14 January 2010

Wonderment


Sometimes it is hard to be a culinary school graduate.  I'm sure it's much the same as having a "Dr." in front of your name.  One of my college professors said that she hated dating because the men would inevitably ask what she does for a living.

"I'm a teacher," she'd say, playing down her status.

"Where do you teach," they'd ask.

"At the university," she'd admit, revealing the "Dr."  It moved her up the ranks and took away the casualness of the conversation.  She was then expected to be smart or stuffy or name-your-adjective associated with college profs.

I too, try to down play my profession especially when I'm invited to a home cooked meal. I get a lot of "I don't know if it's up to your standards," and "I'm sure you could do much better."  Everyone is always apologizing when they cook for me.  Sometimes I think I'm not given an invite because my friends and aquaintances are afraid I'm going to poo poo their handy work.  Little do they know how much I appreciate someone else's effort.

I certainly know CIA grads who are snobby enough to not enjoy a home cooked meal.  They're the type who will avoid home cooking and claim to not eat meatloaf and mashed potatoes unless they came from Thomas Keller's kitchen.  Who are these people?  Don't they have grandmas?  I bet their grandmas would kick their asses if they witnessed the snobbery.

Speaking of grandmas, mine was the first person who didn't want to cook for me.  I had a break from culinary school and I came home to stay with her.  She couldn't stop talking about how her food probably wasn't up to my standards.  What she didn't realize was that she set my standards.  It's exhausting eating restaurant food for every meal.  You get to the point where you're dying for Mommom's meatloaf.  I like to make restaurant excursions special.  Consuming that kind of food every day, takes away from the allure.

[My daughter recently renamed my Mommom...she is now 'Mom-bo', Mom-bo lets her eat whatever she wants whenever she wants which has caused a marshmallow, 'mallo' in Josie-speak, obsession]

Breakfast at the CIA was yummy but difficult.  Everyday there was a different student cooking my eggs.  I am totally grossed out by runny yolks in much the same way I'm grossed out by hollandaise sauce.  My husband eats his eggs sunny side up, as in never flipped over.  I can't watch him eat breakfast or I'll loose mine.  Anyway, at school the students are graded on their ability to cook a perfect egg every time.  An A+ egg doesn't have any browning; the whites stay white.   At first I would ask for my eggs over hard.  This would give me a hard (though most of the time still soft) bulbous yolk, not what I wanted.  Then I would ask for over hard, broken yolk.  They were so afraid to break the yolk that it often wasn't broken and I still got runny eggs.  Finally I started asking for my egg 'fried crispy, over hard, broken yolk, just like my grandma used to make' and I got the desired results.



Now it's confession time.  I love it when I don't have to cook.  I don't care if it's foie gras or pot pie.  My all time favorite cake is the strawberry box mix cake with cream cheese frosting.  My great grandma's carrot cake comes in close second.  Trying to recreate the box cake using natural, home made ingredients doesn't work.  As a matter of fact, my daughter and I get a rash from eating strawberries and this cake does not contain any trace of real strawberries.  How's that for high class?  My favorite savory meal is anything that I didn't cook.  Beef stew, Mom-bo's cabbage rolls, and chicken and dumplings are on the top of my list.  Campbell's Tomato soup is the best tomato soup out there.  Sure, home made tomato is fantastic when the tomatos are in season but it just isn't the same.  There's nothing better on a cold day than grilled cheese and Campbell's Tomato soup (I use milk instead of water).

Occasionally there are ingredients I won't compromise on.  I use whole milk all the time.  I use real butter, the best I can find.  I keep heavy cream on hand for sweet and savory applications.  High quality olive oil is a staple in my kitchen.  Pure vanilla, not the imitation, is essential.  These are all things I didn't grow up with but I now have a learned respect for.  They make food taste better.

There is a time and place for everything.  Last week when I was staying with Mom-bo, she made meatloaf and mashed potatoes.  The next morning (yes morning), I ate a cold meatloaf sandwich, with mayo, on Wonder bread.  Later that week, we had hot roast beef sandwiches, smothered in gravy, on squishy white Wonder bread.  I bake great bread with lots of nutrients, character and class but this was the time and place for Wonder bread.  It was so yummy.  I missed the way my fingers left imprints on the sandwich while I was eating it.  The gummy, smushy interior stuck to the roof of my mouth when I took a bite.  Sure, I would never buy Wonder bread or keep it in my house but I enjoy taking a peek back at my childhood through my tastebuds.  Really, a meatloaf sandwich on anything but squishy white just isn't the same.

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