I was born a mongrel of mostly German ancestry, with Irish and Danish admixed. I haven't managed any reasonable understanding of Gaelic, nor of Danish. I'm sure this has something to do with something, but I'm not at all sure of what that something is.
If food is for the maintenance of the body, cuisine is for the maintenance of the body, mind and spirit; it is both great art and great science, containing a history of all art and science, and therefore of all that is humanly meaningful. It is an act, a process and art of love and caring. Is there further reason to consider it important, indeed essential?
We have a preface here. The function of prefaces: to give an outline of the work; to enble a reader to decide quickly whether he is at all interested in the substance.
Given first is a bit about the the author, so that the reader may decide quickly also whether or not he cares to read what the author has to say on the substance, or anything else - it is really all the same.
For some reason, for which I have no explanation, as a child I loved food and its varieties, and quickly became very adventurous and ready to try just about everything, much later even to chocolate covered ants and fried grasshopper - both of which turned out to be less than interesting than anticipated, actually fairly boring, indeed tasteless. I never got to tasting the fresh thing.
My first foray into culinary arts was around the age of four. I was already in awe of my mother's baking skills, and had begun making connections with ingredients, mother's doings with them, and the perfectly wonderful results - especially then, the cakes and cookies, and even lunch types of snacks that sometimes merely consisted of potatoes mashed with a vegetable like carrots or tomatoes.
It took no time at all to think to myself (as I'm sure I did despite the lack of any memory to the effect), "Gee - how hard can this magic be? I can do this! Besides, mommy cooks and bakes - bakes is the best - and I can do it for her too. Won't she be happy!?"
OK - so my techniques of the moment were not very sophisticated, and my knowledge of properties of ingredients - or even ingredients was less than extensive, all considered; I would be getting an A for effort and thoughtfulness, not to mention my exhuberance in the enterprise. Our hearts can be well focused, but our minds ignorant, and more than confused. It was far more successful a deed than my invention of cleaning out a full sink of water using the vacuum cleaner; it seemed like a good idea at the time - *now* we have wet-vacs! I was clearly ahead of my time.
Back to the embryonic culinary efforts. 'Embryonic' is a good word since they involved a dozen eggs. It was a cake, of course, which was much more interesting and squishable than cookies - and every bit as sweet.
I crept from bed early to create my surprise. The eggs were easily, given my height, snatched from the refrigerator. The bowls were in high cabinets that I could not reach. No matter. Below, were a mess of large pots, one nice large pasta pot (I know to call it that now) that would do nicely - capaciously, in fact I thought. Never choose your cooking vessels to be in the end, too small! Though I've learned to be more careful in this respect, the idea remains, still.
So, first, I developed my egg breaking skills (two handed at that time), breaking all twelve eggs neatly into the big pot while seated in the middle of the kitchen floor. Where else, after all could I sit to work my own magic? There would be no shell pieces in the accumulating volume of eggs; I knew this was not a good thing. All the eggshells were deposited in the handy round tub thingie where mommy always tossed them. Toss and aim practice didn't seem like anything important right then. Priorities are important.
I found the egg beater in one of the lower drawers, and worked at my egg beating skills - but I knew other things were needed, besides eggs.
Flour! The flour, like the bowls were out of my diminutive reach - but, under the sink, there was this large rather colorful box of soap powder. I think it was labeled "Oxydol". Does this still exist? How different from flour could that be? It looks almost exactly the same!
There I was, my ecstatic little heart beating in rhythm with the egg beater that I worked with determination. This was not an easy task, as the pot was deep, and the egg beater was not. A beatific smile of joy and love spread over my slightly cherubic face, when my mother appeared in the doorway. She looked a bit confused, and not beatific at all, much less joyful or ecstatic. Was this an "oops"? Images of vacuum cleaners sprang to my head.
Already knowing me well, she asked quietly, "What are you doing?" Good question. I simply could not contain my intended secret. "I bake you a cake, mommy!", quoth I. (Oh - all right! I was four years old, and my grammar was not great; the "present progressive tense" was not yet in my language bag as being somehow specific or distinctive "Me potty" made the point, without much doubt; we like things that have the intended effect.)
I think she did not know whether to cry, or burst out laughing; she did neither, but still looked very strange; I think it was just not knowing what to do or say. She didn't even know about the soap powder yet either. Having emptied the box, I disposed of it in the appropriate way.
It didn't take long for her to realize that no matter the fiasco, I was not being "bad", but rather "good" and kind. Sometimes our good intentions turn out rather opposite; life is still like that. I was not punished for the results, but instead emotionally rewarded for my intentions. Life is rarely like that, and so this small completely true tale has a special place in my memory. She was, more than anthing else, curious, and wanted to know what was going one before making any decisions upon which she might act.
I also nicely got my first lesson in the economics of food: it is not for free, making inedible stuff from formerly edible stuff is generally not a good idea.
I come from a German-Irish family, with the cooking ideas from both ethnicities, but tending to the Germanic stuff. These were the days, however, when ordinary (not the meaningless "middle class") family could actually go out to eat at restaurants that were not fast food junk palaces, on a regular basis, and have real food for about the same price as current poisonous swill costs.
