Blend Dreams from Available Household Items

My cooking life philosophy was very well expressed by someone named “Irene” in 1989.  Some people put quotes on their refrigerator, some put affirmations on their mirror, I have my mantra on a decorative tile I bought in Cape May, New Jersey and it has been hanging in sight near every stove I’ve cooked on since.

It says,

“Joy of Dreaming

Roll out your own dreams, cut out your destiny and put your own stars in your own sky and make your dream come true. try it. Blend dreams from available household items.”

My philosophy exactly.  Thanks, Irene!

Your Love is Like a Rainbow

two single pancakes with maple syrup on a plate

Image via Wikipedia

I was definitely my Daddy’s Little Girl.  My dad was my absolute hero and one of my best childhood memories is Saturday Morning Pancakes which Dad made every single week.  He cooked ‘em and my sister and I ate ‘em.  It was a family ritual which continued with my children and their dad except that was on Sundays.

Dad’s weren’t necessarily the best pancakes in the world—they came out of an Aunt Jemima box accompanied by the ever-so-popular Log Cabin Maple Syrup which probably didn’t have any real maple syrup in it at all.  At the time I didn’t care about that.  I only cared whether I could meet the weekly challenge of, “How many can you eat?”

I know.  I know.  This wasn’t the best habit to start at an early age.  But it was definitely a tradition which created some golden times with my dad, my mom and my sister.  We’d take our time with the pancakes and talk about all kinds of things and laugh about everything.  And now that I’m writing this, I look back on it and see that it was one of my  earliest great cooking-life experiences.

I’ll never forget the first meal I made (almost) by myself.  It was meatloaf, mashed potatoes and peas.  Loved getting my hands into the meatloaf to mix the egg and bread crumbs and herbs.  Loved mashing those potatoes.  This was squishy fun for a ten year old!  But the main thing I remember about it is that I made this dinner for my dad and the most exciting and rewarding part was seeing him eat that dinner.  I had placed the slice of meatloaf strategically on his plate decorated with ketchup.  The mashed potatoes were a majestic mountain with bright green peas purposefully positioned to make a colorful impression.

That was only the beginning of a lifetime of creating meals for the people I love and all the intentions that went into preparing that food.  When my dad became very ill and couldn’t eat, I was into protein shakes and made him the most god-awful raw egg conconctions in order to try to get some nutrition into him.  And being the kind of dad he was, he managed to force that goop down—not because he wanted to drink it—but because I made it for him.  I hoped the lovely pink color from the fresh strawberries I’d blended in would also cheer him up.

And then there were the “Cooking-Love-Connections.”  I perfected Veal Piccante for my boyfriend.  This was a big deal because I would go to a butcher shop in the little town where I lived and buy really expensive veal for this.  I went all out.  Pale thin veal with dark green capers and lemon sauce highlighted with bright shavings of lemon zest and green parsley!  And he loved this dinner which I then made every weekend.  Later on, the meal changed to something with brown rice and seaweed but the intention was the same:  Make the best, most delicious food for someone I love.

Next was cooking my first meal for a future husband.  And then again for another future husband.  When I first met my husband Jack, I was a vegetarian and he was a meat-and-potatoes guy.  Hmmmm, what to do.  So I invited him for dinner.  Luckily he had had a girlfriend who had been into brown rice and vegetables so I knew this type of food wouldn’t be totally foreign to him.

I opted for Deep-Fried Tofu Stew, pressed Chinese Cabbage Salad with radishes and wakame seaweed, and brown rice served with homemade pickles.

I had long since become an excellent cook, had taught cooking for over twenty-five years, and considered cooking to be a creative art.  For this meal I was not only concerned with making the food taste good but also making it look beautiful.  I went all out!  I bought new dishes that would enhance the overall aesthetic quality.  I used decorative cuts for the vegetables made with a special set of tools I had.  The table was gorgeous!

The man loved the food.  We got married.  To this day he tells people what a great cook I am and when he makes this statement, you know it is about more than just the food.  He gets my intention.

Before you conclude that I’m simply a sicko or psycho female who is bent on enticing men or earning people’s love through food, believe me when I tell you that this is how cooking is for me every single day.  Maybe I’m not buying new plates very often, but I do look at the entire picture when it comes to preparing food—even if it’s just for myself.  Cooking is art.

I love putting the flavors and details together when cooking a meal.  I always serve my food in serving bowls and platters even if it’s just for me and my husband.  When my kids were little, the carrots were carrot flowers and the broccoli stood up like trees.  My cooking creations are always colorful if nothing else.

I have a postulate—an intention—when I cook that everything about the food and its presentation will bring health, joy, beauty and love.  I’ve been practicing this since I was a very young meatloaf cook.

My mother always said that a nutritious meal has lots of different colors in it.  I think she was right!  And my best cooking instructors said, “The healthiest food will also be the most delicious and the most beautiful.”

