As promised, here is the second part of Tara’s food story, to read the beginning click here! We left Tara breaking it off with the love of her life and moving back to Florida from Atlanta.
In the years ahead, I continued to prepare simple meals just for me. In 2009 my then boyfriend/now husband and I decided to get our act together and have a real adult relationship, moving us to Raleigh. This was when I began taking cooking more seriously and challenging myself. For me it wasn’t difficult following the old adage, that a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach; I love cooking for my husband, who happens to love food as much as I do. I began planning weekly meals for us and I decided to start typing up an email to him with the week’s upcoming menu along with links to the recipes, a practice I continue to this day. My husband, a bit of a picky eater with a far more sophisticated palate than mine, grew up in New England and had spent a few years living near Napa Valley, so I knew I needed to step up my game. I started subscribing to Bon Appetite, Food & Wine, and the old Gourmet magazine along with searching the internet for new recipes. I began challenging myself with different types of ingredients and cooking methods. With a little push from my husband, we traded in most of my old non-stick cookware for stainless, and I learned cool things like how to deglaze (a technique that still gets me excited). I embraced cast irons & Dutch ovens and real chef’s knives. I gave up canned and frozen veggies and learned how to pick out and prepare fresh produce. I put down the Crisco and margarine, and began using butter and olive oils. Most importantly I asked questions of people that I met who were skilled in the kitchen. As my own skills improved, I became more confident and started to invite our friends over for dinner. I’ve always been my own worst critic when it comes to my cooking. So, making a meal for someone other than my parents, husband, and very close friends, was actually a big step for me. It had certainly been something I’d always dreamed about doing, but never had the courage to do. I’d had parties before, but nothing really beyond drinks and burgers on the grill. I had always been very guarded about who I’d cook a meal for, so if you were one of the lucky few (or perhaps unlucky) that I’ve invited over for dinner, you should feel very special. Preparing a meal for someone is really my way of saying “hey, I think you’re pretty awesome”.
After our own wedding, (let’s be honest it was more like after our engagement) like many couples do, we got a little too comfortable and let ourselves go a bit. When I was forced to go up yet another jean size and my doc told me, I needed to slow down on the potatoes, pastas, and pies (seriously how did she know my three favorite food groups?). I knew I wasn’t doing us any favors by making every night’s meal filled with butter and cream-laced goodness. Not to mention the fact that I would prepare enough food to feed us and 10 of our good friends each evening. Portion control has never been my strong suit; I once ate an entire 22 ounce ribeye along with sides washed down with multiple glasses of wine. I remembered that my Mother-in-Law had given me an edition of Cooking Light and raved about many of the great recipes (maybe she was trying to hint at something), so I pulled the magazine off the bookshelf and signed myself up for a subscription. One of the first dishes I attempted was this incredible take on Chicken Saltimbocca; I was so impressed with the finished product that I began preparing our weeknight dinners strictly from the magazine or from their enormous wealth of recipes found on Myrecipes.com. It took a little convincing the hubs that not everything needed more cheese and/or bacon, but it didn’t take him too long to get on board. I have truly learned so much about healthier eating from this magazine, and now know that food doesn’t have to be heavy and calorie laden to be elegant and delicious.
For the past several months, with helpful info from Mariah & P we’ve taken our healthier eating a step further by joining the popular “locavore” movement. We are fortunate enough to be living in an area brimming with Farmer’s Markets, CSA’s, bakeries, and local sources for meat and seafood (our new favorite fish monger boast 90% of their products are caught off of the coast of NC & delivered 4 times per week) making this transition quite simple. There’s been some adjusting, for instance I’ve discovered that I prefer grass-fed and grain-finished beef over grass-fed only, and buying local and organic can be tough on the wallet. But for us, learning to eat what’s in season, embracing leftovers, and paring down portion size has help ease the sting of paying more for our meats and produce. Another reason why I love receiving my editions of Cooking Light & now Eating Well too, they are filled with recipes that use seasonal ingredients, making meal planning a cinch! We’ll probably never be completely local or completely organic (not as long as there’s still Cool Whip), but there is no mistaking the quality in the flavor of locally grown and raised food.
So for those of you who read this and think to yourselves, I can’t cook. I say hogwash! Keep practicing. Do yourself a favor if you haven’t already and purchase a few quality tools like a good chef’s knife and cutting board and a few good pots and skillets, and please don’t rule out stainless & cast iron like I did for so long. Find a source for recipes that you love. My motto is keep it simple and practice, you will be amazed at how far your skills will come, not every meal will look Pinterest worthy, and don’t compare yourself to others.
Looking back I can say that I’ve had the extreme fortune of dining in some amazing restaurants, I’ve met some tremendous people over the years with refined palates and out of this world culinary experiences, many who’ve taught me so much, and I hope life will afford me to keep doing both. But nothing will ever compare or be closer to my heart than the meaningful and memorable meals that I share in my home with my family and friends.
I wish all of you could taste some of the delicious dishes that Tara has prepared. I love Tara’s story, and I hope it inspires some of you to get into the kitchen…it is never too late to start. If you have any questions for Tara, feel free to leave them below and I will make sure she gets them! She did respond to some comments last week, so make sure to check back there as well!
Did you know Julia Child didn’t start cooking until her 30’s?