We went to steak and fish houses, Italian and Chinese restaurants, which extended my ideas of what food was. I was never a fussy boy regarding ingredients, but just did not particularly care for parsnips - that was my one "nolike-a". Even there, I got the idea that things change, and so I would try them occasionaly, being encouraged, but never forced. Now I like parsnips. At that time, no one suggested jalapeños en escabeche, mostly because they had no idea what they were.
About the age of eight, I was not only influencing my mother in encouraging her to make thing she had never made, but actually teaching her about some cooking, and making Egyptian (gheba) cookies, different cakes, omelettes, soups and other simple things that ma happened to like rather much. She learned to make a number of Italian dishes, and my very favorite cream puffs, at my instigation, and swordfish steaks. Making Chinese food then was beyond anything I could imagine, so I never suggested such a thing, much as I enjoyed eating it when we went to our favorite Chinese restaurant, where I could have Lobster Cantonese, or anything else, any time I wanted. Now, I haven't been able to afford that in years, despite the fact that I can now prepare it better than any restaurant.
As perhaps fate would have it, I was brought up in the environs of Manhattan, and was often as a teenager on the fabulous island for concerts, art exhibitions, various visits to museums the Hayden planetarium and such, either with or without campanions. It was a time in the past when the question, when in Manhattan, was not where *is* the concert (or whatever), but which one to go to.
Another question that always arose in these treks to the center of all things interesting was, what to eat and where to go to get it. Even now, Manhattan is filled with restaurants serving foods of a dizzying number of varieties - or so I am told; I have not been there in decades, preferring my memories to the current realities.
Fortunately, and maybe not surprisingly, my friends were as adventurous and curious as I was; so, the consensus was easily and always had that we should have some new kind of food that might be exciting, interesting and wonderful.
We sampled foods of: Italy, France, Greece, Germany, China, Spain, Brazil, India, Hungary, Turkey, Armenia, Pakistan, Mexico, Spain - even Burma and Ethiopia, and we prided ourselves on finding "out of the way", as we joked, "holes in the wall" that served great and interesting food at reasonable prices. This was an experience that has never left me; it's all there, even when I don't think about it. Even my Spanish teacher, "Mrs. Comfort" (A bit of a Nazi bitch, but a good teacher who knew her stuff) took our "advanced class" to one of the "holes in the wall". We students joked about it because we were all young, and still very stupid; it was great food, and it was an event I have still not forgotten.
I've lived since then in various parts of the Eastern US. When it came to excitement and variety in life, no place has ever matched that time period in Manhattan - but my tastes and knowledge of that which was possible had already been written in stone; hungering (quite literally) for that adventure to continue, studying and learning became continued in the kitchen. The boyhood fascinations turned out to be a good start.
It became a matter of studying and learning as a result of my earlier attempts at duplicating what I had eaten, and realizing that I was woefully short of the mark. It was all just a little more complicated than I had anticipated. That's life. Isn't is always?
Spoken or unspoken, giving up was not really an option. What was clearly needed was more effort and discipline. I take from the beloved Julia (our OSS agent in China - LOL) now that everything is technique - and that means also knowing not only the techniques, but also knowing the properties and possibilitiess of ingredients, and how they can be variously treated.
Rearing as a scientist (oscillating between mathematics and physics) started to make the kitchen into a laboratory when the curiosity arose as to how certain techniques worked, and why. What is merely trappings, custom and old wives' tales, and what had a sound physical basis?
What clearly worked without any scientific understanding? What substitutions of ingredients and techniques cannot be made, when and why not? What substitutions can be reasonably made? How do similarilties of various ethnic cuisines come about?
These are all intertwined matters of history, culture, science, engineering, psychology and art. They became more complicated and interesting when TSC did research in molecular biology, and necessarily the biochemistry. The learning of anatomy and physiology connected with weight training and the study of martial arts did not hurt the existing connections.
Questions - questions, questions, reading, tests, texts and notes, always.
I am simply sharing some of the fun and its results.
TSC might also mention that his body and life has been utterly destroyed (almost no spinal cord remaining, and so constrained to a slow, increasingly paralysed death) quite deliberately by State Farm Insurance which damage was aided, abetted and compounded by the criminal excuse for a government under which he continues suffers. with still functioning mind and fingers but - WTF - insurance is noninsurance, and governments have always been genocidal criminals in service of thieving corporations. This is nothing new - merely a mention of the obvious. Death will not be avoidable anyhow, however much it has been accelerated by the torture US corpagov. It is what governments are designed for afterall, anyhow. We do what we can do, and give what we can while we have not yet been explicitly annihilated by genocidal government.
There is an alternative; figure it out.
My thanks to the Main ISP system of WNC for what amounts to the continuing support of my existence. I helped them when I was still physically able, and so it is clearly *not* true that no good deed goes unpunished. My heart thanks you, Wally and Robbie, Annie and John.
TSC now lives deep in the silence of the southern mountains of WNC, knowing all too well what has been going on in the world, and documenting it, as moving about is no longer possible.
Knowing that food for body, soul and spirit will inevitable become increasingly important, consider this all a gift for those who have the eyes, ears, souls and need to have it. Cuisine in all its history is an art form that nourishes our spirits as well as our bodies.
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