amw (amw) wrote,

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my food ramble

Today i really felt at home in our new place. Sure, we had newspaper duct-taped to the windows for most of the day, but we woke up in the house. For breakfast i had mini Shredded Wheats and a coffee. Diet coke while building our kitchen table. Cheese on toast with tomato for lunch. For dinner we cooked some random thing with ground beef and mushrooms and bean sprouts, wrapped in a tortilla with feta. Another coke. (That's two bucks worth of coke, by the way - i haven't found a place to buy in bulk yet, so i've been artificially rationed and my head hurts.) We made Pillsbury cookies too. Just really basic stuff, but it felt so fucking good because it was ours.

Not that i couldn't cook up north. But it was different. I had to remember which stuff was for dairy and which was for meat. The kitchen was usually too much of a mess to make it a pleasure. Not to mention the knives made me very sad. This afternoon i opened my most favorite wedding gift - a new Global (my other one is on the boat). I think i creamed my pants dicing an onion.

I remember the first time i learned to dice an onion properly - i took a knife skills class in 2006 before moving to Melbourne. One of the downsides of ending up with my mom after the divorce was never learning how to cook "properly". She made healthy and tasty food, but it wasn't very creative or complicated. She also had a fear of knives and used blunt paring knives for everything. It probably should have been a hint when i slashed my fingers wide open in 1997 trying to use one to open a plastic package or something. As it was i didn't get a real knife till almost 10 years later.

My kitchen - and in fact my dining - experiences have progressed in plateaus. The first leap was moving out of home. My roommate wanted to be more vegetarian and i couldn't wait to start eating meat again, so our diets met somewhere in the middle. Neither of us could cook well, but we both wanted to outdo each other on spiciness so we ended up eating a lot of curries and mixed bean dishes i'd probably call a chili now. He taught me how to eat on a budget, and i guess i must have learned how to cook (and eat) high too.

I took another leap when i moved to the US in 2001. I don't remember cooking very often there, but i definitely remember eating out a lot. C was a very adventurous eater and he and T both enjoyed dishes from lots of different cuisines. In northern California it's pretty much all right there too, so i got introduced to all sorts of things i'd never even heard of before. No one in other countries believes me when i say Americans get the best food in the world - they think it's all McDonald's, but clearly they never had the right guides. Of course i also got hooked on all the stereotypical junk Americans take for granted - the take-out, but also nifty little things like Cool Whip and Velveeta and Peanut Butter Cups and pork rinds and corn dogs. Yum.

Somehow that year in America really piqued my interest. I think it was such a disappointment to come back to Australia which i felt at the time was a culinary backwater by comparison... I wanted to become more conscious of what was out there to be eaten and how to make it. I started mucking around a bit more by myself, learning stuff and trying different things. I started watching people, like the Indian girl who i lived with for a while who made the most amazing curries and pickles from absolute scratch. I didn't really have the money to eat out, so i learned to create new favorite snacks at home.

It was interesting when i started seeing M more regularly during 2005. She knew a fair bit of technique due to a year of chef's apprenticeship but didn't love the food. She had a weird aversion to eating anything with color in it - fruit, vegetables, meat, you name it. I spent about 2 years eating chicken breast and potatoes for dinner. It wasn't the first time i'd lived with someone with dietary restrictions, but it was kind of the inverse - instead of watching out for carbohydrates, i learned to cook almost exclusively with starch. I felt like an Iron Chef - you've heard of duck three ways, how about potato three ways?

The next big jump came as i started experimenting with lunch locations in 2007. Melbourne was the place to be because it has a vibrant - and affordable - restaurant culture. My colleagues and i ate our way all across Asia - Korea, Japan, China, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and India... I got into the habit of trying all kinds of things. One of the most memorable experiences was sesame jellyfish - something i never expected to like but turned out awesome. On the flip side, dim sum offal still tastes like offal. I never prepared offal at home, but J and i did experiment with making our own jiaozi dumplings!

Most recently i could talk about my exciting foray into North American kosher cuisine. It's not very. Exciting, that is. Just picture everywhere you would normally add butter or cheese to your meal and replace it with margarine or mayonnaise. Oy vey. Interestingly, most Asian food fits the bill on paper, but it's outside the culture so it's not a regular option for the dinner table. It's definitely been interesting learning how to cook basic Western food without the flavorful fats that usually play a starring role.

But i am really enjoying learning. I realized the other day when my instructor in Theory Of Food was talking about some hokey French potato puree that i don't want to plateau any more. In the past i've just jumped into a new culture, a new environment that forces me to adapt. I want to learn more, though, challenge myself. At college they only teach the French tradition, but it's structured and it's a start. I really think i want to continue, even though it's not cheap to do the practical classes. This is something i really love to do, something that has been bubbling in me so long.
Tags: food

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