 And so it is.

What was the first meal you cooked for someone you loved?

My Obsession

It is Thanksgiving Day 2011 and I have been toying with the idea of writing about cooking for thirty-five years or so.  I’ve considered cookbooks, novels in which cooking takes a major roll (á la Like Water for Chocolate), poetry, newspaper columns about cooking, and painting and drawing about cooking.  That last is not really “writing,” but you get the idea.  And that whole time the one thing I did do was cook!  A lot!

I taught cooking for over 25 years in various cities where I’ve lived.  I taught out of my home, at natural food stores and other places.  I have invented recipes and even invented a no-tomato pasta sauce and a vegetarian alfredo sauce that was actually manufactured for a brief time in a Brooklyn food factory.  That’s a story for another blog.

I also wrote a column about natural foods in the now defunct Philadelphia Bulletin under the name of a local co-op.  It was a Q & A column.  We wrote the questions and the answers until people started actually sending in questions.  I have the columns in a portfolio I keep of my freelance writing adventures and not too long ago pulled it out.

And there was this Q & A column in which I once recommended making peanut butter and sauerkraut or peanut butter and pickle sandwiches.  That used to be a favorite with my kids, but I wonder how many people actually tried that?!  I know what you might be thinking—“No wonder the Philadelphia Bulletin shut down!”  No, it shut down years after my column ended.  Really!

I’ve gotten a lot of encouragement along the way that has made me pretty self-assured about my cooking.  Years ago my friend named Anne Marie bought me a book about how to write a cookbook and wrote me an incredible letter validating my talent and she continued to bug me about writing this for years.  But I never did it.

I used to cook for other people too. I did it for money but mostly I just loved doing it.  I had several friends who cooked for other people because we were studying and teaching Macrobiotics and eastern philosophy and healing.  So I cooked macrobiotic, vegetarian meals for friends and for people who were ill with degenerative diseases.  Many of them did better eating healthy food and some healed and some didn’t.  At that time I didn’t have the full picture of what would cause a person to heal that I have now.  That too is another subject.

Those wonderful people, friends and their families also urged me to start a catering business or open a restaurant.  I’ve always thought that would be way too labor intensive and really I considered it might ruin cooking for me.

I guess I could have gone to cooking school, and I did study with some fabulous teachers off and on in my life who remain an inspiration to me.  I never stopped studying cooking and have done it all sorts of ways via television cooking shows, books, friends and dining in all kinds of restaurants.

Probably the outstanding thing about my obsession with cooking is that I absolutely love my own cooking!  And this is annoying to some people who think I should not be the first one to compliment my own dishes at a meal.  (Sorry Dan, I can’t help doing that!)  It’s like being the first to “like” your own posts on Facebook.  Which I sometimes do also.

For instance today I’m going to my church for a big, beautiful Thanksgiving Dinner.  My friend Robin asked me to make the salad.  For a week now I’ve been imagining how various ingredients will taste together.  Now the salad is made and I taste-tested it to see how my chosen ingredients worked out together.  My first thought when I tasted it was, “I’ll probably mostly eat this salad at the dinner.  It is soooo good!”  So you see, I do love my own cooking and making and tasting this holiday salad pushed me over the edge to start writing!

The salad:

  • Red and Green curly leaf lettuce
  • Celery diced pretty small
  • Bits of sun-dried tomato
  • Fresh ripe pears skinned and diced
  • Roasted pecans flavored with a small dose of maple syrup (100% real stuff) and coated with a mix of cinnamon, cardamom, Hawaiian sea salt (I bought Hawaiian ‘cause I was thinking about my friends Kim and Ruth who now live in Hawaii and with whom I have shared many Thanksgiving dinners in the past) and some paprika.
  • The dressing is a simple red wine and olive oil vinaigrette that has salt and a dash of liquid stevia in it.
  • Garnished with a little shredded extremely sharp, stinky cheese if you like that.  (Sorry, I already threw the wrapper out and now I can’t remember the exact name of it.  It has holes like Swiss but it’s not Swiss and it’s not Havarti.  I will find out and let you know.) 

I won’t apologize for not including measurements!  I don’t measure hardly ever and you don’t need to either.  You just go by your taste and experience of what works.  That is the adventurous way to go.

Finally after all the years, I realized that the idea of creating aesthetic, delicious dishes and meals is my personal expression, my art.  And I realized that I have a viewpoint about many, many aspects of life that is manifested from my experiences, adventures and love of cooking.  So this is what I’m writing about—how I see and experience life through the viewpoint of cooking.

I hope you enjoy My Cooking Life and would love to have you contribute to it with your feedback, your own stories, or let me interview you!  At this point I have no idea how often I will be blogging but my target is at least once a week.

Much love,  Patty

PS:  I still love peanut butter and pickles on whole wheat toast!