a package of brownie mix with my baking ingredients.
In the end, I have to remember that what matters most in my cooking is not proving what I can do, but providing food that looks and tastes delicious to the people I love. I can push them a little from time to time with an anchovy that disappears into a sauce or a little chocolate in the chili, but it is counter productive to take a belligerent stand about food that causes fear and trembling at the dinner hour. Even if that food would let me create lovely posts with cutting-edge recipes that inspire awe in all who visit….