I’ve decided to shake things up a bit and bring in a dear friend of mine to do a little guest post! I’ve mentioned Tara aka T in some of my prior posts, aka hostess with the mostest, and aka Glinda the Good Witch (in other circles). As, Tara will tell you, I think she is the far superior cook, I know she is the hostess with the mostest, and as you will read, she’s a fabulous storyteller too. So, here’s Tara story of her food journey…
When Mariah told me she was starting a blog about food, drinks and travel, I was super excited to check it out. Mariah and I met a little over 4 years ago and we bonded quickly over our common interests; we love to eat and we both have a taste for adventuresome foods, we love to drink (and credit our Irish heritage for us being so good at it), both of us agree that our biological clocks will never chime, and we are blissfully happy in our childfree marriages and lives. When she recently asked if I would consider doing a guest post for her on the blog, I was extremely flattered. I’m not a blogger or a writer, so it’s truly an honor to be able to share something on this very creative project she’s begun. She included in her email that she “was thinking food related since you are the far superior cook”. I was blushing, her compliment was by far one of the most touching I’ve ever received, and it got me thinking about just how far I’ve come with not only preparing food but also how food is a big part of my life…This is my food story.
My love of food, including planning weekly meals, shopping for great ingredients, preparing, and most of all eating, had very humble beginnings. A Midwestern Native, I grew up in a tiny rural farming community with a population of less than 650 people. There was no fine dining, fast food, or big box grocery stores for over 30 miles. If you wanted to try out one of the many popular chain restaurants like the Red Lobster, you were going to have to take a two-hour ride for your Ultimate Feast. Some would say that I grew up at a disadvantage, but I will vehemently disagree. I’ve honestly never tasted better fried chicken (and I live in the South now) than what the wonderful ladies made at the small diner where I held my first job. The beef and pork that I ate growing up as a child was most likely raised on one of my classmates’ farms and processed by the butcher where my Mother worked for 30 years. Heck we even had a Shake Shack in the neighboring town (ok, so it isn’t THE Shake Shack) and a pizza food truck before food trucks were all the rage. Growing up, my days were spent with my Grandmother while both of my parents worked full-time jobs. I credit her with nurturing my adventurous palate (I prefer the term adventurous over sophisticated or the word “Foodie”. Let’s face it–I still love Cool Whip). Grandma B gave me all sorts of delicious foods and introduced me to things my parents generally didn’t serve. Looking back, I remember being fairly willing to eat pretty much anything you’d put in front of me (besides baked beans, which I wouldn’t try until much later in life, all due to an incident with my friend in Kindergarten) but I also loved to tinker around in the kitchen. My Mom never really loved to cook, but she would often let me get involved in the kitchen as a little girl. Remember those old slow-cookers that sat on a heating base? I absolutely loved to take out that heating base to make little pancakes, and just a few years ago she gave me an old meat grinder; I have very fond memories of grinding away leftover ham and beef for sandwiches during my youth.
In 2001 at the age of 25, I moved from the Midwest to the Gulf Coast of Florida to begin my career in healthcare and my palate began to diversify from the meat, potato, cream of mushroom soup casseroles that was my youth. During my first year away from home, I arrived to work on Christmas Eve and my Croatian born/ Long Island bred co-worker offered to make me lunch. As I watched her build this beautiful sandwich with Italian bread & meats and basil and balsamic vinegar (ingredients I’d never seen, much less tasted) I noticed a jar on the counter and asked her “what’s in the jar, hard-boiled eggs?” It was fresh mozzarella and I’m pretty sure she thought that I grew up in a cave.
Soon, I was never more excited than when I got to try a new ingredient or style of restaurant. Along with my new found interest in different types of foods, I slowly became interested in wine. I traded in my box of Franzia White Zin for sweet whites like Rieslings & Gewürztraminers. Then, one fateful day I had a fruit-bomb of a Red Zin forced upon me, (I’d always sworn I didn’t like red wine) and it was all over from there, I signed up for at least three wine magazine subscriptions and drank at least one to two bottles of different types of wine per week, all for the sake of learning and refining my palate of course! 🙂
It wasn’t too long before I discovered that if I were going to support my food (& wine) habit, I would need to learn to prepare some of my own delicious food at home. In 2004 after moving to Atlanta where I spent the first six months living with my oldest and dearest friend and my two-year old Goddaughter, I began to cook. It started as a way of pulling my own weight around the house and taking over a chore my friend wasn’t interested in doing. She’d be happy to grow, forge, or even hunt for food; she’d just rather not have to cook it. Armed with my classic Better Homes & Gardens red and white checkered cook book, I began to make simple sided dishes, casseroles, Easter hams, and desserts. I discovered that though I was neither a talented nor a creative cook, I absolutely loved preparing meals for my friend and Goddaughter. After I moved into my own tiny apartment in one of ATL’s popular midtown neighborhoods, cooking became less frequent; it dawned on me that one of the things that made eating and preparing food so fantastic was sharing the experience with friends and people you love. There was a blissful satisfaction I got from preparing a meal for someone and watching them enjoy it; cooking for just me wasn’t nearly as rewarding.
Little did I know that within a matter of days, I would go on my first date with the love of my life and the one person on this planet who I enjoy sharing a meal with the most. He brought me a bottle of wine as a gift on our 1st date, on our third date he made me dinner, and somewhere around our 8th date, I broke up with him and moved back to Florida for four years…
So, I’m cutting off Tara’s story here. Find out next Thursday how she goes from cooking more basic everyday fare (a la Homes & Garden) to cooking from Bon Appetite and Food & Wine.
How do you think where you grew up or your childhood eating habits affect your eating habits as an adult?