Tuesday, May 24, 2011

the art of food

The title of this post isn't meant to suggest that I'm an artist while cooking. I do, however, believe that cooking is an art, and it takes artistic energy. I never really cooked when I was a kid, mostly because my mother was just so darn good at it. She is the queen of throwing things together and them tasting amazing. But, as she always says, you can't ask her to duplicate it. It just happens. There is no recipe. 

I learned many of my domestic talents from my Mother: cooking, baking, cleaning, sewing, and gardening. To be fair, my Father had a fair hand in teaching me too, especially about gardening, and he is a great cook! I was in 4-H. I had to learn to sew. I didn't enjoy it when I was a child. I do, however, enjoy it as an adult. I liked to bake but would rather have my Mom bake for me. And because you didn't really cook for 4-H, I didn't really learn how to do it. 

My first year as an "adult" in college, I lived in the dorms, and people made my lunch. I didn't know how to make much beyond a good grilled cheese and a can of tomato soup, and I was the master of boxed shells and cheese. However, cooking in my dorm was a hassle, and I had a food plan anyway with the ISU dining center, so I just ate there.

When I became truly lost was when I ventured to Italy and studied abroad the first semester of my sophomore year. Suddenly, it was a minimum of 7 euros to eat a meal, which got expensive really fast. So I found myself using my expensive euro minutes to call my Mom and ask her how to make scalloped corn, and stir fry, and anything else I craved as I yearned for familiarity. And in Italy, I became a vegetarian. Suddenly, I fell in love with eggplant, any kind of bean, squash, and tons of other vegetables I had claimed to abhor. Suddenly I was learning to cook for myself and be a vegetarian at the same time.

I made and ate some strange things that semester. Before, I had hated beans, but canned beans were so cheap, and my roommate and I would buy them, open the can, heat them up, and eat them right out of the can. A favorite meal was when I fried potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers, and toss them with olive oil and pasta. I burned a lot of potatoes and learned that timing is everything. I started spending my mornings before class at the Italian language computer lab, browsing for hours through websites like Better Homes and Gardens and Vegetarian Times trying to demystify recipes, ingredients, and how to make modifications for Europe. 

After that, I only got  more curious. I subscribed to magazines and bought Vegetarian cookbooks. I became an artisan bread baker.  I became obsessed with beautiful food and beautiful ingredients. And then cooking became therapy, another love, and another art for me to embrace. 

Today, I make all kinds of things. I love to cook. My kitchen overflows with dishes, appliances, and possibility. I have recipes I pass on to friends for my best homemade pizza, my brown-butter tortellini, my three-bean chili, and my baked oven eggs. In November, I started eating meat again, and it has opened my culinary door to infinite possibilities, even though I still hold a special place in my heart for vegetarian meals. 

This past year, I didn't cook much. I didn't explore much. Or at least, I didn't enjoy cooking. It is funny how when I get stressed or overextended artistically and physically, the last thing I want to do is cook. I have such a hard time finding the creative energy for it. As soon as I graduated from IU, I could feel my culinary chains loosening. I have started to enjoy cooking again. I hope to start documenting some beautiful food moments on this blog, especially after tuning into CreativeLive's last amazing photography workshop with the amazing food and culture photographer, Penny de los Santos. It not only inspired me photographically and as an artist, but it made me want to appreciate and document my life more. After all, that is why I picked up my first DSLR in the first place.

This week, I think one of our best nights was when Ayron grilled cheesy chicken sausages and we sipped fresh strawberry margaritas and munched on:

Spicy black-bean hummus
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 heaping tbsp tahini
  • 1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/8 cup water
  • red pepper flakes
  • chipotle chili pepper
  • smoked spanish paprika
  • hot sauce (we have some pretty spicy Louisiana style hot sauce)
  • salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp olive oil, plus some to drizzle on top
Mix all ingredients in a food processor. Drizzle with olive oil.

Guacamole, Kelly style:
  • 2 ripe avocadoes
  • 1/4 cup red onion, diced fairly small
  • a handful of grape tomatoes, diced
  • salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • lime juice
  • Olive oil to drizzle on top
Mash avocados in a bowl (a potato masher works wonders!). Mix in remaining ingredients. Drizzle with olive oil and serve.

My favorite moment of Penny's from the aforementioned seminar?

"If you're not doing what you love, why not? Why are you not doing what you love?...Whatever it is you want to do, you can do it.  Whatever it is you want to be, you can be it.  So go do it.  That is your final assignment." 

Thank you Penny. I will do it. I will be it. I will do my very best to fall in love with my chosen path every day, and to embrace what I'm meant to be.

1 comment:

  1. I don't have time to follow recipes these days, though what you posted looks great. As far as art: I read, and I know it's true, you can make art out of anything, even doing dishes. I don't know how many dish racks I've finished!