Mirror, Mirror On The Wall

Comedian James Gregory said that in his twenties he had a huge mirror that overlooked his bed. He has since moved the mirror above the kitchen table because that is where he does his best work. I have found out over the years that there is truth in that statement.

“The idea is to eat well and not die from it – for the simple reason that that would be the end of your eating.” Jim Harrison

I am a foodie. I love trying new foods at restaurants and I love trying to replicate them. How do I know I’m a foodie? I can recommend a local restaurant and give several options on its menu. You are not a foodie if you like a restaurant but have only ever ordered one thing on the menu.  A foodie has a “best of” list longer than 5 options. Ask me, I will tell you the best of in Greenville. Foodies are food snobs. I have been a beer snob and it has seeped into me being a food snob. I eat at very little fast food joints, chain restaurants and try to always eat local. I own a mortar and pestle. The check out girl knows my name at Ingles and I can tell you the code for cilantro at self check out. I own different types of oils and have a full range of herbs and spices on display in my kitchen and yes I own an apron.

I love to cook. There are many reasons. It’s an art because it can be done in several ways. The possibilities are endless. You can use your imagination and be creative. You can play with the ingredients and innovate. It’s also like creating a masterpiece. You can own it and no one can imitate the exact copy of it. It gives me a chance to be creative and I get to try new things. My friend Noi used to try to teach me how to cook Thai and I developed a love for Thai food and also Korean food even though I had to endure Noi’s abuse. I miss his abuse. I found out whether I’m eating a pint of Blue Bell ice cream or woofing down scattered, smothered and chunked at Waffle House (one of the only chain restaurants where I eat) that eating and cooking is therapeutic. I read in the Wall Street Journal that according to the counselors cooking can help “soothe stress, build self-esteem and curb negative thinking by focusing the mind on following a recipe.”

“A recipe has no soul. You, as the cook, must bring soul to the recipe.”

– Thomas Keller

I once bribed a waiter at a local restaurant to get me the recipe of a caramel pie desert I once ordered. Chef’s normally do not give up their secrets that easily but some have no shame or possibly the money I gave him. Money does talk.

Anthony Bourdain was a man that I lived through. Without a doubt he had the greatest job of anyone in the world. He lived life to the fullest. Visited wonderful places and ate the best food on the planet. He had his demons, fought them and unfortunately the demons won. His death still haunts me to his day.

“Anyone who’s a chef, who loves food, ultimately knows that all that matters is: ‘Is it good? Does it give pleasure?’”

– Anthony Bourdain

Food is a unifier. It makes you forget about he political division that may divide families. The conversation goes away from Biden or Trump to which of my sister-in-law’s tomato pies are better. The one with jalapeños or the one plain. Bob telling me how much he hates Brussels Sprouts or how wonderful my cousins broccoli casseroles are. There is the tradition of butterscotch pie at Thanksgiving. Food tends to make things better.

Food is culture. There can be bad food culture. My Grandmother wasn’t a great cook. She was a “depression cooker”. She watered down her ketchup and added oatmeal to her hamburgers. She could do other things well, cooking just wasn’t in her wheelhouse. She could grow the most immaculate garden that was free of weeds and Japanese Beetle’s. She would cook liver mush, onions and scrambled eggs for breakfast. Every October 12th on her birthday in her honor that is what I have for breakfast. Afterwards she would head out the door and you could not pry her away from the garden for the next 8 hours. Thanks to the cannery we had at Indian Land we ate veggies year round. The dishes she prepared were memorable. For instance, until I started cooking I never knew a pot roast was not suppose to look like something between beef jerky and a belt. You had to have the big glass of sweet tea to give it some flavor and also not to choke you as it very slowly made its way down your gullet. Food can be memorable without being a a five star dish.

Food has History. It has a story. It has relationships. The cuisine of the United States reflects its history. The European colonization of the Americas introduced us to European ingredients and cooking styles to the U.S. The African American culture has certainly influenced our food habits. Have you ever had Gullah and Geechee? There are many things that go into a culture, but one of the most important is food. It is the way we connect, whether it be through tradition, friendship, or something as simple as a meal. From everyday meals to holidays, food connects us to one another.

There is joy in cooking. Seeing the expression of pleasure on everyone’s face when they taste something you have prepared. Being challenged to a spaghetti cook off by a friend of mine. He actually thinks he can better my spaghetti sauce. Such a loser. Cooking is fun, cooking is life. Now if I can only get this mirror moved to the kitchen.

“Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are.” – Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1825).

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